Adult Swim, the Cartoon network's late night block of risqué grown-up programming, which has been amusing stoned college students for over a decade now, recently hit a milestone. One of their short-form live action shows, Childrens Hospital, just won an Emmy.
If you are unfamiliar with the show, it is the brainchild of funnyman Rob Corddry and centers on the bizarre doings of a group of doctors who save children from made-up ailments, such spontaneous singing and airborne memory loss. The doctors hook up, break up, pretend to date and occasionally break into dance; it pokes fun at all of the melodramatic doctor shows but with a twist -- it makes absolutely no sense. Corddry plays a doctor who is a clown or a clown who is a doctor; either way, it's weird.
In addition to the show's odd plot lines and tone, it is also really, really short. Each episode is only 15 minutes long. Fifteen-minute live-action shows are nothing new to the network. The Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! premiered in 2007 and featured campy public access-style sketches. Since then the network has introduced several other short-short-form comedy shows, but it is the Emmy win for Childrens Hospital that seals this form of television into the history books.
Is the 15-minute program the new half-hour sitcom? Ignoring the niche style of comedy these Cartoon network shows employ, the fact that they are so short makes them that much more digestible. We have entered a 140-character world where faster and shorter is better. Lately, even five-minute YouTube videos seem too long. Is the Internet's influence over our ever-shrinking attention span now spilling into other television?
It makes sense since Childrens Hospital finds its roots in the Internet; it was originally a Web series. It comes built in with its own version of a "skip" button. If you don't like a particular episode, it's okay; it will be over before you know it. Add in commercial breaks and now you are talking about 11 minutes of your life. Eleven minutes is less time than it takes someone to write "LOL" on the image of a cat wearing a top hat that you just posted to your Facebook.
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Time has become such a commodity in this day and age that wasting it, even an extra 15 minutes of it, can be detrimental to your day. Think of all of the amazing images of awkward children you can find on Buzzfeed in those 15 minutes? As networks struggle to find good new comedic shows, maybe they need to look to the short-short format as a method for attracting younger viewers who can't be bothered to watch the entirety of an episode without changing the channel. Let's face it, television is hurting, and if this fall season is any indication of the future of the boob tube, we're in trouble.
For reference, Childrens Hospital, a show that airs at midnight on a cable channel, averages one million viewers per night; NBC's Parks and Recreation premiered last week to only 3.5 million viewers, in prime time!
Maybe the struggling networks should try this new format and see what's what? We could find out in a year or so that short-short is the new sitcom.