The beginning of the collaborator-driven era in TV animation — and why *FiM* just might start it

WARNING: This post contains minor spoilers for Episode 100 of Friendship is Magic.  That said, if you even know the premise of Episode 100, you know everything I’m going to discuss.

Most of us are aware that this whole weird “Brony” thing originally spawned from 4Chan.  Fewer know that it was kicked off by — more or less — an analysis article.

Behold, our Boston Tea Party.

Behold, our Boston Tea Party.

Written by Amid Amidi and entitled “The End of the Creator-Driven Era in TV Animation”, the piece lamented the shift of creative control away from the generators of franchises — the Greg Weissmans, Gavin Blairs, and yes, Lauren Fausts — and toward corporate board rooms, shareholder meetings, and copyright-holders:

Watching names like Rob Renzetti and Lauren Faust pop up in the credits of a toy-based animated series like My Little Pony is an admission of defeat for the entire movement, a white flag-waving moment for the TV animation industry…The erosion of support for creator-driven animation happened gradually but surely, and today networks clearly prefer established properties over original ideas, and dislike dealing with individual artists who have a clear creative vision.

In fact, just to support his point, Amidi embedded a clip from the pilot of FiM right at the beginning of the article, so people could watch it and see what he was talking about. Then someone posted the article to 4Chan’s /co/ board.

I’m gonna have to wait a few minutes for the irony to disperse. We may need to crank the A/C.

Though honestly, laughing at Amidi isn’t really fair; no one could have predicted how FiM was about to explode. And when you look at it, he was actually correct — to a point. Faust did leave the show shortly after kicking it off, and her creative input was just one of many. In that sense, anyway, Amidi was spot-on.

But he didn’t predict what would happen to the show next — no one really could. If the nineties and oughts were the Creator-Driven Era, and that era was ending, the question then became; what would replace the creator-driven era?

For Amidi, the internet would create a new and exciting age, in which creators would have more control than ever (he was also correct about that, incidentally). But as TV animation went, his answer was bleak:

At the end of the day, TV animation isn’t going anywhere, and future Margaret Loesches will still find plenty of willing peons to fulfill their orders for extended toy commercials. But the overall trends are becoming more clear every day. Current market conditions and general conservatism in TV animation continue to erode the quality of series animation, especially content-wise.

Indeed, this was a concern for many Bronies when Faust left the show after Season 1. Many feared that the show’s quality would degrade back into the saccharine crap that My Little Pony had once been.

And by the traditional narratives about storytelling (yeah, I know — crazy meta), that’s what we would expect. The original creator — the life and soul of the show — leaves, and the quality of the show tanks as the artistic spark goes out and design-by-committee dismantles it. We’ve seen it a thousand times.

But this time, something different happened.

Rather than a bunch of profit-obsessed execs, the show passed into the hands of a group of very talented writers, artists, musicians, and voice-actors who actually cared immensely about its quality, and who weren’t taking Faust’s departure as an excuse to phone it in. The quality of the post-Faust era clearly reflects this. Yes, we still get the occasional hold-out who insists that the show went downhill after she left, but those people are a small minority by most indications.

At the same time, though, no one person has stepped up to take Faust’s place as “the creator” in the post-Faust period. The closest we have is probably Meghan McCarthy, but she seems to consider herself more of a curator — a “first among equals” as regards the rest of the writing team.

One effect of this is that there is no “final authority” on anything that isn’t explicitly stated in-show. This is kind of an oddity as fandoms go. FiM has no Gavin Blair, no Greg Weissman, no J.K. Rowling — there’s no one person who can say “this isn’t canon” or “this is canon”.

Morrow Twitter

Look, do I need to tag my fanfic as “alternate universe” or not? That’s all I want to know!

“Word of god” doesn’t really apply to FiM anymore. The final decider of canon is simply what makes it into the show. This means that each individual writer has quite a bit of power to determine the way the world works.

And collectively, so do the fans.

I've said it before, and I will say it again -- FiM team, y'all are fantastic.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again — FiM team, y’all are fantastic.

The degree of openness between fans and creators was notable even in the early days of the show, but it was Derpy’s appearance that really convinced me that we had something new on our hands. The inclusion of a fan-created character in a big-budget, corporate-owned show — that’s one of those things that is Simply Not Done(TM).

And yet it was.

And Derpy’s return — even after the fiasco that was Derpygate — suggests that the team are not content with this show being closed off. McCarthy & Co. want this to be a collaborative project. Even if the fans’ input is necessarily limited, they want it there.

Every time I get annoyed by fandom drama, I just think "well, at least it's not The Great Shitstorm Season of 2013."

Every time I get annoyed by fandom drama, I just think “well, at least it’s not The Great Shitstorm Season of 2013.”

And now we have Episode 100 — which will focus exclusively on background ponies, using largely fan-established personalities and backgrounds for them.

First of all; wait, what? Are you serious? Is this actually a thing? No, that’s a serious question, is this actually a thing?

Secondly; this is unprecedented as far as broadcast TV goes. It’s tempting to say it’s unprecedented, period. But as I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that there is a precedent for this kind of storytelling. In fact, it’s one of the oldest forms of storytelling in existence: in terms of how it’s created, FiM is starting to resemble mythology.

In both cases, there are a few people who decide which stories gain widespread exposure and acceptance. For us, these are the writers that Hasbro hires. In the case of mythology, they were priests, scribes, and storytellers like Homer or The Beowulf Poet. Those writers tend to mix their own ideas with older, already-existing stories and characters (Zeus, Tirek, Cu Chulainn) to create new material. But occasionally, someone else will devise a new story that gains traction and support among the common people (fanon/folk-tales). And if it gains enough support, the powers-that-be will incorporate it into their own stories, canonizing it.

(So yes, I suppose by this analogy, Meghan McCarthy is the high priestess of Friendship is Magic.  I was trying to keep this from becoming creepy, and I think I failed miserably.)

And bizarrely, the fact that My Little Pony is an established brand owned by a corporation is making the fictional universe more open, not less — because unlike a new, original IP, there is no one creator who can say “this isn’t canon”. We see corporate ownership having the opposite effect that it usually has.

Of course, if not for the internet, the openness between the fans and the writers would never have occurred — regardless of whether anyone was in the captain’s chair or not.  And that brings us to the million-dollar question:

Is FiM a bizarre anomaly? Or is it a herald of things to come?

Amidi believed that the internet was the new fertile ground of creativity. TV animation would stick around, of course — but the quality of the programming would be anemic compared to the best that the web had to offer.

He was hardly alone in that. The idea that the dinosaur of traditional media is dying out, to be replaced by the glorious new order of the internet — that rhetoric has been voiced by many, including me. Go on any forum thread, and the slow-but-sure death of cable TV and dead-tree newspapers is common wisdom.

But maybe we’ve had it wrong this whole time. Maybe the old standbys of traditional media won’t die out — maybe they’ll change too, to become more open, more collaborative, and more accessible.

If the creator-driven era of TV animation has ended, then perhaps the collaborator-driven era of TV animation has begun. Maybe in the future, the shift from fanon to canon will be commonplace, even in corporate properties like FiM. Maybe it will be weird when writers don’t incorporate some ideas of the fans.

Maybe. A number of things would have to happen for that to occur — including reforming our back-assward intellectual property laws. But I’m very excited to see where things go.

And in the meantime, OMG SEASON 5 STARTS IN 16 DAYS GET HYPE!

This entry was posted in Analysis, Fandom and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The beginning of the collaborator-driven era in TV animation — and why *FiM* just might start it

  1. spaceypony says:

    great job once again! 😀

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