Paul Dini: Superhero Cartoon Execs Don't Want Female Viewers

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Paul Dini: Superhero Cartoon Execs Don't Want Female Viewers

According to Batman writer Paul Dini, most TV networks only market superheroes to young boys, and will cancel shows if other audiences enjoy them more.

It's always disappointing when our favorite TV shows are cancelled by networks, but realistically, that just needs to happen sometimes. If a series isn't attracting enough viewers to justify its costs, everybody loses money, which in the long term that makes it harder to produce quality stories. The good news is once you get a dedicated fan base established, you could keep the show running until everybody gets bored, right? Not so, says Paul Dini, known for his extensive work in the DC Animated Universe. During a recent podcast with Kevin Smith, Dini noted that popular superhero shows will still get cut if the wrong audience is enjoying their stories. Specifically, executives only want young boys to watch superhero cartoons, and if too many girls are tuning in instead, that show will be put on the chopping block.

"They're all for boys," Dini said when asked about series cancellations for Young Justice and Green Lantern: The Animated Series. "I've heard executives say this, you know, not [where I am] but at other places, saying like, 'We do not want girls watching this show.'"

When Smith asked why female audiences aren't being considered, Dini responded: "They. Do. Not. Buy. Toys. The girls buy different toys.

"That's the thing, you know I hate being Mr. Sour Grapes here, but I'll just lay it on the line: that's the thing that got us cancelled on Tower Prep," Dini continued. "'We need boys, but we need girls right there, right one step behind the boys' - this is the network talking - 'one step behind the boys, not as smart as the boys, not as interesting as the boys, but right there.' And then we began writing stories that got into the two girls' back stories, and they were really interesting. And suddenly we had families and girls watching, and girls really became a big part of our audience ... But, the Cartoon Network was saying, 'F***, no, we want the boys' action, it's boys' action, this goofy boy humor we've gotta get that in there.'"

I'd never heard of Tower Prep before (because I'm a boy, apparently), but it was getting decent reviews before being cancelled after a single season. The series introduced a group of superpowered teenagers imprisoned against their will at a private school, like a bizarre combination of X-Men and The Prisoner. That actually sounds like an interesting idea, but as Dini notes, Tower Prep was eventually replaced with a show about "goofy nerds fighting CG monsters".

But hey, in the Cartoon Network's defense, it's not like female-centric action stories would be successful enough to sell toys, am I right?

Source: SModcast, via io9

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The entire time I was reading this, I was thinking to myself, "It's got to be about the toys"

And then, there it was. Exactly as I thought.

oh deary me. The sad economics of childrens TV. If it's a show aimed at kids the only reason it's produced is because they want to sell merchandise of it. And the market research says boys buy these toys and girls buy these toys.

I remember when in the transformers movie they killed off and brought in many new characters just to sell new toys (look up some interviews on it, its really quite fascinating).

Though it does get rather confusing if kids buy the toys they do because that is what they would want or if they are influenced by society. Kids are very impressionable, and adds are made to make them want things. It creates a kind of chicken and egg situation where it's hard to tell if things are the way they are because of natural preference or manipulation from the advertizements.

So, sexism and preferrential treatment because plastic equals dollar signs?

I don't think I want to live on this planet anymore.

I'd seriously want to know how it is that this is considered the norm, when the opposite seems to be perfectly fine. Look at Hasbro handling of the MLP franchise!

I love the bit where he goes:

"[Career killing rant], not [where I am] but at other places, [Career killing rant]."

At least he was smart enough to include the, 'of course not where I'm currently working'. Where I'm currently working they are the bastions of progressive thinking.

I'm fairly certain there's already a thread for this. At least this OP didn't misuse the word "misogyny".

deathbydeath:
I'm fairly certain there's already a thread for this. At least this OP didn't misuse the word "misogyny".

Basic rule about the "News Room" is that there are many people who look at official things posted by the escapist that don't read the general forums. therefore just because someone in the general forums has posted a story does not mean that the news room will not post it.

