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Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts. Part 22.

October 25th, 2009

Dexter's Laboratory in
Video frame grabs from Genndy Tartakovsky’s “Dexter’s Laboratory in ‘The Big Sister‘”

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20. Part 21.

A server failure at our website caused the loss of our frame grab gallery of What A Cartoon! shorts. It seemed like a good push to add a post to our history.

What A Cartoon! was still an unnamed project of 48 “Looney Tunes length” shorts with more hope than actuality when we started taking pitches in earnest in 1993. No one had attempted anything like this before in the television animation era, and I wasn’t sure that anyone else shared my optimism at the beginning.

The Hanna-Barbera development team, led by Jeff Holder and Ellen Cockrill, with significant input from production head Buzz Potamkin, dug right in. They got the word out, literally all over the world, that the studio had entered an unprecedented phase, and that we were looking for the ideas from all corners. No longer would ours be a top down studio; animators had a better idea what cartoons should be than executives and we were out to support them in every way we could. Eventually, we received storyboards from all over the world, thousands of them. Many from within the studio and from the Los Angeles industry, but from also from schools and international centers of animation. (Occasionally, we even used the then brand new technology of video conferencing to take uncomfortable pitches from Turner Broadcasting’s London office.) In all, the development group estimated we received over 5000 pitches for the 48 slots we were planning.

I was hoping for an idealistic diversity in our filmmakers that could solve the inequities of our business overnight. It wasn’t just a uptopian hope either; I’d seen the direct benefits in other creative businesses like movies, television and music. The wider the palette of creative influences, the wider and bigger the audiences. It was time for cartoons to go in the same direction. And while we received a smattering of pitches from people of color, women, and international creators, it would take us at least 15 years before I really started seeing a clear progression. But, as it was, we had creators from Europe and Canada (like Bruno Bozetto), Asia (like Swamp & Tad), the heartland of the US (Jerry Reynolds), and colleges (like Seth MacFarlane). There were plenty of young series first timers (like Genndy Tartakovsky, Craig McCraken, Rob Renzetti, Butch Hartman, and John Dilworth), but veterans too (like Don Jurwich, Jerry Eisenberg, and Ralph Bakshi).

All in all, it was an incredible process with amazing results (yes, I’m aware of my justified hyperbole). 5000 pitches begat 48 shorts and seven series. No studio had attempted this scale in 30 or 40 years. Each creator was treated just so, as a filmmaker, not a factory worker with hands to do the bidding of management. And though our ends were definitely commercial, I think the results were almost like art films. Not too many voices in the mix, just one creator (or creating team), one film.

I’m very proud of the work everyone did on the What A Cartoon! shorts (eventually promoted as World Premiere Toons on Cartoon Network). Whether it was the development and production groups, marketing, PR, even accounting, we were all there to support the creators who put their asses on the line, pencils on the paper, and came up with original work in a business that hadn’t been interested for a very long time. Viva cartoons!

Video frame grabs from What A Cartoon!
What A Cartoon! titles The Powerpuff Girls in Courage the Cowardly Dog Yucky Duck in Jof in

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20. Part 21.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts. Part 21.

January 6th, 2008

Pat Ventura

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20.

So the Hanna-Barbera shorts program –still unnamed– was off and running. Everyone in development, and the production department leaders, was out beating the bushes looking for animators who wanted to make their own cartoons, their own way.

As we were out in the world trying to convince creative folks that Hanna-Barbera was serious about doing original shorts (remember, the animation industry had made it clear that original ideas were not to interesting or, for that matter, commercially viable), our hardest immediate job was convincing people already working at the studio. For years there had been almost no history of taking an idea from a staff member for a show. Everyone thought I was just spouting a line, or at the very least naive, and most of the company went about their daily jobs not paying too much attention to my call for shorts.

If I remember correctly, the first person who started a short was Pat Ventura. We met through John K while he was a writer on Tom & Jerry Kids (he wanted first hand experience working with a master like Joe Barbera) and struck up an immediate sympatico. He helped me often in my thinking about the shorts program, and his original style and excitement (tinged with a shade of cynicism) made me want to start a project with him. Since he was a Tex Avery fan I thought maybe launching him with one of Tex’s characters could make a smooth transition into the program, and when he suggested George and Juniorwe gave him the greenlight.

Of course, any short we began with would start a ruckus, and Pat was the perfect guy to help us through the muck.

From the very start there was a huge, tremendous positive. Basically, the feeling among the artists was, “If he’ll give that guy a short, he must be serious. Or crazy. Maybe both.” It was clear to everyone that Pat was a complete original who would never get a chance to do his own thing anywhere in the Hollywood commercial animation establishment. He was obviously a talent who would get a chance to contribute to some studio project (he’d worked on Aladdin and Roger Rabbit at Disney, for instance), but really, wasn’t he was too out there? Once it was clear that Pat was a ‘go’ lots of the folks, newbies and veterans both, started working on their own boards.

Once work started on the short the shit really started to cascade.

A little background you might already know: the real revolution at Hanna-Barbera was the ability of Bill Hanna to create tightly organized productions that could be systematized, reducing costs enough to be affordable for television stations. Everything –art & models, layout, directing, animation, voice recording, etcetera– was split up into departments, all controlled at the top by Bill and Joe. Decision making was highly centralized into as few places as possible, reducing waste of time and money. It worked great at the beginning, when the whole staff was the cream of the world class folk who made the great theatricals of the first half of the century, but began breaking down into merely hack-like efficiency as newbies came into the industry during its 30+ years. By the time Ted Turner bought the company in 1991 there were decades of rationalization piled on convenience, the famous system was spiritually, not to say creatively, broken, and existed merely for the sake of inertia.

Everything came to a head most clearly over voice acting and directing. My head of production, Buzz Potamkin, assigned veteran Larry Huber to supervise all the shorts production. Larry had been in the business since 1969 and had seen the transition from full to limited animation, from full on American production to overseas animation, and was comfortable with his superiors, his peers, and the young turks invading. But, as much as we insisted we wanted a return to a unit system of individual responsibility for a cartoon, Larry had to get along with the still powerful vestiges of Bill’s system.

Voice directing had become centralized with a “real director” who “understood actors,” like there was a big secret. Pat’s short was plugged into the game and his script was given over to one of the “voice directors” who “allowed” Pat to sit in on casting and recording, as if it was their right to decide. When I asked Pat about the session he told me everything was great, wasn’t that just the way it was? I realized what was going on and ordered everyone in the production line that from then on each of the shorts creators was to have final cut on all casting and would direct their own voice actors. If there was a disaster, so be it. To this day, I’m sure there was some weaseling going on around the edges, but all in all it worked OK. No actors refused to act, no voice sessions ended in horror, no cartoons were harmed.

When it came to directing, Larry assigned another veteran, but someone who’d been a young turk when he entered the biz 20 years before, Robert Alvarez. Robert did a pass on the exposure sheets, and this time Pat did come by my office to complain.

“He made the eyes blink!”

So?

“Tom and Jerry never blinked. Touché Turtle did. I don’t want the eyes to blink.” Pat filled me in on the directing compromises needed in TV animation, and keeping the eyes blinking while nothing else in the frame moved a hair was one of them. It wasn’t what he was looking for in his cartoons.

I called Larry and he patiently explained to me that Robert was directing on the very strict rules he was told to follow if he wanted to keep his job. And who didn’t want to keep their job? It was the same at every studio in town by then, and if a director directed by their own instincts they wouldn’t be working for long. I told Pat to tell Robert what he wanted, and that he’d be happy with the result. Robert was not only a pro, he wanted to involved with wonderful cartoons. Follow the creator.

Next thing I knew I was face to face with Robert. Scared to death I might add. Who was I, with no animation experience whatsoever, to question the wisdom of the best system ever devised for television cartoons? But Robert, a good man as well as a talented one (to very roughly paraphrase an old blues) shook my hand instead. He thanked me for trusting talent like Pat’s and trusting Hanna-Barbera to make great cartoons again. Soon, Robert was the go-to guy for everyone who wanted great animation direction in the short program, as well as creating two wonderful shorts of his own (Pizza Boy and Tumbleweed Tex).

Creators started to rule again.

(More next time)

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts. Part 20.

September 16th, 2007

Organisational-Development2
We’d finally gotten the “shorts” program approved by my Turner bosses Scott Sassa and Ted Turner, and convinced the person running Cartoon Network it was actually her idea to produce 48 ‘classic length’ cartoon shorts over two years. If only I was right and the talented people in animation really wanted to make cartoons.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19.

Everyone at Hanna-Barbera Cartoons and Turner Broadcasting who cared fanned out across the globe to spread the word we were serious about making cartoons. Serious in every way. We were making 48 short cartoons over two years in a back-to-the-future kind of unit production way. Each “classic length” (7 minutes) short would debut, by itself, as a stand-alone cartoon on Cartoon Network. Each one would be a product of one cartoonist’s vision (or a self-selected team), produced the way the creator saw it. There was no concern on our part what an eventual series would be “about;” the short had to be great on its own without any allegiance to some preconceived “bible”. We didn’t care what the sitcom trends were, what Nickelodeon was doing, what the sales departments wanted. Even the music would be individually crafted scores, individually tailored to the film at hand, no stock library, pre-fabbed “beds” here. We wouldn’t ‘develop’ them; we wanted to make the cartoon the creator(s) wanted to make, not some executive idea of what they thought kids would like. And we wanted them to be laugh out loud funny.

We wanted cartoons.

Getting original cartoons into the studio and onto television required an army’s worth of work to begin with. Even those who thought this might be a good idea were hard pressed to explain it outside our BS sessions, and since not one person in the world had exactly been waiting for us to show up (at least, not consciously) it was going to require us to explain what we were talking about, explain it again, call back to cajole, convince artists that had never put together one classic cartoon idea from scratch (remember, studios and networks thought cartoons were hopefully passe´, animated sitcoms were where it was at) to put together a pitch storyboard. And, oh yes, the odds, as always in any entertainment project, were we were going to say “No” to their idea.

My closest studio co-conspirator during the run up to the shorts was the studio’s new head of production, Buzz Potamkin. We’d worked together on MTV in New York when he was an independent producer and he’d given me years of Hollywood cartoon biz insight which helped me get started at HB. Buzz could articulate better than I our strategy of re-creating the unit production system that had fueled the golden age, and suggested Larry Huber as the supervising producer for the new shorts unit (a role, among others, he’s successfully navigated through all 138 Hollywood based shorts we’ve produced). Buzz unsuccessfully suggested we make a short with Bill Plympton (it took me 20 years to get smart/brave enough to do it), but brought dozens of other creators to the table. Later, we’ll tell the story of how he convinced Ralph Bakshi to join our group of first-timers.

At Cartoon Network, founding programmer Mike Lazzo rallied his troops behind our efforts. He’d been managing Turner’s cartoons at Superstation TBS and TNT since he was, I don’t know, maybe two years old, and a uniquely brilliant blend of creative thinking and analytical programming. Mike was the person I turned to for inspiration, network thinking, and plain old jawing about cartoons.

The Hanna-Barbera development department (after slashing and pruning of about a dozen staff development writers –an extremely painful task– it was now primarily Jeff Holder, Ellen Cockrill, Margot McDonough, and Dan Smith) had a tough task. They needed to persuade folks that Hanna-Barbera was earnest about giving creative people a chance to do their own work. For decades HB had been a shop where you started or ended your career, but if you had creative ambitions you steered clear. I knew that to reverse the fortunes of the place, to keep Turner from closing the production studio altogether, we had to change that perception. Our shop had to become the place talent was clawing their way into. Hah!

And I was making the development job even harder. I didn’t want “development,” at least in the way they’d been trained, I just wanted them to go out and find hit cartoon creators (much easier typed than done, of course), people who could make a hit and sustain it no matter what happened to the executives or networks who discovered them in the first place. “Development” across television had become a haven for executives who had never produced anything themselves, or had washed out of the dog-eat-dog show biz environment, to take a fairly risk-less path to getting their own ideas out. A D-exec could lean back in their salaried chair and bark dictums (”make it funnier!” was a favorite of mine from an HBO executive) until an exciting, original piece of material resembled nothing more than a piece of product for the junk heap. When instead, they tried to bring me around to their point of view –why were they being paid as ‘development’ execs if their input wasn’t needed– I asked them a couple of simple questions.

“If there’s a successful cartoon series, who deserves the bonus? The creator or the executive?” “Both of us,” was the reply. Fine, and if there’s a failure, who gets fired? That wasn’t a question anyone wanted to answer. I was interested in a clear path back to a successful film, I wanted to know if the credit was “Created by Ray Sturgeon” it didn’t really mean “Created by Ray Sturgeon and a pack of execs.” Besides, I knew the average life of a development executive at studios was actually shorter than the time it took to get a hit series to air. If that was the case, and the exec was partially responsible for success, we were screwed if key members of the creative development worked for the competition by the time of the show. It had always struck me as a bogus approach anyway. William Shakespeare, Leonardo DaVinci, and Duke Ellington, had all made great, popular art with a singular vision. We could do it too. (Please don’t ras me with my artistic comparisons; I aim high.) When it was all said and done, our development folks bought the program, for as long as they were with us anyhow, and walked the walk and talked the talk.
So, anyway, all of us fanned out everywhere we could spreading the message, telling our story. Any way we could, we tried to put our money where our mouth was. We went to schools, we started a high visibility storyboard contest, we talked to union groups. We all had individual meetings with every artist in the studio who would be patient enough not to laugh in our faces. (Not a few came in ready to participate only to find out they wouldn’t be paid to create their storyboard. After all, all across the world entertainment business a creative idea was developed in free time, the creator got a royalty participation in all future success after all; no risk, no reward. But in animation, where it had always been “we have the ideas, you be the hands” it was pretty confusing to a lot of veterans.) We placed stories in the press in the US, Europe, and Asia. We were relentless in looking for talent. After all, we had 48 cartoons to make from a dead stop.

