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Today’s Score at Adult Swim: Sales 1, Marketing 0

November 16, 2009

In the written equivalent of my best Andy Rooney voice, I’d like to pose a question: “Have you ever wondered why a media company would manufacture so many DVD copies of a crappy movie?” I’m sure we’ve all seen shelves at our local big-box electronics retailers loaded down with far too many copies of Employee of the Month or some other cinematic affront to decency. Because there is a finite number of resale shops, gas station racks, and other destinations for discounted, largely unwanted DVDs, it stands to reason that those thousands upon thousands of excess copies of ribald Dane Cook features (and other DVD-era movies bound for similar oblivion) ultimately end up in landfills, contributing to the toxic effluent slowly seeping into our groundwater.

Thankfully, Cartoon Network and other Warner Brothers companies are pointing the way to a different production model: the on-demand manufacturing of DVDs in response to customer orders. Starting today, visitors to Cartoon Network’s Web site can order customized DVDs filled with their favorite episodes of several popular series in the network’s Adult Swim block of nighttime programming.

Based on the “print on demand” model already adopted by many smaller book publishers, this model of disc production meets needs on both the supply and the demand ends of the transaction. Warner obviously wants to cut costs and achieve “just in time” levels of efficiency, and savvy customers want increasingly customized and self-selected media viewing experiences. A personal example: I own two Warner Brothers Looney Tunes DVD collections (eight discs total), but I’d much rather be able to create and purchase one or two discs of the handful of specific Bugs Bunny and Foghorn Leghorn cartoons I remember from childhood.

So kudos to Warner and Cartoon Network for beginning to meet all these needs (not to mention the possible reduction in environmental impact—I shudder to think about all that plastic, and I don’t just mean Dane Cook’s stage presence).

Now if only Cartoon Network’s marketing division could be as innovative as its sales division. I can’t help responding to a recent theme of publicity for Adult Swim’s airings of the British version of The Office. I haven’t caught any on TV, but I’ve seen ads for “The [real] Office” in several places on the Web (including Pitchfork last week, though the ad seems to be down now). The Adult Swim fan page on Facebook has a few examples too.

“The [real] Office.” C’mon, Adult Swim—you can do better than that, can’t you? If it ever was, that slogan hasn’t been accurate or relevant since the summer of 2005. Back then, I heard that response to the American Office from a handful of people who, liked me, loved and borderline worshiped the original British version. But those of us who stuck it out beyond the first episode or two (which WERE truly painful in the lack of promise they showed) learned fairly early on that the American version had much to offer in its own right.

Yes, the American Office premise and some early plot points (including the threat of downsizing) were borrowed, and the earliest traits assigned to central characters were similar to those of their British counterparts. But after the first couple of episodes, the American version was already something more than a static or staid recreation of the original.

And by this point, 100+ episodes into the American version, the two are, of course, entirely different beasts. There were only about seven hours of content in the British version—it was entirely self-contained, with taut and clearly defined (and brilliantly written and executed) arcs for its central characters. The American version? About 50 hours of content and counting, so it’s self-evident that there’s been far more time for numerous storylines for both primary and secondary characters. In fact, those secondary players—at least a dozen wonderful characters—really set the American version apart and give it much of the richness and depth that those who wrote it off far too soon have completely missed.

So I’d say that the Adult Swim marketing folks need to take a cue from their sales division counterparts and shake off those old ways of thinking. Just as manufacturing Adult Swim DVDs at the appropriate quantity levels doesn’t have to be a guessing game, enjoying the two versions of The Office doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Fans of the original Office whose knees didn’t jerk too hard in response to the American version’s early episodes (even when Jim put Dwight’s stapler in the jelly), know that neither the British nor the American version is more “real” than the other at this point, and both are pretty damn good.

Postscript: That probably sounded a bit like an Andy Rooney rant, but I’m not ready for his level yet. And regardless, even if some TV show inexplicably gave me space to ramble on in the incoherent and uninformed manner he’s turned into an art, I’ll never be able to grow anything that rivals Rooney’s dense eyebrow thicket. He’s probably hiding missing children in those things!

  1. November 17, 2009 1:12 am

    If Adult Swim is taking suggestions, can a brother get some more Frisky Dingo?

  2. Jay St. Orts permalink
    November 17, 2009 9:11 am

    I’m waiting for a Venture Brothers–Squidbillies crossover myself.

    • November 17, 2009 10:06 am

      I’m just waiting for Adult Swim to start selling truckboattrucks.

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