Mr. Dini, by all rights Tower Prep was a fine show, but it was live action. On Cartoon Network. Perhaps it wasn't getting the demographics the executives wanted, but that's partly because the viewer base rebelled. Needless to say, it could do with being picked up by some other network and Young Justice will be missed.

OT: Wait... Couldn't we convince girls to buy the same toys as boys? Couldn't Optimus Prime play with Barbie? I feel like this is something we should be working towards, rather than keeping to the same old same old...

Yikes, that's disheartening. I would have thought the response to getting a demographic you didn't expect would be to capitalize on it (look at what's happening with My Little Pony) instead of shrieking in horror and pulling the plug.

If they want girls to buy the toys maybe they should stop marketing the toys to boys and reinforcing the strict gender binary in children's products in general. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy: girls aren't interested in this stuff, so we won't market it to them, so they won't buy it, which means they're not interested in it.

Draconalis:
The entire time I was reading this, I was thinking to myself, "It's got to be about the toys"

And then, there it was. Exactly as I thought.

I forgot all about the toys. So yeah, there's the corporate dickhead motive behind this bullshit.

Have they not thought that perhaps, especially in an age of crumbling gender roles, girls would actually buy the toys if they were interested in the series? A series that didn't get cancelled the moment it gained an unexpected, wider audience? This is the common problem with corporate thought, even forgetting the obvious problem that execs often do not think for a second about what is right morally, they only tend to think in the short term, not just the quick buck, but the quickEST buck. This means it ain't just disgusting, it's downright stupid. Stop it, DC execs. Stop it.

What?!? Executives make decisions we don't agree with based on hidebound monetary prognostications rather than artistic merit? Holy crow!!!

C'mon, guys.

--Morology!

I think the interesting bit here is to think about why girls don't buy toys as boys do.

I suspect there's a lot of social conditioning/inertia behind kids having such attitudes.

The saddest thing is that, if marketers put their heads together into finding a way to break gender-specific social conditioning in order to increase sales, they'd be doing society a favor... by accident and for the wrong reasons, but still a favor.

There are a lot of things to be said here.

For one, I think Paul Dini was kind of dancing around the elephant in the room here to an extent. Part of the problem is that networks want to keep their audiences very specific due to the problems that can come from mixed fan bases running into each other and causing problems. This was a big deal many years ago when Fox was picking up the rights to the anime "Escaflowne" but they wanted to edit it because they specifically did not want the older anime fans becoming interested and mingling with kids over a shared interest in the show, as when you start getting "creepy adults" together with kids, as harmless as most of it might be, eventually something happens and that blows back on the IP. This was an even bigger deal with Sailor Moon (which surprised everyone) and had a lot to do with the reason why there were so many attempts to cancel it or refuse to pick it up despite some rather strong demand. "My Little Pony" also infamously gets a lot of attention for this. Basically IP holders don't generally want parents seeing 40 year old adults buying the same toys their kids want and creating that kind of atmosphere.

When it comes to live action shows, it becomes somewhat touchier. One of the reasons why Buffy eventually got cancelled was because of Joss fighting the networks over that show for so long, and honestly it was, and still sort of is, plagued with a degree of controversy before you even get into the politically correct stuff that apparently became the final straw (The network demanding minority characters given X amount of screen time being added to the show). Buffy for example became a sex symbol, and her sex life a big part of the show, the character herself was 14-16, all metaphors aside she had already turned her vampire boyfriend evil by having sex with him before she even graduated high school
and there wasn't exactly a lack of sexual tension before then. The guy Buffy was banging was physically like 30 and was in the show a lot older. The fact that the romance itself was portrayed as being okay other than the whole supernatural ramification of the entire thing, occasionally got some eyebrows raised, and even now "Buffy" and it's relatively long run can be an awkward "go to" example when someone wants to attack or defend underage sex. It can be argued that a lot of why Buffy went places like this was because it had a very diverse audience, and really Networks aren't fond of rolling those dice and hoping things won't explode when they get called on them.

Something like "Tower Prep" with a bunch of super-teenagers trapped in a prison school seems like as it went on it could very well develop in the same directions as Buffy, especially if it was getting an audience of adults that might want to see it explore more adult themes and would be in a position to leverage it. I could see why network execs would get nervous by the nature of an audience and how it was going to influence a show's direction.

It should also be noted that Buffy was kind of unusual in that it was more or less developed for prime time, so to speak. It was intended to succeed or fail based on selling your general array of advertising spots. Most children's cartoons are intended to basically act as glorified commercials, which also sell space for more commercials (something they are frequently criticized for). The entire business model and expectation is different. With "Buffy" any side merchandising was a nice bonus, with your typical super hero show, the merchandising is the point. To be considered successful these shows need to move a lot more action figures and stuff a lot faster than Buffy ever did, Buffy's stuff being more or less stuff that came about due to demand by the fans, as opposed to being made at the same time and sitting in warehouses waiting for the show to create the demand.

At the end of the day though there is also the lingering spectre of gender politics here, because as I'm saying the toy angle does apply even if it's only part of it. Politically speaking there is a tendency to try and say that girls only act and buy what they do because society conditions them that way. In reality girls and boys are wired differently, want different things, and act differently, without any real pressure from society. At the end of the day girls generally do not want huge collections of action figures, the exceptions that exist are not enough to form a market off of. Girls tend to do better when targeted with a central, expensive, product, like a doll and then various extra things being
sold for it (it does not incidently have to be a doll in particular). With boys it's easier to target them with volume sales and get them to want to collect huge arrays of action figures and the like. Boys also tend to go through their stuff faster and not take care of it as well, which of course contributes to this, and volume sales. As a result it's a bit more common to run into a girl who still might have her toys in relatively good shape as an adult, than a boy in
the same position (though it does happen).

The thing is that if you remember there have been numerous attempts to get girls into the whole boy-like toy crazes which have generally failed. She-Ra, "The Golden Girls" (warrior/superheroine action figures), and even Jem And The Holograms were all attempts at this from my generation, and while results were mixed, none of them ever succeeded to a huge degree, even when people look back retroactively and point out what a good job was done on something like "Jem" as far as children's programming went, even "She Ra" tends to get some comparative praise as having some better thought out elements than the more successful "He-man" it spun off of... so it doesn't seem to be a matter of a lack of effort and creativity going into it.

In short what I'm saying is that I think we might not like the message the network execs bring, but they have some legitimate points here on all levels.

The biggest mistake I think being made by execs nowadays is not wanting to accept on some levels how the world has changed. The failure inherent in trying to do an animated batman series for prime time and the like occurred in part because it was ahead of it's time (which is why it, and other aspects of Dini's work, have endured). Right now with the super hero craze, and audiences already overlapping, they are in a position where they could do something like that again and get away with mainstream advertising. Indeed it might even be time for them to actually start looking for some of the more "extreme" or "shock" comics to produce not-so-politically correct series off of for purely adult audiences later at night. Largely because it seems half of what seems to be hampering a lot of new shows is that at the end of the day there is a certain, accepted, politically-correct set of guidelines a hero is expected to conform to in any genere which means that at the end of the day everything becomes predictable and all the characters wind up running together
in your head.... not to mention eyerolling moments like in the TV series "Arrow" where our titular hero is for some reason lecturing "The Huntress" for being too brutal, having just snapped a guy's neck at the same time she did, not to mention stuck arrows in peoples eyes, and everything else.... I guess because it's expected super heroes are supposed to give this speech whenever they see someone else kill someone "When I snap some thug's neck or put arrows into their eyeballs it's different because uh.... it just is okay... violent vengeance is wrong!" I almost gave up on the show over that one season one episode... I didn't... but came close... I thought my eyes were going to roll out the top of my head, since I couldn't believe that script was approved... but I suppose there is some non-violent liberal hand wringing quota shows must adhere to or something to ensure heroes can't ever be taken too seriously. :)

This is pretty saddening. I thought we had moved on from this kind of thinking, but clearly that's not the case. Also, kids don't buy toys, 21 year old overweight basement-dwellers buy toys.

cartoon network! Your mad love of merchandise already murdered Symbionic titan... how many things I love will you destroy? *sobs*

the weird thing about the executive attitude is that it doesn't make entirely logical sense. Even if a show doesn't lose popularity with a male demographic, but stays as popular as ever with boys, they'll still give it the axe if a periphary demographic grows and eclipses it.

