Thursday, September 25, 2014

The 11-Minute Format "Definitely Brings [The New Gadget Series] Up To Date", Says DHX's Josh Scherba

A September 24 article from TBI Vision - also available in magazine PDF format here - includes what I think is DHX's first actual comment on the 11-minute run time of the new series. Entitled "The New Vintage", the piece talks about the vast amount of classic animated brands being rebooted right now, including Maya the Bee, Heidi, Thunderbirds, Danger Mouse and, of course, Inspector Gadget:

In Canada, Teletoon has tasked DHX Media with creating a new version of Inspector Gadget. DHX’s senior VP, distribution Josh Scherba says Inspector Gadget already has lined up a “significant” group of broadcast partners, highlighting the continued impact of a show that first hit screens in 1983. 
“We’ve got a generation of people who grew up on it that are going to want their kids to experience it too,” he says. “Gadget is such a classic character – we’re keeping the physical comedy very much alive as that remains very relevant for audiences in 2015.”

I find that last sentence there a bit amusing. Physical comedy remains very relevant for audiences in 2015. That's almost as basic as saying, "entertainment value remains very relevant for audiences in 2015"... but, oh well, I think I get his drift.

However, the most interesting statement by far comes in the part about modern-day "consumption patterns", where Scherba addresses the shorter run time:

Consumption patterns have changed significantly in the multimedia era, and this represents another challenge for producers looking to remain true to their classic brand. While Studio 100 is keeping Heidi at its original 22-minute episode length, others such as Maya the Bee have been reduced to 11. 
DHX made a similar choice with Inspector Gadget. “One of the big things was go with an 11-minute format, rather than the 22-minute that was the norm in 1983,” says Scherba. “That definitely brings it up to date.”

So clearly, the 11-minute format was an integral part of DHX's rebooting Gadget for modern audiences. That in itself brings it up to date, apparently. I'm just not sure I get that. Okay, yes, shorter formats are becoming more popular. Television viewers - kids in particular - are far less patient than they were 30 years ago. But I'm still not buying that kids can't or won't sit through a 22-minute animated show. That all depends on how good the show is. Successful, animated reboots retaining the 22-minute format can certainly still be found. One example is Nickelodeon's current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (a somewhat flawed series in my eyes, particularly when compared to the superior 2003 version; but still hugely popular). Plus, as for 22 minutes being "the norm" back in the early 80s... one needn't look further than to DiC's own Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats from '84 for an exception to that rule. And there were of course many exceptions.

Bottom line - as I've said before - I really hope the decision to go with 11 minutes was ultimately also a creative one, not purely driven by the idea that all modern-day kids' shows need to be 11 minutes. I think it's important to say out loud that this is not really true, regardless of what networks and broadcasters seem to think. The execution determines whether an 11-minute or a 22-minute show will keep the viewer's attention.

And as long as the new Gadget series also targets adults who grew up with the original - which they did say it would - I tend to think 22 minutes might work better for including elements like character development, drama, overarching storylines... in other words, things that might make adults invested in addition to the comedy and action. (Again, though, much of this is still execution and how well the run time is spent. I might be prejudiced towards 11 minutes based on the fact that I've seen many more 22-minute series that I like.)

I'm not trying to pretend, by the way, that the format and production of the original Inspector Gadget was not affected by business decisions. The way the 1983 series was made - 65 half-hours pre-ordered for the first season and produced in less than a year - was very much steered by commercial interests. But speaking as a fan, I think the original 22-minute format ended up working really well for Gadget. It enabled the writers to juggle a lot of different plot points within one storyline, most of them adding greatly to the entertainment value.

I'll try not to make such a fuss over the run time in future posts. You must be getting tired of hearing me repeat these points. Seeing as the series is produced like this anyway, I honestly do hope to be proven wrong in my scepticism towards 11-minute episodes. I hope the reboot works fantastically with 11-minute episodes. And at the same time, I hope it manages to appeal to both adults and kids.

We'll just have to wait and see how all that is juggled, right?


  1. "People will still like comedy in 2015"
    Relieved to know that comedy is still going be relevant in the next year, I was concerned.

    "Primitive cartoons drawn on the walls of caves wayyyyy back in 1983 AD had 22min runtimes and modern humanity simply no longer possesses the mental capacity to pay attention for that amount of time"
    Well even if that's true the show is still gonna air in a half hour block, right? Then what huge difference does it actually make to the attention-deprived whether the show is full 22min or two 11min episodes? Wouldn't people be more compelled to sit and watch for the whole half hour if it was filled with one continuous story? But I don't have a market research team that will show me colorful pie charts and bar graphs about CONSUMPTION PATTERNS so what do I know.

    I think the new Turtles is kinda decent. Although I've only seen like three episodes but I enjoyed what I saw well enough. Never watched any of the earlier TMNT cartoons so I don't have much to judge it's quality against.

    1. "Relieved to know that comedy is still going be relevant in the next year, I was concerned."
      Yeah, I mean, what would TV producers do if comedy suddenly went out of style?? Or for that matter drama, or action, or suspense? Thank god audiences still value these old-fashioned ingredients in their shows.

