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“Axe Cop” will air Saturday nights in Fox’s new “Animation Domination High-Def” block.

Getting experimental with animation

Fox photos
The Saturday night block also includes the quarter-hour series “High School USA!”

Fox long ago dubbed its Sunday-night animation block, which includes “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy,” “Animation Domination.”

Now the network expands that brand to late-night Saturday with “Animation Domination High-Def” (11 p.m. today). After all, why should Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” have all the fun?

Nick Weidenfeld, who was once head of development for Adult Swim and involved in the creation of “Children’s Hospital” and “Delocated” among others, was tapped by Fox to oversee its animation expansion into late night.

“I don’t know if you would say that this is directly in competition with Adult Swim,” Weidenfeld demurred at a Fox news conference in January. “The reality is that Fox has a really long history and a successful history of animation and that having a space to do experimental and more interesting kind of animation is really important.

“Saturday night offers a space to do that,” he said. “And Adult Swim on Saturday night does action programming. So I actually think that there’s a space for this, for interesting animated comedy to exist. ... It’s just about making really good stuff and trying to attract that audience, a young audience, to watching TV or to watching our website or our app.”

For its first six weeks, “Animation Domination High-Def” will air as a 90-minute block with two quarter-hour series – “Axe Cop” and “High School USA!” – airing in the first half-hour. Encores of those series will air at 11:30 p.m., and reruns of “The Cleveland Show” will air at midnight.

Beginning Sept. 7, the block shrinks to an hour of just “Axe Cop” and “High School USA!” episodes. Two new series, “Lucas Bros. Moving Co.” and “Golan the Insatiable,” will join the “ADHD” block in January.

Weidenfeld pointed to the way “The Simpsons” began as a series of shorts on “The Tracey Ullman Show” as an example of what he hopes to achieve with “Animation Domination High-Def.” It’s being eyed as a possible minor-league proving ground for series that could potentially graduate to Fox’s more visible prime-time lineup.

“It’s one goal of Fox,” he said. “It’s a path that they could go down. Should they develop a property that they own, that is interesting, and that can exist in the prime-time space, that would be wonderful. That is not the only sort of metric of success, but I think that that’s something that everyone would be really excited about if that works.”

He acknowledged that “ADHD” shows are not necessarily being designed with the broader appeal of prime time baked in.

“The stuff that we’re making isn’t the exact same fare as a Sunday night, really broad, prime show that needs all four quadrants (young, old, male and female) – 5-year-olds to 70-year-olds,” Weidenfeld said. “We’ve definitely not been given the directive to do that. And I think that that’s going to be what allows for that to happen.

“We don’t have those same restrictions on it. ... But we need to make stuff that, at the beginning, could just be for a niche audience, and that would be OK.”

While Weidenfeld said he pushed for more live-action shows during his “Adult Swim” tenure, he’s not expecting that style of short-form comedy programming to follow him to “ADHD.”

“I now have this feeling that there’s something really beautiful in having something entirely animated,” he said. “As much as I was the force behind making Cartoon Network and ‘Adult Swim’ move into live action, there’s something really great about the purity of animation. There’s not a lot of people that do it well. And if we can be the people that do that well and we’re where you go for that, then that would be amazing. I’ve put my live-action dream on the backburner. For any foreseeable future, ‘Animation Domination High-Def’ really means that.”

‘Axe Cop’

Based on a comic book written by a 5-year-old, this series follows the amusingly juvenile adventures of a cop who carries an ax, Axe Cop (voice of Nick Offerman, “Parks and Recreation”).

In an episode made available for review, Axe Cop goes after the bad guy who stole the friends of Bat Warthog Man (Vince Kartheiser, “Mad Men”) by traveling to another planet to get a dinosaur horn.

“Buckle up, boys, this jump leads to space, and that’s really high,” Axe Cop says before driving off a ramp that looks like something a 5-year-old might imagine after playing with Hot Wheels cars.

“Axe Cop,” written by Dave Jeser and Matt Silverstein (“Drawn Together”), is completely absurd and often hilarious, especially when you consider its pedigree. It’s easy to imagine a little kid coming up with the story and some of the dialogue.

‘High School USA!’

A cynical riff on the old “Archie” comics that’s somewhat reminiscent of MTV’s short-lived “Clone High,” “High School USA!” follows a group of friends through their high school adventures.

In an episode about bullying, written by Dino Stamatopoulos (“Community”), Brad (voice of T.J. Miller, “She’s Out of My League”) is revealed to be a bully, leading buddy Marsh (Kartheiser again) to declare, “When you reject a bully, you become a bully, and no one likes a bully.”

Marsh’s dad (Stamatopoulos) notes, “It doesn’t get better; it just gets the same.”

“High School USA!” has its moments of humor as it takes a contrarian approach to conventional wisdom about high school, but it’s not as original or as gleefully bizarre as “Axe Cop.”

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