I agree with the fellow above that it seems premature to cancel a series with an unexpected following rather than trying to capitalize it... but then I remember how She-ra toys were marketed, and figure that selling toys to girls just isn't something this particular group of executives is good at. XD

Well, I won't even pretend to be surprised that this was coming out of a Cartoon Network talking head, because they developed a real taste for dumbing down some of their more successful shows and flat-out screwing over others, and generally became a pale caricature of themselves later on.

Quite frankly, I'd advocate for boys to be as offended by all of this as anyone else. "This is all they think you care about," I'd tell them. "They don't think you're smart enough to keep up with anything besides 'goofy boy humor', and they think you're so easy to lead on that you'll just want their crap without even caring."

Great, now I know that;

A) Steven Universe will definitely be cancelled and,

B) It's probably going to be replaced by something absolutely freaking stupid.

...well maybe it won't be...it's only headed by a woman so maybe so long as she keeps up with the action sequences I guess it might be OK...

Well, this doesn't really surprise me.

The cancelling shows because they think they can't sell toys(I still remember Sym-Bionic Titan! -_- Stupid Jerks.) , not how upfront they apparently were about the "gender politics" that lead them to make that choice.

I mean, really?
Why not try to branch out with your marketing before declaring the shows dead before they even get near to being cold?

It's not like people haven't been able to find ways to sell toys to girls.
And not just Barbie dolls either!

Well, I guess there loss....Is more the fans, and the creators of the shows loss. :(
Hope this crap changes soon.

I am actually mad enough to give a serious post. My favorite absolutely fantastic cartoons got axed for reasons because girls liked them. Is this the reason Johnny Test is still on the air?! Nobody likes that show and it stills runs while Young Justice, Symbiotic Titan and Green Lantern get killed off.

I'm done. I'm so fucking done. Stop the planet I want to get off.

The Rogue Wolf:
Well, I won't even pretend to be surprised that this was coming out of a Cartoon Network talking head, because they developed a real taste for dumbing down some of their more successful shows and flat-out screwing over others, and generally became a pale caricature of themselves later on.

Quite frankly, I'd advocate for boys to be as offended by all of this as anyone else. "This is all they think you care about," I'd tell them. "They don't think you're smart enough to keep up with anything besides 'goofy boy humor', and they think you're so easy to lead on that you'll just want their crap without even caring."

Indeed. This crap hurts everyone. Not just girls, or boys.

Hopefully the people enforcing these policies will get hurt by them eventually, and be replaced by ones that actually know how to market.

Shoggoth2588:
Great, now I know that;

A) Steven Universe will definitely be cancelled and,

B) It's probably going to be replaced by something absolutely freaking stupid.

...well maybe it won't be...it's only headed by a woman so maybe so long as she keeps up with the action sequences I guess it might be OK...

Dx You take that back!

:( Please....

I really hope that doesn't happen. I like that show so far.
Plus Adventure Time is about just as "girly", so maybe it will depend on the action.

Though, seeing as we had some "neck snaping" in episode one, so I think it should be okay.


Love how she keep up the motherly ":) No dear" talk by the way. Sells the bit as "normal" activity for them.

Toilet:
I am actually mad enough to give a serious post. My favorite absolutely fantastic cartoons got axed for reasons because girls liked them. Is this the reason Johnny Test is still on the air?! Nobody likes that show and it stills runs while Young Justice, Symbiotic Titan and Green Lantern get killed off.

I'm done. I'm so fucking done. Stop the planet I want to get off.

Why do you/we who liked those shows have to go?

So...lemme get this straight. You cancelled an awesome series like Green Lantern: The Animated Series because girls were watching it. Obviously a guy said that, so I have this to say as a retort.

Therumancer:
"My Little Pony" also infamously gets a lot of attention for this. Basically IP holders don't generally want parents seeing 40 year old adults buying the same toys their kids want and creating that kind of atmosphere.

