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This Guy's Name is Fred, and He's Responsible for Your Entire Childhood
December 26, 2016
If you were a kid with basic cable at any point from 1981-2016, you probably should know the name of this guy, Fred Seibert.
Fred was a lifelong New Yorker who got started in media working for Columbia University radio and then got into the music industry as a record producer. He then got the opportunity of a lifetime when he was hired as Creative Director for MTV in 1980.
MTV's marketing strategy was completely new, from the mutating logos to the "I want my MTV!" campaign it defined a TV channel not as a reliable broadcaster but as an attitude, an aesthetic, an act of rebellion.
Bolstered by this runaway success, he left the network to start a new ad agency with his partner Alan Goodman, only for them to be immediately hired back as consultants in 1985 to help MTV's floundering experiment with childrens' entertainment. This failure of a programming block was consistently in last place in the ratings and its name was... Nickelodeon.
Everything you love about classic Nickelodeon happened under the Fred/Alan agency's guidance. From the orange splat logo, to the original doo-wop jingle, to the development of the original Nicktoons. Within six months Nick was the most-viewed cable network in America and it stayed at #1 for 25 years.
Besides Nickelodeon, he also worked on the branding of other hit cable stations like VH1 and Comedy Central, basically everything you watched on TV in the early 90s.
Yet despite all these successes his life was in shambles. He hated working for a major corporation and became depressed after he and his wife divorced in 1992. Having dissolved his consulting agency, he planned on living alone in the woods to clear his mind and figure out the rest of his life...
... But before he could move away, he was approached by a friend, who offered him a job as president of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, which had recently been bought by the ever-growing Turner Broadcasting conglomerate.
According to an
, Fred claimed he was unsure about taking the job, but when he nervously looked down at his wrist he realized he was actually wearing a Flintstones novelty watch at that very moment. He took this as a sign from above and agreed to move to Hollywood in 90 days.
Once at Hanna-Barbera, things were looking grim. The company had not had a show run for more than a single season in over a decade (
, 1981) and the studio was struggling creatively and financially.
Stymied by aging and out-of-touch executives, the studio had lost touch with what kids wanted. So Fred looked to lower-level animators for new ideas and suggestions for how to move the company forward.
Energized by the creativity of the animators he was talking to, he pitched Ted Turner an unlikely new original series for Cartoon Network, which up until that point had only aired reruns from Turner's immense animation archives.
After receiving 5,000 pitches from cartoonists across the world, 48 new animated shorts were greenlit for the
What a Cartoon! Show
. Harking back to the era of creator-driven shorts from the "Golden Age" of animation, the show featured a dizzying array of new styles, voices, and characters never before seen on TV.
From those 48 original shorts, the executives at Cartoon Network ordered full series based on some of the most popular entries like
by Genndy Tartakovsky and
The Powerpuff Girls
by Craig McCracken. The "Cartoon Cartoons" era had officially begun.
Hannah-Barbera was repurposed into "Cartoon Network Studios" in 1996 and Fred left to start his own independent production company to develop new animated programs. "Frederator Inc" set itself apart from other companies with a huge online presence (anybody who owned an iPod Video will remember watching shorts and student films on their video podcast in the early 2000s) and a focus on unique and orginal programming.
Fred Seibert kept his dedication to the power of creators and the particular strengths of animation as a storytelling medium. And he's still producing long-running hits like
The Fairly Oddparents
Adventure Time (which launched the careers of a whole new generation of animators)
So on behalf of every lazy kid who wasted hours upon hours of their youth in front of their TV watching cartoons, I'd like to give a real and sincere "Thank You" to Fred. You fundamentally impacted the lives of millions and more people ought to know your name.
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