Showing posts with label TV Animation 2015. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TV Animation 2015. Show all posts

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Paul Rugg and I Were Hired at Warner Bros.

And I Have the Video to Prove It

Yesterday,  December 16, marked 24 years since Paul Rugg and I were offered jobs at Warner Brothers TV Animation. We were over at Paul's house watching Zontar: Thing From Venus, drinking coffee, eating chocolate donuts, and smoking. We'd just turned in scripts for some new show called Animaniacs. (Mine was "Draculee, Draculaa.") Paul's wife was off earning money as a social worker, while my future wife was still employed at the magazine I'd quit two months earlier. Rugg and I were performing improv and sketch comedy at the Acme Comedy Theatre. (Along with cast member Adam Carolla.) Money was very tight. The payment for one script would really help out my Christmas. 

Then Kathy Page, Tom Ruegger's assistant, called to offer us staff jobs and the trajectory of our lives veered sharply into an unexplored cosmos.

We were amazed, stunned, numb. Walking outside, we smoked more and talked it over. Should we take the jobs or would they pollute our comedy pureness by turning it commercial? We would accept the work immediately. 

Now it all seems opaque. If it weren't for the Web and talking to Paul Rugg yesterday, I'd swear the whole experience never happened. But I'm glad it did. (Paul, too.)  So thanks to Tom and Sherri Stoner. (And her husband, M.D. Sweeney, our Acme director, who recommended us.) In honor of that day, here is "Draculee, Draculaa."

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Thomas Edison's Secret Lab Surfaces

Lo, a secret lab.

Animated TV Series Now on Netflix, Other Venues

Thomas Edison bequeathed to humanity a clandestine laboratory. According to Genius Brands International, "the secret lab, Edison's virtual ego, and his prototype robot remained hidden until a 12-year old prodigy cracked the secret coded message that Edison left behind. The young genius and her science club move into the lab and the fun begins."

One of these fine episodes is mine. (Or more properly, my name is on a script that story editor Grant Moran rewrote—but such is the nature of the business.) Kids, a lab, a robot, a virtual dead guy, but a very, very smart dead guy. These elements await you. Check out 13 action-filled tales on Netflix or your local PBS station.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Wabbit Airs on Cartoon Network

Newcomer Squeaks the Squirrel antics with Bugs in an episode of "Wabbit."

Set to Air on Boomerang in October

Roger Eschbacher reminded me that brand shiny new Bugs Bunny episodes have begun showing on Cartoon Network. Basic info is here, and I've included the tropes you may expect to view, including Denser and Wackier and Vitriolic Best Buds.

As a note, Roger's episode "Now and Zen" aired in the first show. I wrote a pair of these back in 2014, but have yet to see the series due to book fever as well as assorted paying employment. However, I shall remedy that.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Quarter Century of Tiny Toon Adventures

The cast puts on their best Hollywood Happy Face.

Tom Ruegger Has the Visuals to Prove It

Over at Cartoonatics, Producer Tom Ruegger posts back-in-the-day images related to TV animation hit Tiny Toon Adventures, now 25 years old.

Two months after its September debut, I started writing for Warner Bros. on a spin-off that would feature Elmyra. Our little crew consisted of Peter Hastings, Deanna Oliver, M.D. Sweeney and myself working free-lance, plus Nick Hollander who was on the Tiny Toons' staff. TT story editor Sherri Stoner headed up the project.

And while Elmyra would have to wait eight years for a break-out show, I wrote my first animated TV script, "Take Elmyra, Please," (along with Sweeney and Hollander) which ended up airing on "Tiny Toons."

Today I write animated educational videos and horror novels. Also Wanted Posters when money runs short.

Elmyra escaping from a large, colorful hot plate. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Tom Ruegger Remembers Pinky and the Brain

Pinky and the Brain attempt to find the State Department.
A generation ago . . . 

Yes, a crisp twenty years have passed since Pinky and the Brain took to the airwaves in their own Sunday night show. Producer Tom Ruegger recalls it well over at Cartoonatics.

My own contribution was Episode 6, "Brainania" where P&B hoped to build a colossal clothes dryer and render the world helpless with static cling. But to fund the project, they must first create their own nation, then bilk the United States out of foreign aid. This plan, by all accounts, should have worked.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

DreamWorks: Fine Animated Features and Real Estate Flips

Diversify is sound business advice and, according to Cartoon Brew, DreamWorks Animation has done just that:

"After announcing a quarterly loss of $263 million last February, DreamWorks sold its campus to SunTrust, and as Cartoon Brew reported in March, SunTrust began the process of flipping the property immediately after buying it, initially listing it for $250 million."

