Adult Swim Thinks High

How many times have you woken up on the couch and wondered what in God’s name is playing on your TV? Everyone gets exposed to late night programming sooner or later, whether by choice or by accident. Recently one network, Adult Swim has used creative genius to take command of the 11:35-1:35 block of TV, otherwise known as late night. The cable network Adult Swim is using “pot culture” as a way to market themselves to the increasing presence of marijuana in everyday media by providing their viewers with the security of being entertained through shock comedy and modified time segments which allow them to effectively budget the network’s innovation and creativity.



First we need to start by breaking down what the term “pot culture” refers to. Pot culture was started by the increased movement by states in the union to legalize marijuana that caused the drug’s popularity and use to increase dramatically. Late night TV has always made this abundantly clear, with talk show hosts such as James Corden directly stating that he’s aware that a large part of his target audience are “stoners” according to Josef Adalian’s article on Vulture. Pot related jokes, phrases, and routines have worked themselves into our culture (TV, Magazines, Newspapers, Movies, etc.) at an increasing rate as more and more states and countries globally have allowed for the recreational use of weed.

This pertains to Adult Swim because part of what they offer is consistent, attention grabbing humor and parody in their shows. This network, started and maintained by Mike Lazzo, has always marketed itself as a destination for offbeat, witty, and often time’s crude humor. All of these things are appealing to watch for someone under the influence of marijuana, most commonly Adult Swim’s target audience, viewers who are under the age of 35.

Many of Adult Swim’s top preforming shows such as Rick and Morty, and Bob’s Burgers frequently incorporate pot related humor into their scripts, clearly intended to land popularity with a stoned audience, again mostly millennials who like to stay up past 11:30 at night. The network’s medium age was 25, far lower than that of any other competitor. The reason why the network has found so much success is because they have marketed themselves as quirky and different, with an audience who is artificially stimulated and easily entertained. So as long as they deliver shock comedy that is attention grabbing, they please their audience. It is much easier from a creator’s perspective to take risks when there’s less on the line. They know they don’t need the perfect formula for a show immediately, the shorter segments allow for more leeway script wise and more autonomy is given to the creators. Moreover they have more animated shows than other networks, which lowers their overhead from a business perspective and allows them to focus their prime 30 minute shows such as Rick and Morty and Bob’s Burgers at key times to maintain their audience volume as they slip in new, 15 minute shows like Too Many Cooks. This way, even if the show flounders, they have built-in damage control as long as they ensure the audience was at the very least captivated by the out of the ordinary, off brand comedy.

By allowing for the short time limit Adult Swim can increase the sample size of the shows they promote, which gives the writers more creative freedom and license to try things that are out of the ordinary and frowned upon by older viewers. Counter culture comes off as too hardcore of an adjective for this network but there are definitely aspects in every Adult Swim show that could be considered antagonistic to the status quo.

In the article about Nickelodeon that we read for class, one passage reads, “The language of the brand is maintained by personal narratives-lifestyle, identity, and empowerment-more than a historical language of advertising, which relied heavily on a product’s efficiency in a competitive market.” This speaks to the fact that market branding is about selling a lifestyle, not a physical product. The market branding that Adult Swim is so effectively selling to its audience is that it’s okay to smoke pot and stay up late. They acknowledge it; make jokes about it, and in some cases even encourage it. They are selling the marijuana lifestyle to their viewers, through their offbeat, and attention seeking comedy. This is particularly true for Adult Swim’s millennial and pot-smoking audience. The audience responds well to the networks validation of their largely frowned upon decision to smoke marijuana. When show’s reference drugs and marijuana in particular, there is statistical evidence in terms of viewers and profit that pot related jokes connect with the younger generations watching, who don’t share their older counterpart’s suspicion and distaste for recreational marijuana use.

Although our parents and grandparents may still frown upon pot culture in the media today, statistically it is taking over as a legitimate source of comedic material for movies and TV shows alike. Recently Adult Swim had more viewers per capita than Jon Steward, and Conan O’Brien. Only NBC’s Jimmy Fallon outperformed them in viewer attention and demand. Adult Swim uses pot culture to connect with younger audiences, and to keep their creative edge in creating new, exciting, and different shows. They are able to adapt to new trends and use this branding to connect with their young viewer’s identity, and validate their transition to a new wave in our culture that has a place carved out and reserved for marijuana.


Adalian, Josef. “Stoner Week: How Adult Swim Conquered Late-Night TV.” Vulture. New York Media, 02 July 2015. Web. 30 Nov. 2016

Banet-Weiser, Sarah. Kids Rule!: Nickelodeon and Consumer Citizenship. Durham: Duke UP, 2007. Print.

Carter, Bill. “Adult Swim, No. 1 With Younger Adults, Is Expanding.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Feb. 2014. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: