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In The Mix
May 12, 2016

Slow-Build Bob

Looking long-term to create another Fox animated classic.

Bob Makela
  • Courtesy FOX
  • Courtesy FOX
  • Courtesy FOX

Ratings were sizzling when Bob's Burgers premiered on Fox after an NFL playoff game in January 2011.

The show pulled in 9.38 million viewers, becoming the network's highest-rated premiere of the season to date.

A week later, the audience dropped by almost 50 percent. Fox had hoped Bob Belcher and his lovably odd family would be the perfect companion piece to the long-running Simpsons clan. But after 13 episodes, Bob's Burgers was looking like it might end up in the Fox animation scrapheap, alongside Allen Gregory, Napoleon Dynamite and The Cleveland Show.

"I don't think there was any sense of confidence that it'd go a second season," recalls H. Jon Benjamin, the voice of Bob Belcher.

It was a sentiment that would linger, despite reassurances from Fox executives. "During the first three seasons it felt like every day could be our last," says creator-executive producer Loren Bouchard, who earned his animation chops on Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and Home Movies, both of which had small, but passionate, fan bases.

More than five years later, Bob's Burgers has blossomed into a slow-build phenomenon that many are touting as the likely successor to The Simpsons — if that Fox warhorse is ever put out to pasture. Like Springfield's famous family, the Belchers are a peculiar party of five. Father Bob is the artiste behind the grill, forever wondering, as Benjamin says, '"Should I have said that?' Even to his family."

Bob's wife, Linda (voiced by John Roberts), is an eternal optimist, the sunny yin to Bob's brooding yang.

But the Belcher kids are likely responsible for expanding the show's audience beyond the 18-to-49 demo. Rabbit-eared Louise (voiced by Kristen Schaal), the youngest, is a cunning, rebellious schemer. Middle child Gene (Eugene Mirman) is loud and proud, with a penchant for music and recording audio, much like Bouchard during his youth. And 13-year-old Tina (Dan Mintz) is a monotone revelation as the unicorn-loving, boy-crazy big sister.

The combination has kids across the country crazy for the Belchers. "After my kid and his friends started liking it," Benjamin recalls, "I thought, 'Well, maybe we've got something.'

The show has been an internet sensation as well, with items popping up like "25 Signs You're Obsessed with Bob's Burgers" and "31 Things Bob's Burgers Can Teach You About Life."

In the spring the show celebrated its 100th episode with a storyline about Bob getting glued to a toilet seat before his first magazine interview. Would Bouchard be on board for a 20-plus-year run?

"Absolutely," he says, adding, "The kind of feedback [we've gotten] is what makes creating TV in the age of the internet so gratifying."

And the beauty of animation, Benjamin points out, is that the characters never have to grow old. No fan of Friends, he quips, "wants to see Ross at 45 trying to hook up." But 20 years of a forever-13 Tina trying to score a kiss or grab a butt? We're okay with that.

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