According to the article, DreamWorks has a profit-sharing deal that allows them to dine upon the proceeds of the resale.

Possibly Netflix hired all the 500 laid off employees.

My last time at the Glendale studio was in 2014 for a preview of Peabody and Sherman, which may've been the fat straw that broke the studios back. i09 combs through the film's wake.

Anyway, DreamWorks Glendale had a great breakfast buffet set up for the film with all these great little Danishes and coffee in cups.

And the free lunches were outstanding.

But now there's no longer any such thing as a free lunch.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Pig, Goat, Banana, Cricket, Paul Rugg

Image: NickALive
Traveling by train from California to our nation's capitol as if this were 1948, Paul Rugg relaxes in the club car as the July 18 premier of Pig, Goat, Banana, Cricket approaches on animated little feet. As mentioned, Paul voices the character of Cricket, a sensitive young creature who discovers that he has been chosen to be the PROMISED TWO—someone second in line behind the PROMISED ONE.  Or I could have this mixed up with my Vision Quest. Find out for yourselves on Nick at 10:30 Saturday mornings.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Lunch with Paul Rugg

Paul on the right, makes an interesting point.

Last Thursday Paul and I dined. He was killing time before his taping for Netflix' Puss 'N Boots. Paul Rugg is the voice of Artephis, a character filled with exuberance and the desire to dive into a pool of stew. The show runner is a man always employed, executive producer Doug Langdale. And the talent is directed by the most sterling Andrea Romano. At a coffee shop in the Burbank area, Paul had the bacon cheeseburger, finishing it along with French Fries—he left a few—and a bottomless glass of ice tea. I had my usual of crackers, sugar, Tabasco sauce and water. I took napkins home with me. It's been that kind of year.
Image: Hensen Wiki

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Nat'l Lampoon Kit and Kaboodle


Back in the day, the National Lampoon featured  a one-off comic with a cat chasing wise-cracking mouse antagonists similar to Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinx. Except there was no squash and stretch. If a character was injured, they were stuck with that wound. To mix medias, imagine an episode of Slappy Squirrel if Walter Wolf never recovered from the injuries Slappy dealt him.

Long ago, it was considered edgy. Today, there are fewer and fewer lines left to cross and so the race to shock roars on. There are sites which specialize in adding Quentin Tarantino like violence to Classic WB and Hanna-Barbara characters, with images featuring agony and maniacal intent.

Over at Noblesse Oblige, you can view a few panels of Kit and Kaboodle. Like Monty Python violence, the carnage is surreal and over-the-top to the point of absurdity. As you will note, the characters are plucky, persistent, and badly maimed. Perhaps Netflix is working on a series?

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.


The Nest 

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.

And so the growth of middle management commenced. 


Muppet Wiki

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.

(At the same time, Kids' WB pretty much left Bruce TimmAlan Burnett Paul Dini  and the other batlings alone. Batman Beyond had premiered and the new regime wisely chose to let it breath.)

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. 


The Aeneid

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.

I welcome the new and cherish the old.

And remember the Lobo that almost was.

Lobo and the WB 1

Lobo and the WB 2

(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.)

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Lobo on the WB 2

Since the WB was equally chilly to all shows pitched, Jean figured she had nothing to lose and selected Duck Dodgers and Lobo for the next stage: focus group testing.

Change was definitely in the air. Nickelodeon focus tested shows. Warner TV Animation flew by the seat of their pants ... or used to. I had zero faith in focus groups and felt at that point that neither show would ever see daylight.

Back into editing with Al and Boyd. Using some Steven E. Gordon art and Boyd's characters, we put together a Lobo focus group reel for whoever did focus groups. Al and I did likewise for Daffy.  (I seem to recall Jeff Bennett providing the voice overs.) By now, it's late October, early November. If the network wanted a series in Sept. '99, we needed to start production soon.

On focus group day, I stayed in my office.


Jean gave me the results: boys and girls really liked Duck Dodgers. But boys had gone stratospheric over Lobo. (Lobo broke things and didn't take any lip. What's not to love?) Pre-production began for twelve half-hour Lobo episodes. (Once a production number is assigned, you know it's serious. ) Jean told me to start writing the first script. With marketing in our pocket, the Main Main looked solid. But Duck Dodgers was still in the hunt.