Oooooohhh I dunno about that. Not everyone will be operating under the "he's a potential pedo" mindset. I just recently took a stroll down the pink isle as I was doing some Xmas shopping to actually see what the MLP toys looked like. I'd never even considered buying anything, despite liking the show. To a parent, any guy could just be buying something for his kids or relatives. And even if he was wearing a shirt, that doesn't say much either. I've seen tons of dads wear stuff their kids like just to make them happy, not because they like it themselves. Only time I could see the suits caring is if Mom's suddenly complained about it en masse, and I don't see that happening. So the point is mute.

Politically speaking there is a tendency to try and say that girls only act and buy what they do because society conditions them that way. In reality girls and boys are wired differently, want different things, and act differently, without any real pressure from society.

Nature vs Nurture. Yep, we've all seen these before. I don't buy it, not completely. Genders are wired differently, but society definitely does play a role in these toys and cartoon shows. A girl does not have a gene coded to make her like barbie and MLP over something else. Anything trying to say otherwise will require significant citation of sources.

but I suppose there is some non-violent liberal hand wringing quota shows must adhere to or something to ensure heroes can't ever be taken too seriously. :)

Ahh.. bad writing. Seems to be a problem everywhere these days. If only we could go back to the time where guns and violence wasn't so looked down upon and heroes could kill with impunity. Shucks, those liberals ruin everything :)

IamLEAM1983:
So, sexism and preferrential treatment because plastic equals dollar signs?

I don't think I want to live on this planet anymore.

I'd seriously want to know how it is that this is considered the norm, when the opposite seems to be perfectly fine. Look at Hasbro handling of the MLP franchise!

I think a lot of it has to do with Hasbro giving the creative reigns to Lauren Faust when the show got off the ground. MLP is not a kids show, as people often mistake it for. It's an all ages show. Parents can watch it with their kids and not gouge their eyes out. It's a smart premise, and takes after something Walt Disney himself said. "If you aim for just kids, you're dead. Adults are just grown up kids anyway."

Because of this you have parents watching the show, bronies, and even little boys enjoying it and getting the merchandise ,too.

Just reading this makes me think of the Zero Punctuation review of Neverdead where Yahtzee's idea to put an end to the retarded actions of gaming execs would be to go into their corporate offices with a big hessian sack and a group of day laborers armed with cricket bats. My version of that would be myself walking into the corporate offices of Cartoon Network carrying a dozen burlap sacks, a pair of razor sharp hedge clippers, a portable blow torch, and half a dozen Mafia members Italian businessmen armed with Louisville Sluggers.

As for what I have planned for the hedge clippers and blow torch, I'll leave that up to your imagination.

Not surprised by this news. Doesn't make me want to be pumped to enjoy anything else they make. Too much good stuff has been canned to forgive them. I think the problem here is that they are still banking heavily on toys, when what they should be pushing to girls is other merchandise besides toys. Sell girls the books, graphic novels and t-shirts. These could surely make up for the lack of toys sold.

The overlap of fandom for any show isn't anything to worry about, but I get why execs would worry. Fans at concerts go to see the band, not the band groupies, and while I can't speak for everyone, a certain degree of fan respect runs in fan circles, that transcends age. With a show like Escaflowne, many older fans would be into many other shows besides it.

I do miss Young Justice, because I usually dislike much DC stuff. Their loss, not mine.

I'm going to refer to another thread to suggest why perhaps girls don't buy those kind of toys:

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/125945-Six-Year-Old-Upset-By-Lack-of-Female-Friendly-Avengers-Toys

In short - it's because they're not making them.

Anyone have a link to those LEGO spaceships created from the girl LEGO sets?

Cancelling shows out of spite?

For the dishonor of Grayskull, Adora!

Just...wow. I can't even wrap my mind around that. I find the girls' stories to be much more interesting because they're often different from "I watched my parents die," or "I need to prove myself," origin stories that boys get so often. But this? Holy crap...good job, Cartoon Network. I knew your shows were going downhill in quality for some time now, and now I know why. You're so narrow minded that you are crashing the train into the freaking walls.

