Has Disney overexpanded? The purchase of Lucasfilm was the company's second multibillion-dollar acquisition in four years (Disney announced it would acquire Marvel Entertainment in 2009) and now it is cancelling Cartoon Network's well-liked animated series The Clone Wars and "postponing" Star Wars: Detours, the proposed comedy series by Robot Chicken creators Seth Green and Matthew Senreich.
“It has been a pleasure to work with Lucasfilm on Star Wars: The Clone Wars over the last five years and introducing a whole new audience to this great iconic brand,” said the network in a statement.
The changes may signal a couple of things: first, Disney has poured vast amounts of money into acquiring high-profile IP in recent years—$4 billion each for Lucasfilm and Marvel. That's a lot of business to absorb and corporate culture for new employees to ingest, if nothing else—insiders at Marvel say that the Disney "welcome to the family" approach hasn't exactly bowled them over, especially not when, at the beginning of the year, a source tells Adweek that the company informed migrating Marvel employees they'd be losing a payday since Disney pays its employees two weeks behind in case of a "final" paycheck (our source theorized that Disney wanted to make sure that if you got fired and took a souvenir stapler with you on the way out the door, you paid for it).
So Disney is clearly putting its money where it thinks it will do the most good, and that doesn't appear to be in jokey riffs on the Star Wars universe (Detours) or serialized action shows for kids (Clone Wars). Instead, its Star Wars budget appears to be going to a fast-track Episode VII, now with J.J. Abrams at the helm. This is a problem for Cartoon Network—if for no other reason than that it's exactly the kind of show that programming exec Rob Sorcher loves, and it's earned plaudits everywhere (and yes, by the way, it's possible for Disney to "cancel" the show, even though Cartoon airs it—renewals were done on year-by-year). The official news feed promises new details "in the months to come" on "a whole new Star Wars series set in a time period previously untouched in Star Wars films or television programming," which isn't exactly cash on the barrelhead.
Clone Wars was never in-house programming at Cartoon. It was produced whole cloth by Lucasfilm and series mastermind Dave Filoni without creative input from executives at Cartoon. They liked it and it did well for them, or it wouldn't have stayed on the network, but it was a Lucasfilm proposition, so it fell behind wholly owned performers like Adventure Time in the PR lineup. Disney likes to keep things in-house—one of the reasons we're seeing new Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four movies in the near future is that Fox knows that as soon as its option expires, those properties will get assimilated into the Avengers universe—so expect the next big Star Wars animation project to pop up on one of Disney's own kids' networks (my money's on Disney XD).
Can they do it successfully, though? Marvel is used to being nickel-and-dimed—its most recent non-Disney boss is the universally disliked Isaac Perlmutter—but Lucasfilm is not. Lucas greenlit a wide and wild array of pet projects and spinoffs, and that's how the acclaimed stuff got made—you can't have Clone Wars without the despised movie from which it spun off. The Star Wars portfolio is all ostensibly based on the same chunk of IP real estate, but it includes properties as various as the popular Lego Star Wars video games and a set of surprisingly good novels by Timothy Zahn.
Still, whether or not Lucasfilm likes having its pennies pinched may be moot. What does seem to be the other surefire consequence of the acquisition is that Disney doesn't appear to see much of a percentage in sending up the beloved franchise; the "postponement" of the Senreich/Green show signals that much. For all that he was pilloried as a humorless dweeb, Lucas wasn't at all averse to being made fun of and that is not a quality that he shares with Disney.
Expect to see more Star Wars material into the far future, but expect it to look a lot more like everything else.