      "Wouldn't people be more compelled to sit and watch for the whole half hour if it was filled with one continuous story?"
      And there's yet another great argument for why the show could have worked just as well (if not even better) in a 22-minute format. Although I suppose the argument would be: even if the show is produced as a half-hour block and will air that way on Teletoon Canada and many other channels, the 11-minute format does give broadcasters the freedom to chop up that half-hour at will and air the series in shorter segments. At least I've seen that happen with some shows. Plus, if everybody in the target group really ARE as attention-deprived as DHX seems to think (this apparently includes the adult fans), then maybe the viewers WILL love a show where, after the first 11-minute episode, they can turn off the TV or change the channel without feeling an obligation to continue watching. I can picture the reviews now: "I love this show! It's entertaining and fun and it allows me to get back to my iPhone after only 11 minutes!"

      Speaking for myself as an adult, I love 22-minute shows which have a sense of continuity to them. Not necessarily in the form of directly serialized stories, though that can be fantastic too... but in the sense that there is a progression in the characters and storylines. 22 minutes supports that kind of thing by giving you more time with the characters and time to take in the story and emotions. Of course, this kind of development was something the original Gadget never really had to any great extent, and I love it regardless. But continuity is certainly a big part of the appeal for me, in many cases, when following animated shows as an adult.

      I enjoyed your analythical interpretations of Scherba's quotes, by the way... it's nice to know what he REALLY meant. :P

      And by the way, I'm sorry for never getting around to replying to your previous, Gadgetinis-related comments. It's pretty ironic: I initially waited with replying BECAUSE your comments were in-depth and interesting; and I wanted to find the time to gather my thoughts and write an in-depth reply back. Which didn't happen, of course. My time these days is particularly limited and my mind has really been elsewhere than this blog for much of the past month. But I'm glad to see you back in the comments and hope to hear from you on the new clip as well. :)

    2. Oh, and RE: the new Turtles series: It was somewhat of a digression, I suppose, but as a TMNT fan, I wanted to add in there that I don't find Nick's incarnation perfect. I've watched season 1 and most of season 2 (l'll continue watching when I don't have anything better to do, I guess) and l'll agree with you that it's "decent". But there's also stuff that bugs me about it, particularly in comparison to the earlier series I mentioned. For almost every turn in the storylines that I like, there's also a turn which feels clichéed and contrived... and that goes for parts of the character writing, too.

      The 2003 series, on the other hand, is incredible. I've watched a season and a half so far and I can recommend it without hesitation. Darker, more adult storytelling (though still funny) and MUCH less predictable than any other TMNT cartoon. Oh, and the show also often does multi-part stories of the kind that makes you sit on the edge of the chair and want to press 'play' on the next episode right away. ...Just my two cents. ;)

      (Plus, it helps a lot that the 2003 series was steered closely by Peter Laird, who originally co-created the Turtles together with Kevin Eastman. I'm a big fan of Eastman/Laird's early, gritty, black-and-white TMNT comic book stories as well, and no animated adaptation has come as close to capturing those comics as the 2003 series.)

    3. I'm glad their marketing team is out there doing it's job: "Do you like to laugh?" "Yes?" "OK, mark another one down for Comedy." Give these guys a raise!

      I don't have much of a problem with 11min episodes, just the reasoning behind it hasn't made a ton of sense to me. A good side to it is that we do get twice the stories and if they weren't confident that the scripts could fill out 22min and still hold attention then 11min episodes are probably the best route to take. I don't see it as being a major hindrance to anything except your point of the 'juggling plotlines' which would most likely have to be cut down on or sped through.

      I'm not sure the depth of continuity or development to expect from an Inspector Gadget cartoon, but even just small amounts here and there could add a lot to show I think. I'm guessing there will be a fair bit of continuity and development surrounding the Penny/Talon ship they're teasing.

      It's cool, no worries! I don't expect you to be able to reply back with an essay on everything I feel a need to rant about, I realize that you have a life. (Me, maybe not so much =P)

      And yes, I have many thoughts on the new clip and they are 'MIXED' like you say.

      Ooh very nice, definitely sounds like it's worth checking out the 2003 TMNT series then. The current series has made me a fan of Donatello. For some odd reason I always avoided giving TMNT a chance while growing up but I like it now.

  2. Hmm, I think one option they could do if they have a story that would work better in 22 minutes is to do a two-parter of sorts. I remember shows that normally did 11-minute episodes would sometimes do two-parters like that, so you still get two 11-minute segments that have the same storyline!

    1. Yes, as I've suggested before, I also really hope that the writers get to make use of the full half-hour block and make an occacional (22-minute) 2-parter if the story requires it. I remember seeing "The Garfield Show" doing that with a half-hour Chistmas special: they simply put up title cards with "Part 1" and "Part 2" in the beginning of each chapter. Could work nicely. Another example is "Phineas and Ferb" - essentially an 11-minute show, but where they make 22-minute episodes occacionally. (Of course, in the cases of both these shows, owing to their popularity, there have also been numerous specials running even longer than 22 minutes.)

  3. I'm really, really excited for this! It looks dashed impressive.

    Oh, and, one more comment about the trench-coat: You know what also has a coat of that length? The original Gadget doll, the one that Lewis Galoob put out in '83. So yeah, there is precedent.

    1. I'll keep from commenting on the new clip until I get my commentary out, but... was this comment actually meant for the "Watch 3 Minutes of The New Inspector Gadget Series Now!" post? 'Cause it sure sounds like it. (And yes, I'm aware you just posted a comment over there as well.)

      Also: "You know what also has a coat of that length? The original Gadget doll, the one that Lewis Galoob put out in '83."

      Um... no, actually. The Inspector Gadget Galoob action doll had a much longer coat than the coat in Gadget's new series design. The Galoob coat almost went down to his knees and looked quite close to the coat in the 1983 series. Comparison:

      Galoob doll

      New series design