Mike packed up our pitch materials and we took the Duck Dodgers show on the road. Specifically from Sherman Oaks to Burbank and the executive building on the Warner lot. We'd be pitching to studio head Bob Daley. This was more of Jean playing three-dimensional chess. If she couldn't green light a show, she could still ensure that powerful players liked what she liked.

Bob Daley didn't laugh, or really smile at all. But he paid attention. You could see his mind working, following along with the story and characters. At the end, he pointed to one character model and said, "That guy doesn't look like any of the other characters. But other than that, it's Okay."

People started asking me which show I'd pick to run. But Lobo had the hot hand.

As I wrote the first script, there were pre-production meetings. Composer Richard Stone was fired up to do music. (We aimed at creating some kind of cool outer space theme blended with Metallica and Nine Inch Nails.) Andrea Romano would be voice directing. But Boyd Kirkland was suddenly being tugged in another direction. It looked like we'd need a new producer.

Keane Eyes Gallery


By early January, I'd finished the script. Basically, Lobo was a bounty hunter, hung out in Al's Diner with Al and Darlene, and had been summoned by Vril Dox. Dox hires Lobo to retrieve a witness who has information harmful to interplanetary super creep Ernest Mann. Mann wanted to help everyone by conquering all life and placing it under his loving care. He had created a force of eerie minions: children with big Margaret Keane eyes who morphed into horrid velociraptor-like monsters. Mann was defended aboard his huge space craft by massive robots, each with more firepower than a drug cartel.

He also carried the largest bounty in the universe.

Lobo disobeys orders and decides to dangle his witness as bait to draw out Mann. Traveling to a seedy dive on a depressed planet, Lobo and his nervous witness wait for someone to rat them out to Mann. It doesn't take long. Lobo ends up in a shoot-out with one of Mann's iron-packing robots and loses his witness, who is captured and transported to Mann's vessel. Lobo follows, sneaks aboard, rescues the guy, battles Keane children, more robots, and confronts Mann, but fails to capture him,  barely escaping in a running fight that eats up most of Act III.

Finally, having delivered the witness, he relaxes back at Al's. But Lobo vows to eventually collect the bounty on Mann.

And that would be our season arc: first, middle, and last episode involving Lobo and Mann. I figured I'd write those and hired  Mitch Watson and Ken Segall to tackle several of the other scripts. They would include villains like Sunny Jim and Cosmic Bob. Bob's character description billed him as "one of the deadliest men in the universe because he can shoot rays from his nose."

Basil's Films


By now, it was early January 1999. Boyd Kirkland was gone, returned to Batman for, I think, a Mr. Freeze direct-to-video. Scott Jeralds replaced him as co-producer. As Jean had approved the script, Scott's crew jumped in and did a fantastic job boarding. Scott put his own spin on the character design, reducing Lobo's bulkiness even more while keeping the muscles and menace. Darlene became more wholesome, less jaded. Another crew was hired and artists started reporting in.

Meanwhile, Andrea Romano assembled a great cast. She'd once again lined up Brad Garrett as Lobo, and cast William H. Macy and Linda Hamilton for voice roles. (Macy would've been the witness, while I don't recall who Linda Hamilton would've played.) Paul Rugg had a part as Vril Dox assistant.

Duck Dodgers was backburnered. Lobo barreled on toward it's production start date.

Tomorrow: A meeting with Jean. Phone calls and reality. What came next.

Lobo on the WB1

Lobo on the WB 3

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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Emmy and Me

Smiles came easy that week. 

Back in the day photo of myself and my Animaniacs Emmy. Paul Rugg hauled it back from New York and presented it to me at my wedding rehearsal dinner. That was an amazing week: winning two Emmys and getting married. And while the awards were nice, they won't do a thing for you when you're home post-op with a catheter and a drain bulb. If you ever have a choice, get married.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Friends in Hell Podcast Plus

Today at 4:30 PM Pacific Time, I will again be chatting with podcaster Kevinn Gomez. I have no idea what he'll ask, but I shall answer in some fashion and off we go.

TV animation writing has picked up. I have an assignment for Thomas Edison's Secret Lab and await a premise for Tom Ruegger on 7D.

Chapters from 50 Shades of Zane Grey are arriving hot off the copy editor's screen. We're looking at a launch next Friday, Feb. 6 at Amazon Kindle. So break out your e readers and stand by. I'll post a link to the book page as soon as Amazon vets my version. Or you can always check out my Amazon Author page.

Be chipper in all your tasks this day.

Thomas Edison's Secret Lab and friends. More info at kidscreen.