Fox takes on ambitious experiment with Animation Domination High-Def

Veteran character actor Jack McGee, known for his stints on "NYPD Blue" and "Rescue Me," is in a shoe-box-sized room gobbling like a turkey — to the immense pleasure of four grown men.

"Sound a little more defeated," the writers and producers instruct him.

Playing an evil ruler of a planet has its challenges — more so when it's an animated character dubbed Turkey Turkey.

"What is this? Which network is this for?" McGee asks with a quizzical face once he's finished.

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The show is called "Axe Cop," and it's one of Fox's animated commissions that will be vying for attention on Saturday nights. Yes, Saturday nights.

The network long ago established a firm grip in the animation genre with its Sunday-night block of cartoons, propped by stalwarts "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy." Now it's coloring a bit outside the lines, delving further into the circuit with a project it calls Animation Domination High-Def.

The outpost of programming aspires to serve as a destination for an audience of adolescents and young men who might rather spend their Saturday nights partying or playing "Metal Gear Rising."

Its slate of 10-to-12-minute off-kilter cartoons will air on TV's castaway night from 11 p.m. to midnight — a tricky slot ignored by most networks (and most viewers). Showing its hipness, the experience won't stop at the remote. The animated shows will be supplemented with digital frills on the Internet (GIFs, animated shorts, user-adapted content, etc.) — making the ADHD acronym all the more fitting.

It's the network's latest experiment in blurring the TV and online borders. Earlier this year Fox inked a partnership with YouTube's WIGS channel to serve as a broadcast incubator.

As the network attempts to fill a void once occupied by zany sketch show "Mad TV," it does so while attempting to reimagine the costly and lengthy animation process.

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"I had this idea of creating a subsidiary that could really benefit from Fox's dominance in our brand of animation, which is a huge part of our identity," said Kevin Reilly, the network's chairman of entertainment. "But I really wanted a whole different culture — something a little more alternative, something more experimental."

Something more like Cartoon Network's Adult Swim?

It looks that way. The network hired former Adult Swim development head Nick Weidenfeld and producer Hend Baghdady as executives to run the enterprise.

And it's an ambitious one.

Fox is providing financing for three and a half years and is aiming to launch 13 quarter-hour series and three half-hours in that time.

Spearheading the venture are "Axe Cop," based on the popular web comic about a stoic, mustached crime fighter who eats only birthday cake, and "High School USA!" — imagine an Archie Comics for the "Eastbound & Down" crowd. January will see two more shows premiere.

It begins in its regular time slot this week after getting a special prime-time preview last Sunday alongside "Family Guy" — a place any one of the ADHD shows might one day occupy, if all goes well.

"More than breaking into late-night, I see this as a seeding ground for prime time," Reilly said. "I would like to grow the next 'Family Guy' out of that period. I want to try things out that can succeed on a more modest level and really percolate. I'm hoping a few rise to the surface that can graduate to Sundays."