Seth Green on How ‘Robot Chicken’ Became Part of Adult Swim’s Enduring Legacy

by Stacy Lambe 9:40 AM PDT, May 12, 2016
Photo: Getty Images

Wrapping up its eighth season on May 15, Robot Chicken -- the stop-motion, adult animated sketch comedy created by Seth Green and Matthew Senreich -- has become one of Adult Swim’s longest-running series, airing as long as the cable network has existed as its own channel. First launched as a Cartoon Network programming block in 2001, Adult Swim was split from the animated children’s network in 2005. That same year, the channel debuted a number of original series -- The Boondocks, Metalocalypse, Moral Orel, and Robot Chicken -- that would cement the network’s brand of unorthodox comedy.

“No one’s more surprised than us,” Green tells ET over the phone while promoting the new horror anthology film, Holidays, which is now in select theaters and available on demand. Since premiering in 2005, Robot Chicken has won four Emmy Awards and racked up 17 nominations as well as becoming a staple on the adult-themed animated channel. “This was a thing that made us laugh, that was made amongst friends because we wanted to make something, not because we ever expected anybody else to watch, or share the sentiment.”

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“We kept saying, ‘Imagine that you put on a play in your grandma's basement for your aunts and uncles, and then you won a Tony for it,’” he adds.

The key to the success of the animated series, Green says, is that it still comes from the same place. “We still really enjoy pop culture -- current and nostalgic -- and we still have the same point of view, the same questions about stuff,” he says, adding that Adult Swim understands content and programming, helping the show itself find and build an audience. “It's a unique relationship with the network, and I trust their stewardship. So, we just try and make an excellent show for them every year.”

Seth Green and writer Matthew Senreich pose with the Outstanding Short-format Animated Program award for Robot Chicken in the press room during 62nd Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards. Photo: Getty Images

While it’s rooted in its core idea -- a hilarious mockery of pop culture, with references to toys, games, movies and TV -- the show isn’t stuck, finding inspiration in current references. “Our hope for the show is that, as we all get older, we’ll continue to hire young writers that want to speak in our voice or want to give us their voice,” Green says, explaining how it plans to stay fresh after 10 years on the air. “The only way we stay around is that we keep evolving. It never becomes something that it isn’t, but we keep trying to evolve it.”

For its part, the series continues to push its own concept, with various specials, including the popular Star Wars episodes and its partnership with DC Comics featuring the brand’s most popular superheroes (and villains). “When you do anything long form, whether it's the half-hours that we've done or the hour-long Star Wars we did, you get a different opportunity to do some storytelling,” Green says of their branded specials.

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When it comes to the Star Wars episodes, it’d be easy to expect a lot of red tape to get clearance on jokes. But Green says there wasn’t any real difficulty getting approval. “There was only one thing we had to get run up the flagpole to [George Lucas], for him to yes or no, and he yessed it,” he says, adding of Lucasfilm: “They've always been really cool about having a laugh at themselves.”

Photo: Cartoon Network

However, don’t expect Robot Chicken to do The Force Awakens anytime soon. “We’re not planning to,” Green, who is a longtime fan of the film franchise, says. “But you’ll see Star Wars sketches, I’m sure, in the following season.” Instead, the show has teamed up with the creators of The Walking Dead for a new, half-hour special, bringing an animated zombie apocalypse to Adult Swim.

While the specials have broad appeal, Green’s favorite moment centers around one of the show’s zanier sketches involving a young jockey who can’t get a break and a recurring magical unicorn. “It’s probably not the best of the season, but man, has it stayed on my mind,” he says. That said, it does play into what he thinks generates the best comedy: sincere human moments.

“That's what we try and do on Robot Chicken,” Green explains, “is take things that are fantastic or outrageous and find the mundane humanity in them.”