Growing with the Audience

You were a kid in The '80s and grew up watching your favorite Merchandise-Driven cartoon but lost interest as you grew older. Suddenly it's The '90s, and you're bored, flipping through the channels one day, and what do you see? A Darker and Edgier revamp of the show you used to watch! It's good! You get sucked right into it! Fast forward to the Turn of the Millennium, and you hear news that this show is being adapted into a big budget Live-Action Adaptation. You go into the theaters, and what do you notice? All the other moviegoers are in their 20s like yourself and probably grew up watching the show like you did. This isn't a coincidence; whoever created the show made a decision to gradually increase the target audience's age as its fans grew older. This trope is one of the biggest sources of Old Guard Versus New Blood trouble around. It's absolutely great for the old guard, but the new blood often feels it just isn't the same if they came in late.

For instance, when Degrassi: The Next Generation aired, a lot of old-school Degrassi fans wished the show had stuck to the old characters (who were now adults), while the new Degrassi fans were annoyed that adult characters had their own storylines in a Teen Drama. Later, when the Next Generation cast got too old to stay in High School, the producers were stuck either following them to college and on (which didn't really fit the format) or switching to a new bunch of kids (who nobody cared about). The producers did both and satisfied nobody.

Contrast Fleeting Demographic, where the series/franchise switches to a younger audience as the former audience matures. Also contrast We're Still Relevant, Dammit, where a series/franchise ReTools itself to be more appealing to the current generation, but does so in a clunky or tone-deaf way.


Examples:

  • Transformers started as a daily syndicated cartoon based on a line of toys, The '90s brought the Darker and Edgier Beast Wars, and the 2000s-2010s saw the Michael Bay live-action movies, Transformers Animated (a mix of goofy, mature and Continuity Porn), and the mature TV cartoon Transformers Prime and its followup Transformers: Robots in Disguise.
  • J. K. Rowling has stated that she intentionally wrote the Harry Potter series to encompass more mature and scarier themes as the young readers got a little older for each book. This took something of a hit during the "Three-Year Summer" after the fourth book; the audience grew quite a bit older than Harry, and so the reception began to decline.
  • Warren Ellis wrote a Darker and Edgier treatment of G.I. Joe called G.I. Joe: Resolute, which premiered as a Web Original series. While hardcore current fans did not really appreciate the changes, It did receive positive reviews from casual fans who had grown up with the series.
  • Contra: Shattered Soldier, the Bionic Commando sequels, Final Fight Streetwise, and pretty much the entirety of Prince of Persia in the last decade.
  • One word: DCAU. Especially Justice League Unlimited.
  • John Kricfalusi tried this with Ren and Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon, and didn't exactly get a positive response.
  • The entire American comics industry has fallen into this over the past 20 years or so, with about 90% of title out there right now focusing on the teen/twenty-something demographic.
  • Toy Story has been growing with its initial audience through out the entire trilogy, most notable in Toy Story 3 where main-character Andy is set to go to college, and most of the original Toy Story fans, at the time, related to him for that reason.
  • Monsters, Inc. did something similar. The prequel, Monsters University, which focuses on Sulley's and Mike's college days, came out when the audience for the original movie were in college.
  • Rugrats fits this trope because when it first aired it was a children's show that focused on the exploits of toddlers. However when the show passed the ten year mark, it was revamped into All Grown Up!, aging the protaganists to the status of pre-teens to appeal to the aging original audience of Rugrats.
  • The Legend of Korra with respect to Avatar: The Last Airbender.
  • When Toonami, originally aired during the daytime with programs aimed at kids and pre-teens, was uncanceled, it received a new placement on the [adult swim] watershed hours as its primary audience are now full grown adults.
  • BIONICLE, in its original run, went whole-hog with this, especially in the later years. It featured shades of Cosmic Horror Story, named characters dying, and thoughts of nihilism and hopelessness. The series even had the guile to have an ending whereThe Bad Guy Wins, if only temporarily. The intent seemed to be to make stories more mature as the audience inevitably got mature, similar to the Harry Potter example.
  • How to Train Your Dragon — what started out as Hiccup and Toothless getting into misadventures with their friends turns into an all-out war between the Vikings and the dragons.
  • Alan Garner wrote two fantasy novels in the early nineteen-sixties, aimed at a readership of 12 or above. The fact he didn't like the books very much meant it took him a long time to get around to writing a concluding sequel, Boneland. Fifty years, to be precise. Boneland is as far away as you can possibly get from the certainties and the linear plot of The Moon of Gomrath. The book has a dark, grey, quality to it and follows one of the child-characters from the earlier books into adulthood. Colin, the heroic child who entered Faerie at age twelve, is bewildered, disillusioned, on the brink of the male menopause and fighting mental health issues. He is, quite literally, wondering where the Magic went to. It isn't difficult to suspect Garner is writing an ironic postscript for all those children who devoured the magic of Brisingamen and Gomrath. And then grew up into adults, thinking back to the magical excitement of reading Garner's adventures as kids, and who today....
  • Attempted in the Sonic the Hedgehog series. The games' stories started out in a typical cartoony video game setting with the protagonist fighting Eggman and his army of robots. Then came Sonic Adventure, a Darker and Edgier installment with pointedly more mature themes than any previous game in the series. Sonic Adventure 2 took this even further, dealing with themes such as a corrupt military murdering innocent scientists and weapons of mass destruction. However, when Shadow the Hedgehog took this to ludicrous extents (with whiffs of We're Still Relevant, Dammit) and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) was slammed for its overly convoluted plot among other things, a growing backlash towards this trend forced Sega to go back and aim for a younger audience again, especially with Sonic Colors and beyond.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GrowingWithTheAudience