Back to watching My Little Pony now. Take note of that, Cartoon Network.

So we can't share our fun and games with other genders and age-groups? If you can't get the girls to buy the damn plastic crap, then maybe you should market it differently. Hell you can probably sell to both groups pretty well with a small dose of the forbidden "effort."

Superheroes and nerd-stuff has been a common bonding point between me and my nieces and nephews. It feels like my heart has been wrenched by mean old-minded dinosaurs of television saying that girls can't like what they like.

My nieces should be allowed to enjoy their superheroes and cartoons just as much as any boy could. It breaks my heart that they're meant to be prejudiced against liking Spiderman, Lightsabers and Tri-corders. When they show up, animated Justice League and Young Justice damn near burn a hole in my television. If the girls want to wear Lantern Rings while they play with their dolls, or wear Wonder Woman t-shirts while they watch Ponies ... I'll never complain, ever. Their uncle will never alienate them for it.

Race, gender and/or orientation should have no place in the celebration of fun and heroes.

Grace_Omega:
Yikes, that's disheartening. I would have thought the response to getting a demographic you didn't expect would be to capitalize on it (look at what's happening with My Little Pony) instead of shrieking in horror and pulling the plug.

If they want girls to buy the toys maybe they should stop marketing the toys to boys and reinforcing the strict gender binary in children's products in general. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy: girls aren't interested in this stuff, so we won't market it to them, so they won't buy it, which means they're not interested in it.

Exactly.

When will execs learn?

My guess...

somewhere between never and... when I get a letter from Hogwarts... and it turns out to be a real place.

You know...I'll believe part of that. Gargoyles was cancelled after Disney discovered the show was more popular with adults than kids. It was probably for the best...Season 2 was so watered-down & kiddified. Maybe that's why Batman TAS & X-Men weren't on as long as they should have been.

The part about the toys is BS though; girls want them, but their parents are the ones with the money. Hasbro doesn't seem to give a shit that boys watch their pony show.

It's a good thing manga publishers don't work on that logic, or every shounen manga there is would get cancelled. Even TV tropes noted that shoujo manga sells poorly because most women don;t want to read fluffy tripe.

Dini's still on my shit list for how he ended Gotham City Sirens. A f**king cop-out for Harley & a very out-of-character moment for the Joker.

ccdohl:
Reading through this thread it seems like a bunch of manchildren and womanchildren are finding out for the first time that their Saturday morning cartoons are just advertisements for toys. Further, they are becoming angry that the cartoons are advertisements for boys' toys!

Of course, everyone else knows that and is unsurprised. It's not sexism or misogyny, it's just business. And I say this as a lover of comics, cartoons, and women!

"I'm not upset at this, so I don't see why you all are!"
That's really all I've gotten from your post.

Sexism and business aren't mutually exclusive, marketing a toy that both girls and boys can get (And are) interested in only to boys is sexist.
Why shouldn't we be upset that, as a society, we keep enforcing these binary gender roles of "Boys have to be boys, and girls have to be girls." Why can't a girl play with action figures and racecars and dinosaurs? All of the "cool" toys are marketed towards boys, while girls get frilly pink dolls and plastic stoves/ovens. Well, sorry Sally, but you gotta start learnin' early!

(That last sentence is a joke please don't kill me)

Dr. Thrax:

ccdohl:
Reading through this thread it seems like a bunch of manchildren and womanchildren are finding out for the first time that their Saturday morning cartoons are just advertisements for toys. Further, they are becoming angry that the cartoons are advertisements for boys' toys!

Of course, everyone else knows that and is unsurprised. It's not sexism or misogyny, it's just business. And I say this as a lover of comics, cartoons, and women!

"I'm not upset at this, so I don't see why you all are!"
That's really all I've gotten from your post.

Sexism and business aren't mutually exclusive, marketing a toy that both girls and boys can get (And are) interested in only to boys is sexist.

Maybe some big business should put you in charge of merchandising and you will be able to run it better. Or maybe you'll see the sales data and come to a different conclusion.

In any case, it's not that I am not upset because I am unconcerned, I just think it's incredibly silly.

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