Embrace Your Maverick Forebears
At Adult Swim, the guiding lights are TV legends Ted Turner and Fred Silverman. Turner helped pioneer cable-television programming when it was still a three-network universe. Silverman ran every network during the 1970s and was responsible for landmark shows such as All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Roots. Both Turner and Silverman, not coincidentally, were mercurial personalities whose excesses were tolerated only during good times.
Know How to Work the System
Programming head Mike Lazzo "seems like this rebel," says his colleague Chip Duffey. "But he's achieved things corporately that enable us to have all this creative freedom." Lazzo's relationship with Jim Samples, the EVP and GM of Cartoon Network, is the key to his being able to offer a creative haven for his people. Samples keeps the Time Warner suits away from Lazzo, and Lazzo can follow his gut to do what he feels will appeal to the young adults everyone wants flocking to the network.
Bet on People First
Many of the creators of Adult Swim shows have never developed a cartoon before. Lazzo's philosophy is that if you have a promising idea, you should get a chance to take your best shot. Lazzo is so open to good ideas — no matter where they come from — that his team produced and aired an episode of Sealab 2021 written by a fan.
Change Things (Before Someone Changes Them for You)
As Adult Swim has grown, Lazzo has responded by altering some of the things that have made it successful, in an effort to take it to the next level. He has delegated responsibility on vetting scripts to a manager of program development, and he is reaching out to producers in New York and L.A. for new content so that he doesn't stretch his team in Atlanta too thin. All before he felt any pressure from Time Warner brass to do so.
A version of this article appeared in the January 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.