peter griffin jazz hands and big smile on family guy

With each year that passes, and with each left-field programming decision that Fox execs make — The Masked Mask-Maker, anyone? — audiences harbor back-of-the-mind concerns that this might be the year that the network chooses to pull the plug on its longtime animated hits The Simpsons, Family Guy and/or Bob's Burgers. With those shows respectively going into their 33rd season, 20th season, and 12th season, one has to wonder how long the animation domination can continue. Thankfully for fans, Fox seems more keen on utilizing the shows' fandoms than disappointing them.

Fox Entertainment's president Michael Thorn has no doubt answered a lot of big questions since taking on that title, and one that was posed by THR involved the futures of Family Guy, The Simpsons and Bob's Burgers in particular, since all three are produced by 20th Television, which is now under the Walt Disney umbrella. (Thorn was also a big part of 20th Television's development team before the move to Fox.) But while there may come a time when the animated series' expenses outweigh their immediate worth, it sounds like the network fully sees the shows as the foundation upon which its growing animation empire can thrive. In Thorn's words:

Those shows obviously long preceded me, but we are so proud to be involved with those shows. We see all three of them being on our air for a while, and we joke internally that the faces of these characters are the Mount Rushmore of animated characters. And as you know, we are really expanding our original animation right now. In addition to buying Bento Box, we just ordered our first 100 percent Fox Entertainment, Bento-owned animated series from Dan Harmon, Krapopolis. And so our strategy right now is to keep these incredible shows that are the DNA of our network but at the same time to really look to grow new series that hopefully will join them in Fox’s animated history.

Fox's acquirement of the animation company Bento Box Entertainment was definitely a step in the right direction by way of building a new legion of fan-friendly animated projects. The studio has over a dozen in-development projects at the moment, including Dan Harmon's Krapopolis, and works with both linear networks like Fox and Adult Swim and streaming services like Netflix and HBO Max. And while not every series is a huge hit — R.I.P. Hoops — network kinship and consistency are part of what helped keep The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Bob's Burgers going for all these years. (And specifically in the case of the temporarily cancelled Seth MacFarlane series, vocal and loyal fandoms, combined with DVD sales and mega-syndication.) Not that the shows aren't capable of trying new things.

Bob's Burgers' Sunday-night time slot amongst its animated peers is one reason why it attained its core fandom so early on, and it sounds like Michael Thorn aims to repeat that kind of success with other series, while also possibly striving to continue branching out and away from traditional family-centric concepts. Here's how he put it:

Our strategy right now is keep the shows that build our brand while at the same time creating new series and supporting those. And I think in addition to the new night that we launched this summer, I think you’ll start to see us expand beyond families into other areas and where we try to experiment a little bit creatively, like with Housebroken, and really take some chances and try to continue being the leader in animation.

Certainly, Fox has had success in the past by giving Simpsons co-creator Matt Groening and Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane other series, which resulted in Groening's Futurama, which lasted four seasons before being cancelled by Fox and later resurrected by Comedy Central; and in MacFarlane's American Dad, which lasted for eleven seasons on Fox before shifting to TBS; and MacFarlane's Cleveland Show, the Family Guy spinoff that was cancelled after four seasons. But Groening, MacFarlane and Bob's creator Loren Bouchard have all celebrated successes with more recent series outside of Fox, so it will do the network well to keep finding other heavily embraced creative minds like Dan Harmon's for future projects. Maybe like...Mick and Rorty? Mock and Rirty? Micky and Rort?

Animated TV will only get more popular over time, as the pandemic was a strong sign that such programming can come together in any kind of situation. Plus, when South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are getting $900 million deals to keep their show going, the sky is the limit for everyone else.

Get ready for the return of all three shows when The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Bob's Burgers will enter the 2021 Fall TV season for their new seasons on Fox on Sunday, September 26, starting at 8:00 p.m. ET. Loren Bouchard's The Great North Season 2 is part of that round-up as well.

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