HA! didn’t work for MTV Networks (even with the super duper amazing work we did for them). The Comedy Channel didn’t work for HBO. So they merged in CTV: Comedy Television. Obviously, management didn’t have much of an imagination.
HBO insisted that their guy be in charge. And after a decade of success together, MTV Networks insisted that Fred/Alan do the positioning and branding.
I’ve always been obsessed with the way that Motown Records grew from a ghetto Detroit neighborhood by nurturing local talent in their rooming house-turned-soul-hothouse with all the means of production and distribution under one roof (it’s been the way that I’ve nurtured talent in all my businesses), and I thought that CTV should be the same hothouse for comedy. It was a natural. A 24 hour comedy network in the heart of New York City.
Fred/Alan creative director Bill Burnett was the perfect writer to lay out the dream, and completely nailed it. A rock’n’roller turned writer, he was the same age as Alan and me, incubated during the cultural revolution of pop that the Beatles ushered in and Motown thrived in. Based on the form that Alan developed over the years, starting with MTV in 1987, Bill would understand the idea and make it come alive.
Bill’s brand positioning document above put it right out there. But, as you read it you’ll notice he created the notion of setting up a COMEDY CENTRAL to do the talent cultivation keeps coming up over and over again.
CTV management bought the positioning, but more pertinently, they changed the name of the company. They never followed through on almost any of our ideas, but we renamed the network. And after all our successes over the years in developing channel trademarks, the marketing director wanted the glory for himself and ended up with the piece of junk (one man’s opinion, of course) globe they used for 20 years.
Ah well, you can only win some of them.
…..0 comments Tagged: positioning, branding, Comedy Central, marketing, 1991,.
Few designers understood Fred/Alan’s approach to television network logos as well as our first non-Fred, non-Alan creative director, Noel Frankel.
Our point of view started to form after Frank Olinsky of Manhattan Design brought in the first iteration of the last presentation on the MTV logo. He thought that every usage of the logo (for shows, posters, ads, etcetera) should have a different illustrative approach. We then pushed that idea further and came up with the thought that there could be different logo variations working right next to each other in one piece. In a world where print designers were hired to come up with a trademark, and then motion graphic designers were brought in to “make it move,” Fred/Alan felt that television had become the primary platform for design, so the marks needed to take this fact into account. Build motion into the initial composition, don’t add it afterwards. Our feeling was that you could freeze any frame of our moving logos and use it as a print graphic. Tom Corey and Scott Nash at Corey, McPherson, Nash picked up on this as soon as we started working together, and embedded it into the Nickelodeon and Lifetime logos they did for us. Besides, we felt that a corporate logo would have hundreds of people messing with it anyway, so if we could come up with a way that each designer who worked with it over time could “own” their own designs, the usage of it would be exponentially more exciting.
Noel brought a level of conceptual and executional sophistication to the process that peaked with HA! A bit of background is in order.
In 1989, HBO announced The Comedy Channel as a basic cable offering that was meant to compete formatically and demographically with MTV. Having learned from Ted Turner’s Cable Music Channel that the best defense is a strong offense, MTV Networks quickly announced it’s own comedy network. Given our deep relationship as the original branders-in-chiefs for the company —and the incredible importance of brand establishment at this stage in cable television’s history— Fred/Alan was brought in immediately.*
Naming was the first challenge. Nickelodeon was named before there was even a company (or we would have come up with a better name), and naming MTV and VH-1 were completely driven by Bob Pittman's focused leadership. So, for MTV Network's comedy network the best creative minds in a highly creative company generated 400 names, no one could make a decision, so they asked us to come up with a name. Never ones to waste our time with a client who wouldn't make up their minds, we decided the better part of valor would be to pick one from their list and sell it hard. HA!** was on the list, we loved it, and MTVN paid us a fortune to spend weeks convincing them a name on their own list was best. (So goes the game in corporate America.)
Noel took it from there. He came up with an approach that allowed anyone who laughed to potentially be part of the network identity. A shouted “HA!” could emanate from anyone’s mouth, photographic or illustrative, and that would keep it fresh and allow for hundreds of fun network IDs.
Time was tight and the network needed to be on air by April 1, 1990 (get it?), a schedule twice as quick as the launch of MTV in 1981. Fred/Alan relied on producers we’d been working with over the past decade to produce the network ID packages, and they all jumped aboard and did some great work.
For those of you following our IDs for various networks during the 80s, most of these 10 second films won’t surprise. They were all good, but pay particular attention to the ones Drew Takahashi directed for his company (Colossal) Pictures (the X spots at the beginning of the compilation above). Always looking to innovate, Drew moved us away from the traditional 2D animation his company had done for us in the past and towards his passion of exploiting the then unique combination of video and computers. His pieces take the fun of Noel’s design and mashes them up with a number of television conventions from the vacuum tube days. Via early MacIntosh computers.
HA! TV Comedy Network
Network identity IDs
Logo design: Noel Frankel
Production: Drew Takahashi/(Colossal) Pictures SF, Alex Weil/Charlex NY, Marv Newland/International Rocketship Vancouver BC
* No, HA! doesn’t exist anymore. Neither does the Comedy Channel. After two years of slugging it out with each other, they merged into Comedy Central (named by Fred/Alan’s Bill Burnett) as of April 1, 1991.
** The one hiccup in the clearance for the name was that Jim Henson had trademarked Ha! (executed in a Bodoni bold) for his company Henson Associates. Gerry Laybourne from Nickelodeon negotiated with Jim to make it work out.0 comments Tagged: 1990, Corey McPherson Nash, HA!, MTV Networks, Manhattan Design, Network IDs, branding, cable, logo, television, Comedy Central,.
From the very first minute I went to work for Bob Pittman (he was 25, I was 27) at the Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment Company in May of 1980, he told me about the company’s plan for a television channel that would be exclusively rock videos and how he envisioned the TV equivalent of radio jingles: network identifications (‘IDs’) short, wacked out pieces of animation that would reveal the network logo. Not like the staid CBS Eye (“You’re watching CBS.”) but rock’n’roll wrapped up into a little picture explosion.
As soon as we started working on what would become MTV: Music Television a month later I started thinking about these IDs and realized they could be the album covers of the new generation of music fans. For baby boomers the album cover came of age with the first American Beatles album representing every phase of their cultural development. I had bemoaned my lateness to that party, but my self-importance hoped the MTV network IDs could serve the same purpose.
Little did I know they’d achieve an almost equal prominence, and more. For me and Alan Goodman, my first partner in the enterprise (and countless more), they led the way for how we would become the first people to ‘brand’ American cable television networks throughout the 1980s. First as employees at MTV, then for our clients at Fred/Alan, we made over 1000 more of these 10-second visual operas for networks ranging from Nickelodeon and Comedy Central to TMTV in Japan and Lifetime. We worked with some of the greatest indie animators the world had to offer (some we’re still doing projects with today) and started a lot of companies on their way. These IDs might have been the most fun I had during the years we were doing television branding. (And for me, inadvertendly, they began what was to become a late life career change into producing cartoons.)
-Fred Seibert, 20060 comments Tagged: Comedy Central, Lifetime, MTV, MTV Networks, Network IDs, Nickelodeon, TV Heaven, TV promotion, VH-1, branding, Nick-at-Nite,.