Writing tips and links, book promotion and marketing ideas, as well as updates on all my various writing projects.
John P. McCann (or JP Mac) is an Emmy-award winning animation scribe who has written on such shows as Animaniacs, Freakazoid!, Pinky and the Brain, Catscratch, and Kung Fu Panda. His first horror novel, Hallow Mass, is available on Amazon in softcover and ebook formats.
Friday, April 10, 2015
Lobo on the WB 3
D.C. Comics was very cool about the whole project. We sent them a script and they signed off, seemingly content to let us create the best animated Lobo we could.
My days evaporated, coordinating with everyone and writing story outlines. Scott's crew drew up the props for the first script. We were excited, digging the ideas, seeing the potential. Mike even put up a large cork board in my office covered with 3x5 cards—the mark of a show. On a Friday in mid January, the machine hummed, primed for the official production start the following Monday.
That morning, Jean called me up to her office.
Lobo was cancelled.
Jamie Kellner and the WB finally decided they didn't want it.
There are seven stages of grief. I never got past denial. It was like showing up at church and learning a man had shot your bride because he didn't like the bouquet.
For the rest of the day, Lobo swirled around the bowl as Jean worked the phones. There was no one savvier in the ways of corporate politics. If it were possible to finesse the show onto the air, you could summon no greater champion than MacCurdy. I'm not entirely sure who she called, but I would bet on Dan Romanelli, Bob Daley, Jamie Kellner, Bob Bibb and Lew Goldstein—two marketing guys who actually laughed out loud if they thought something was funny. (They were Old School that way.)
Nevertheless, by mid-afternoon Lobo finished circling the porcelain and disappeared in a surge of blue water.
No one was willing to force a show onto the WB over Kellner's wishes.
How did the production get so far? The WB knew we were spending money. They knew what was coming. But because they couldn't make up their minds earlier, artists who had reported for work that morning were turned around and pointed back out the door.
The mood was depressed and ugly.
I sent out my last memo, shutting down the production.
Bob Doucette arrived late to that year's pitch fest, but he had an idea for a series called Detention. (Rag-tag group of kids defying school authority.) Needing a replacement, the WB snapped it up and rushed the show into production.
And that was that.
Jean had run the TV animation division for years with no one else but Joey Franks. There were no development executives. There were no executives attached to every show. There wasn't even a lawyer in the building. Warner Legal would visit every few years and tell us safe ways to parody, but they never overstayed their welcome. (Except for annual Sexual Harassment Seminars. These were conducted by a pair of Warner lawyers who kept insisting, "We are not the thought police," as they threatened to patrol artist cubicles and rip down 'offensive drawings.' The seminars mysteriously halted after Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, never to return for the rest of my tenure.)
In the end, the ratings finally killed us. Our shows tracked older than the 7 to 12-year-old demographic that advertising was sold around.
And Warner TV animation no longer enjoyed the informal protection of Steven Spielberg. Having co-founded DreamWorks, he was now a competitor.
To be fair, enlargement had already begun, with an exec. brought in to handle the Cartoon Network and another exec. hired on in general. Nice people, but Jean had been magnetic north for too many years. That's where the compass pointed. That was the only direction that mattered. Jean had taste. She could tell crap from fudge. And she trusted the writers and artists. With the new regime at Kids' WB, if they didn't get a joke, the joke was out. That meant a show's humor was now indexed to comedic sensibilities honed at Harvard Business School and sharpened by countless development meetings.
And while I remained on staff at Warners for nineteen more months, my big dog days were deader than Earth Shoes. After Lobo, I never came close to running a show again. And minus a show, I no longer rated an assistant. Mike and I packed up the 3x5 cards and bid farewell as he was reassigned. I tried writing a script for Detention, but the network rejected it. I wrote series premises and direct-to-video ideas. I wrote a pair of Batman Beyond scripts, which I enjoyed. Of course, there was my trip to Cambodia with Kathy Helppie, the State Department and the Agency for International Development. But that's for another day.
Eventually, I lost my nice corner office on the fourth floor, ending up on 14, down the hall from Hanna and Barbara. They had capacious ceremonial offices and their own secretary, but nothing else to do except continue aging.
The Main Man resurfaced twice more. There was an attempt to sell Lobo to Saban who wanted to pay $75 an episode. We thought it was an opening bid, but that's the way they rolled. Then Warner Online chose to do Lobo as a Web series—hot thing at the time. I wrote the episodes, but suddenly everyone had an opinion including D.C. Comics, an accountant, and a security guard who had several high concept ideas but didn't mind if I wrote them up and took the credit. (As everyone knows, you can never have enough voices when it comes to comedy.) With my contract up soon and not due to be renewed, I Alan Smithee'd my way off the project.
When I finally departed Warners in August of 2000, there was a lawyer assigned to TV animation with his own office in the building. There were executives by the gross. In addition, there were all kinds of other new faces with jobs that had nothing to do with writing or drawing an animated TV series or paying the people who did. I'd never met the woman who oversaw my out processing and collected my parking and building passes. Rugg and Ruegger and Rich Arons and many others without an 'r' in their name had already moved on. The place I left was a memory.
Like Aeneas wandering the Mediterranean, I sought a new work life, hoping in the back of my head that the old Warners would somehow reconstitute somewhere in the TV animation industry. But that's like hoping high school will reconstitute without the embarrassments and awkward moments.
(Thanks to Paul Rugg@Froynlaven and Garrett Gilchrist@OrangeCow for linking the Lobo posts. For some reason, I can't get Blogspot to cough up the rest of the non-porn, non-Russian sites where I'm linked.)
(This is an update of a blog post titled Main Man Mania from back in 2008.)