Founder & Executive Producer
I’ve Lived Three FIVE Lives (So Far)
As I write this, Frederator has just launched a new YouTube channel, has a hit show nominated (again!!) for an Emmy®, and two nominations for best series by the Annies. We’re developing movies at Sony Pictures Animation, my company Next New Networks was acquired by YouTube, and Frederator (all digital) Books just launched with its first releases. It seems like as good a time as any to pause and refresh my bio.
This document used to be called “I’ve Lived Three Lives,” but since it was written I’ve added a few more lives. I just can’t seem to stop living! Here’s a rundown of all that I’ve been doing:
Life # 5 — Television & Feature Film Cartoon Producer
In 1992 I became president of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t know much about cartoons when I started out, but I had one simple idea: If you want great cartoons, make them the way the greatest cartoons of all time were made. That’s why we launched Hanna-Barbera’s “What A Cartoon!” shorts project. I wanted to create short, seven minute, funny cartoons with vivid characters and hilarious stories and gags—the way the great cartoonists of the 30s and 40s did it.
A lot of industry professionals thought I was crazy.
That grand experiment gave us 48 original shorts, an Academy Award nomination, two Emmy nominations, and seven original half-hour cartoon series (The Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, Cow & Chicken, I.M. Weasel, Courage The Cowardly Dog, and What A Cartoon!). And it had the effect of revitalizing the entire TV animation industry, which was in pretty poor shape when we started.
In 1997, Nickelodeon asked me to use the same techniques to produce cartoons for them, and then we brought the idea to the internet. In the last decade my company Frederator Studios has produced hundreds of new characters at Random! Cartoons, Oh Yeah! Cartoons, and The Meth Minute 39 . Our cartoons feature the work of some of the most talented professionals in the business today and have spawned such award-winning, crowd pleasing hits as The Fairly Oddparents, ChalkZone, My Life as a Teenage Robot, Fanboy & Chum Chum, and Adventure Time.
We created Channel Frederator (Cartoon Central on the Internet) in 2005, one of the first animation channels on the internet, helping to foment a video revolution that’s still unfolding. And on April 1, 2012, our team blasted off Cartoon Hangover (Too &#@$! for TV), our channel for original productions, into the online universe.
A couple of years ago, we began development of our first feature film, Samurai Jack, at Paramount Pictures (with J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot as our co-producer), and in 2009 we started making animated movies with Sony Pictures Animation.
In my lives, I’ve often found that being crazy isn’t such a bad thing.
Life # 4 — Internet Media Executive
Take the internet, for instance. I’ve always been drawn to community, whether it’s rock’n’roll (MTV), kids (Nickelodeon), or cartoons (Hanna Barbera, Cartoon Network and Nick). Today the internet is the new town square, the place where people with fresh ideas are meeting and collaborating and creating a brave new pop culture. This new culture is made up of hundreds of distinct, unique communities. Great talent was drawn online like flies on honey, and I knew I had to be part of it.
In 2006 I got together with a bunch of like-minded media mavens and created Next New Networks, which was acquired by YouTube in 2011 when it had become the leading TV company on the Internet. We wanted to crack the code of how best to harness the power of the video explosion on the Internet. (Somebody had to do it!) We made dozens of new networks, focusing on everything from ultra fast race cars to ultra cute cats to ultra animation. The shows on our networks are short, pithy and popular, with huge hits like Auto-Tune the News and The Key of Awesome. At the time of our sale we’d had over 2 billion views. But, it’s still just a beginning.
My colleagues and I have taken some guff from some of our Old Media buddies. They think we’re crazy to try such an ambitious plan in a fledgling industry. And they may be right. But then, in my lives, I’ve often found that being crazy isn’t such a bad thing.
So being crazy isn’t a liability in the Internet business, either.
