Nets launch new batch of animated primetime series - Why this formula, usually difficult to master, is given another chance

By Lynette Rice and Jennifer Armstrong
April 02, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

No broadcast network has launched a successful animated prime-time series since King of the Hill in 1997. But that’s not stopping them from trying again. No surprise, the charge is being led by the network Bart Simpson built.

Fox has five animated projects in the works for this fall, including a version of Aaron McGruder’s oft censored comic strip Boondocks, a semiautobiographical show from radio personality Phil Hendrie, and another goofy take on dads from Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane.

CBS — which has avoided animation since 1993’s failed Family Dog — has Everybody Loves Raymond exec producer Phil Rosenthal developing a midseason ‘toon about an idiosyncratic family.

But nothing compares to NBC’s Father of the Pride. One of the most expensive first-year comedies ever (set to cost $2 million-plus per episode), Pride marks DreamWorks’ ambitious entrance into TV animation. The studio behind Shrek is producing the CGI ‘toon about a white lion who stars in Siegfried & Roy’s Las Vegas act (Roy Horn, still recovering from the stroke he suffered after being mauled by a tiger on stage, is expected to help promote the show, which features his CGI alter ego). So convinced is he of Pride’s potential — studio cohead Jeffrey Katzenberg promised it would look like Shrek — NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker ordered 13 episodes last spring sight unseen, hoping it could replace Friends (it will likely air on Tuesdays or Thursdays). ”Of course it was scary greenlighting it,” says Zucker. ”But the time was right. Doing animation for TV is one thing; having DreamWorks do it is a whole other thing.” Like when it comes to cross-promotion: There are plans to show trailers of Pride in select theaters before May’s Shrek 2, and Shrek’s Donkey (Eddie Murphy) will guest on the TV show.

Exec producer Jonathan Groff is particularly psyched about how Pride allows him to rework the domestic-sitcom formula. The lead lion (John Goodman) lives behind the Mirage hotel with wife Kate, their two cubs, and Kate’s father (Carl Reiner). ”Kate has to put up with her annoying husband,” says Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Cheryl Hines, who voices her. ”And he’s named Larry.”