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Icebox.com Offers Offbeat Cartoons

October 31, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ In some ways, it’s not unlike any cartoon on TV.

It begins with a duck _ an aquamarine duck in a striped tank top _ lazing on his living-room couch.

But TV may not be ready for this or any series named ``Queer Duck,″ whose hero, on hearing someone call himself ``a recovering homosexual,″ saucily replies, ``Me, too! I’m recovering a couch in eggplant chintz!″

Nor would a network likely embrace ``Mr. Wong,″ which makes sport of an 85-year-old Chinese houseboy complete with overbite and jaundiced complexion.

And ``The Adventures of Jesus and his Brothers″ (consisting of the unalmighty Marty, Vinnie and Chuck) would surely be verboten.

It’s true that broadcast and cable programming gets more and more crass. Even so, timidity retains the upper hand.

Not on Icebox.com, a Web source for tangy, sometimes racy, occasionally disgusting and offensive toons available around the clock.

Since its March launch, Icebox has rolled out 20 series, each averaging 10 episodes. A new cartoon of about three minutes in length premieres each weekday for viewing any time.

Formatted in Flash animation, which speeds downloading to your PC, a given cartoon is ready in less than a minute with a T1 connection. But with a 56K modem, the wait stretches longer than the show. Hint: If you have a fast connection at your workplace, that’s the place to sneak a peek.

Here’s some more of what you’ll find:

_ ``Zombie College,″ a campus romance where brains, not earlobes, are nibbled on.

_ ``Hard Drinkin’ Lincoln,″ which takes historical liberties with Honest Abe by portraying him as a loutish, potbellied lush.

_ ``Poker Night,″ bringing to life that famous portrait of poker-playing dogs for a comic celebration of malehood.

How successful is Icebox fare? Well, the size of its audience (1 million viewings per month) is dwarfed by any TV series. But any network would be happy to score Icebox’s laugh quotient.

The really laughable thing is, Icebox has filled its creative roster by cherry-picking from TV.

Mike Reiss (who cooked up ``Queer Duck″ and ``Hard Drinkin’ Lincoln″) is executive producer of ``The Simpsons.″ Eric Kaplan, who created ``Zombie College,″ is a producer of ``Futurama.″ Rob Greenberg, a co-creator of ``Poker Night,″ is co-executive producer of ``Frasier.″

In all, Icebox has signed some 50 television writers and producers, including Larry David (``Seinfeld″), Amy Lippman and Chris Keyser (``Party of Five″), and Jonathan Katz (``Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist″).

What’s in it for them? Equity in Icebox, plus creative independence.

With 40 new series in the works for next year, the Icebox directive is do your own thing, according to Steve Stanford, co-founder and CEO of the Los Angeles-based company.

``We look at television, and we see what happens when the networks, which are inherently risk-averse, find one thing that works: Everybody else tries to replicate it,″ he says.

To be fair, many Icebox offerings don’t stray too far from the basics of comedy, animation and TV storytelling. In particular, ``Meet the Millers″ is a sendup of repressed 1950s Americana as depicted in a sitcom from that era, displayed on a black-and-white TV complete with laugh track.

But here’s the big difference between Icebox and television’s typical attempts to be naughty: TV misbehaves in a self-conscious, calculated way, while, good or bad, Icebox champions a happy lack of inhibition.

``We should be taking creative risks all the time,″ Stanford says. ``We think that’s the most likely way to catch lightning in a bottle.″

Of course, the right bolt of lightning might also catch a network’s eye and checkbook. The shows on Icebox serve not only as inventive entertainment, but also as cheap prototypes for content-hungry TV and film studios.

``Because those properties have been proven online, and because they come from the talented creators that we’re working with, we think we have a very good sales proposition,″ Stanford says.

Indeed, cable’s Showtime next year will bring its viewers a live-action version of ``Starship Regulars,″ Icebox’s goof about the lowly crew aboard a military spacecraft.

But peddling shows elsewhere isn’t really the point, Stanford insists. ``The online part of our business is stand-alone.″

Stand-alone. And _ some of it, at least _ fall-down funny.


On the Net:

Icebox Web site: www.icebox.com


Elsewhere in television ...

GOING HIGH TECH: ABC News has named John Yang as technology correspondent, hired technology reporter Jim Goldman, and established a Technology and Internet unit that will produce stories across the entire news division, the network announced. In addition, ABC News Internet contributor Tiffany Shlain, who is featured on ``Good Morning America,″ will offer reports on new media. Yang, who joined ABC News in 1999, has recently been reporting from the campaign trail on the presidential race. Goldman was high tech business editor for San Francisco’s KRON-TV. Shlain is the founder and director of the ``Webby″ Awards, the leading international honors for Web sites.


EDITOR’S NOTE _ Frazier Moore can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org

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