When he takes command of
From the humblest of beginnings 13 years ago — one early offering was made with microphones purchased at Radio Shack —
Adult Swim's mostly animated shows — among them hits such as "Robot Chicken,"
The dorm-room-type nonsense fits the digital age.
"I always fondly call them the Internet of television," said
"We've just kind of ridden that wave," Mike Lazzo said in a recent phone interview. Lazzo, a 56-year-old high-school dropout with a thick Georgia drawl and a self-deprecating manner, has been the guiding light behind Adult Swim since its formal inception in 2001. Operations are tucked safely away from the Hollywood scrum in Atlanta, where parent company Turner Broadcasting, a
"We didn't have a lot of live action or talk shows," Lazzo added. "We were something different, and I think a younger demo responds to that."
They have responded so well, in fact, that as of March 31, Adult Swim — once confined strictly to late night — started airing as early as 8 p.m. Time Warner believes that the Adult Swim sensibility can capture the attention of young men in prime time just as well as it does after 11 p.m. But the move carries considerable risks as well, including bigger programming costs and a dilution of the brand's off-the-wall reputation.
Asked to explain the move to earlier in the night, Lazzo deadpanned: "The company seems to really like money." More seriously, he added: "The No. 1 goal is prime time. That's where the largest audience is, and the largest financial opportunity."
The push into prime time is already yielding big dividends. On Monday,
A look at the late-night ratings shows why Adult Swim is putting pressure on its talk-show rivals — and how it could become a prime-time force. In the first quarter of 2014,
Even more attractive to advertisers is Adult Swim's skew toward youth. The median viewer age is about 23 — an eye-popping figure, given that the median age of "Late Show" is 58.
"They built a brand where advertisers know they can reach young males," said Chet Fenster, managing partner at ad firm MEC North America. Commercial buyers see the programming block as a clear alternative: "They're all things that are a bit funny and a bit strange," he added.
Lazzo has amped up the strangeness with some of the best-known comedy writers in the business — and then, as Corddry pointed out, letting them do pretty much whatever they want.
Dan Harmon rose to fame with
"When we get notes, we're talking to one guy in Atlanta, who's in charge of everything," said Harmon, whose battles with NBC executives over the creative direction of "Community" led to his temporary departure from the series. "We take those notes because that's one person being sincere in his reaction to the material and not trying to politick within a hierarchy, and also not trying to guess what an audience wants."
Dave Willis, who helped craft "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" — about a group of fast-food items that sit around a house and insult each other — into Adult Swim's longest-running show, agrees that Lazzo's role as impresario is crucial.
"His taste is for more absurdist comedy," said Willis, who's also behind the animated spoof "Squidbillies" and the live-action "Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell."
"Frankly, that type of comedy — which is really popular on the Internet — is not that prominent on broadcast or even on cable," Willis said.
Lazzo realizes the challenges ahead. Moving into prime time has forced Adult Swim to take a broader, more relatable approach to comedy — as in "Rick and Morty," which, while still off-the-wall, hews much more closely to traditional narrative and characterizations a la
So far, the expansion has worked, with "Rick and Morty" finding a large audience at 10:30 p.m.
But "we can't lose our late-night sensibility, which is what started the whole thing," Lazzo said. "It's a really fascinating time to be in this business. We have our work cut out for us."