"When I first heard they were going to do it in 15-minute portions, I thought, that sounds crazy," Elliott said. "But then I realized that's not that much longer than the little remotes I used to do on ['Late Night With David Letterman.'] It is a little old school for me, but there's an Adult Swim audience that has no idea what I did back in 1986."
It's Elliott's first lead role on a series since his oddball '90s Fox sitcom, "Get a Life," and he says, "This is the first thing since 'Get a Life' that I've done that is a perfect fit for me."
Still, the process of getting to its compact and sharply honed format was disorienting at times.
"It is like ingesting hallucinogens and going into the development process," Kissinger said of birthing "Eagleheart." "And I say that with gratitude. [Because] once we got our minds around it, it became really exciting when we realized, 'Well, this could be very extreme and bold and basically a live-action cartoon.' It gave us license to create a heightened kind of comedy where there really were no rules."
Adult Swim continues to distort the rules with 15-minute shows, reruns and anime. (The network has also developed unique ways of marketing programs via tie-in albums, toys and allowing fans to make their own custom DVDs.) But as live-action seeps into its identity and ratings continue to grow, there is the threat that longtime fans may retreat. The message boards found on their website routinely feature mixed reviews and resistance to the live-action shows.
Traditionally "you were a freak if you were an Adult Swim fan — not a majority sort," said Ron Russo, an adjunct professor of film at Kent State University who teaches an Adult Swim course and published the book "Adult Swim and Comedy." If these new shows with their recognizable stars push the network closer to the mainstream, "they could alienate the base."
Now that Adult Swim has established itself as cable's go-to spot for smart, off-kilter late-night comedy, its expansion into primetime indicates loftier aims. But as the network reaches for a wider audience, it is faced with quality quirky comedy lineups sprouting all over cable. IFC is building a stronghold with the sketch show "Portlandia" and with "Onion News Network," which air alongside reruns of "The Larry Sanders Show" and "Mr. Show." FX has jumped into the game with the animated series "Archer," created by Adult Swim graduate Adam Reed. Even Adult Swim's sister network TBS is going after a similar audience with "Conan," "Lopez Tonight" and its own successful block of syndicated reruns of shows, including "The Office."
"It doesn't bother me — that's just America," said Lazzo, who has been at the helm of Adult Swim since he co-created "Space Ghost" in 1994. "It would be awesome if we lived in a Communist country and I could crush all competitors."
Kidding aside, Lazzo said he's happy to see creativity on the air — on his network or elsewhere.
"I gotta tell you: 'Portlandia'? Great! Let's see new sketch voices. 'Onion News'? The hardest I've laughed all week. I don't really have an issue unless they beat me every night. And then I'm not going to have an issue with them, I'm going to have an issue with us."