Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Lobo on the WB

Here's more on what happened with D.C. Comics Lobo and the WB back in the day.


In early 1998, Jean MacCurdy asked me to write up a short premise for a possible Lobo animated TV series. Created by the late Roger Silfer and Keith Giffen, Lobo was a tricky character for the Kids' WB. Designed as an over-the-top biker-intergalactic bounty hunter, Lobo's legend included murdering everyone on his own planet as well as regenerative powers that made him pretty much impossible to kill. My suggestions were to keep the contempt for authority, make him more vulnerable to counter-violence, and direct his mayhem toward appropriate targets such as space villains and lawyers.

Lobo from Superman episodes
Jean liked the take and ordered a one minute pitch video. Voiced by Brad Garrett, Lobo had appeared in a pair of Superman episodes. So editor Al Brietenbach and I culled the material and crafted our sixty-second saga with me voicing over the Superman material on top of instrumental cuts from "Bad to the Bone." Catchy. But nothing came of it. Soon after, I was drafted on to Pinky, Elmyra and The Brainforgetting all about the Main Man.


That fall, the studio was gripped with pitch fever. By then, Jean had lost the authority to green light afternoon and Saturday shows to Jamie Kellner and his growing phalanx of WB execs. For the TV animation division to get something on the air, we had to pitch the WB in addition to Warner Bros. marketing. Artists and writers were in a frenzy pulling material together—a show meant job security. My hands were full preparing pitches for three different projects: 21C, Duck Dodgers and Lobo. 21C was the dark horse, an idea of mine—an homage to anime—about a Buffy-like high school girl in the twenty-first century battling lobster men and strangely pathetic robots while shopping for cute tops. Rhoydon Shishido drew some hilarious artwork, but the pitch dance card was full and the show eventually dropped from consideration.


Duck Dodgers makes an interesting point.
Duck Dodgers was based on the 1953 Chuck Jones cartoon. In this version, there was a human chick teamed up with Daffy and Porky. Jean asked if I could swap her out with Lola Bunny—keep things in the Warner family, as it were—while toning down the ogle aspect and emphasizing her competence. Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone, who worked on Space Jam, supplied the art. (And went on to run the show a few years later when it eventually aired on Cartoon Network.)

With Lobo, the late Boyd Kirkland and I began with my premise, the one-minute video, plus artwork, I believe, from Steven E. Gordon. Boyd standardized the characters, making Lobo less massive, while I worked on a quick, snappy presentation based on showing the video first, then introducing two-dimensional models of characters from the comics like Al and Darlene. (Plus one Steven E. Gordon creation—a human villain with a round, yellow, have-a-nice-day happy face. We called him "Sunny Jim," and made him exceptionally nasty.)


The TV animation division pitch room featured a huge marble-topped table in the shape of the Warner Bros. shield logo. Gathered around this ornate table would be marketing execs. on one day and the WB execs. on the other. I would deliver the pitches for Duck Dodgers and Lobo. My assistant, Mike Miscio, and I had practiced like a magic act. He'd cue up videos and tapes, set down and take away character stand-ups, and generally keep things moving. However, he wouldn't wear tights. I was wrong to ask. 

First up were the marketing guys. Duck Dodgers went fine. They laughed and were very receptive. But they went nuts for Lobo. They were howling after the one-minute video, engorged with toy madness. They could sell this show in a micro second. It was basketball with a hoop three feet off the ground. We were fired up, humming with energy, preparing our Emmy acceptance speeches. 

Then came the execs. 

I don't remember how Duck Dodgers went, but I'm guessing badly. In any case, it couldn't have been worse than Lobo. The one-minute video was met with dead silence. The pitch: dead silence. Some coughs. It was as if smiling, let alone laughter, constituted an implicit agreement to buy the show. My confidence fled like air from a slashed tire. Having done stand-up, I knew the only thing to do was amp up the energy and finish with a smile. Finally, like gum surgery minus Novocaine, it ended. As Mike collected our gear, I wished only to leave behind a fragmentation grenade.

Recapping the pitches, no one knew what to make of things. Were both shows dead?  

Tomorrow: Jean weighs in. Focus group? A surprising outcome.

Lobo on the WB 2

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