Life # 3 — Agency Man
After quite a few productive years helping to give birth to TV networks (you can read about that in “Life # 2″) I formed a company with my producing partner, Alan Goodman. A lot of our associates thought we were crazy to leave sure-thing corporate success behind in favor of our own company, but once again, we made crazy work for us.
Because of Alan’s love for mid-twentieth century comedians we called our company Fred/Alan, and set up offices in Jackie Gleason’s former headquarters in the Park Sheraton hotel. Fred/Alan became a successful advertising agency/consulting firm/production company and think-tank for a wide range of new and established clients, including the MTV Networks, CBS, Showtime, HBO/ Cinemax, TBS, A&E, Lifetime, WNET, The Movie Channel, Sassy Magazine, Barq’s Soft Drinks, Comedy Central, and BMG Records. Most significantly, we retained a close relationship with networks we had helped create—MTV and its sister networks Nickelodeon and VH-1.
In 1985, Fred/Alan oversaw the relaunch of Nickelodeon. At the time it was a kids’ network that nobody watched – least of all kids. We redesigned the logo, created a new look, sound, and vocabulary for marketing/on-air promotion, and took Nickelodeon from worst to first in cable ratings in one year. Then we came up with the idea for Nick-at-Nite, creating the first television oldies network. Nick-at-Nite was an environment, a place…we called it TV Land! Our work took a bunch of old black and white reruns and turned them into an immediate ratings and sales success.
Not content with merely enhancing the value of existing shows, we also wanted to produce our own. So Fred/Alan launched Chauncey Street Productions. We won three ACE awards for shows we made for HBO and Nickelodeon.
I’m especially proud of two of the last things Fred/Alan did before I headed for Hollywood. We made up the name and wrote the original branding and positioning for a new comedy channel—now known to the world as the successful and influential cable network Comedy Central. The next time you watch Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, South Park or any of Comedy Central’s other fine and funny shows, remember that it all started at Fred/Alan. We also helped relaunch MTV’s sister channel, VH-1, in 1991. We dubbed it The Greatest Hits of Music Video, and the network’s ratings rose in 24 hours! That was the first time in history that VH-1 had turned a profit.
Life # 2 — Cable Pioneer
In 1981, I was director of on-air promotion at The Movie Channel. My boss there asked me to help launch a fledgling cable network that would do nothing but play music all day and all night. It was going to be called MTV: Music Television. Back then very few people had cable. A lot of industry professionals thought the whole idea was crazy.
I thought cable was a coming thing, and developed a strategy: If we could burn the MTV logo into viewers minds – literally ‘brand’ the network – it would create a sensation. Young rock fans would demand their MTV. The result was the now-famous “I Want My MTV” chant and the constantly mutating MTV logo, as changeable and fractious as the audience the channel reaches. We created hundreds of animated logos with dozens of the world’s independent studios. Our work won a special award from ASIFA, the international animation society, as well as CLIO awards from the advertising world. Adweek magazine named me one of eight “leaders of the new media.” During my time at the network I supervised everything that comprised MTV’s identity—programs, promotions, advertising, contests, premiums, and consumer products. And I am still in business with that network and its siblings in various ways today.
Life # 1—Jazz Cat
Before all that, I was in the music biz. Not so much as a musician, although I did play out a little in my youth. But I found other ways to express my love of music. While attending Columbia University I became a radio DJ and record producer. In the 70s I formed Oblivion Records, a blues and jazz label, and one of my independent jazz productions got nominated for a Grammy. I also helped make WHN in New York City the most listened-to country station in the United States.
Does it seem strange for a former jazz cat to morph into a TV executive, and then turn into a cartoon producer who sets out to pioneer the new frontier of video on the Internet? Not to me. For me it’s all part of a very clear continuum. I’m attracted to community, to places where disenfranchised people find what they love, and find each other and get creative. I’m attracted to heart and soul and humor, and to things that are wild, weird and unpredictable. I guess you could say I’m attracted to crazy. With any luck I’ll have a few more crazy lives to add to this document in the years ahead.