(More next time.)

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts. Part 17.

September 1st, 2007

410w.jpg

We’re going more shorts crazy around here than ever before. Aside from the long-awaited Random! Cartoons (Nickelodeon will eventually play these on TV, really), and The Meth Minute 39 launching this next week, we’ve got plans for millions more! You read it right, millions! What better time than now to continue the tale of our journey.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16.

Now, what was the pitch going to be to my Turner Entertainment colleagues, a bunch of high flying, smarter than the room, young cable television executives? Why in hell would they want to do cartoon shorts like the old school?

There were some really smart people at Cartoon Network like Mike Lazzo (the original programmer and soul of the place, and not incidentally the brains behind [adult swim]) and Scott Sassa (Turner’s entertainment bossman and mine too), but it looked like some others around there were going to have to be finessed into agreeing to our wacky plan to go back-to-future and make cartoon shorts.

First up was the question “Does Cartoon Network really have to work with Hanna-Barbera on its original programming? There are a lot of other newer, cooler studios.” Yes, came the answer from on-high. Why else would we have paid hundreds of millions of dollars for the joint and kept the studio running?

Next, “Well, what have you got for us?”

This issue was more challenging. Everyone was used to a certain kind of programming (animated sitcoms) pitched in a certain way (character drawings, story premises, “bibles”) which would be picked to death by network executives. I had no interest in this system and wanted to give cartoonists freedom to make cartoons the way they wanted: funny, short, and funny.

Besides, Cartoon Network’s agenda wasn’t actually making good cartoons. The agenda was to get the network distributed across the world (they were in less than 5 million of 95million+ homes in America) and the cable companies wondered why Nickelodeon wasn’t enough. Original programming was one of the answers.

So, essentially my pitch went thusly:

The studio just released two series with a lot of seeming promise (2 Stupid Dogs and SWAT Kats). They cost over $10million and failed within six weeks and everyone at Cartoon Network had liked them. With all said and done they essentially failed.

Since cable companies don’t really watch cartoons, the quality of the cartoons didn’t particularly matter to them that much (not that it didn’t matter to us), it was the ability to promise new programs. Spending $10million for two public ‘promises’ (that is, two new cartoon series) didn’t seem like that great a deal to me.

Instead, why not let Hanna-Barbera spend the $10million to make forty eight promises. That’s right, Hanna-Barbera will produce 48 brand new cartoons for the Cartoon Network in two years. That would be a public relations announcement of an original program every two weeks for two years. Original premieres would debut at 7pm before every other Sunday night movie on the channel.

Additionally, it would add to the thousands of cartoons already in the Turner Entertainment library. And hadn’t the company been running hundreds of non-famous early Looney Tunes on their networks and selling ads around them 50 or 60 years after they were made and seemingly forgotten?

And besides, one of them could be spun off as a hit series. It was clear to everyone I had no experience making cartoons, but ignorant though I was, how stupid would I have to be to produce 48 shorts and not have one of them be good enough for a series?

(More next time.)

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts. Part 16.

March 13th, 2007

7-minutes.gif

Frederator Studios is at the end producing the 39 original shorts that will make up the Random! Cartoons series on Nickelodeon. We started making original short cartoons in the early 90s at Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network with 48 What A Cartoon!s a.k.a. World Premiere Toons (six series were spun off from those shorts), then with 51 Oh Yeah! Cartoons (plus another 51 shorts and three series) and now these 39. Occasionally in this space I’ve been recounting how we got here. When we last left off the new Hanna-Barbera production team of 1992 (under Ted Turner’s recent acquisition of the studio) was busy putting together a production team for these cockamamie shorts.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts:
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13.
Part 14. Part 15.

When I first joined the studio, completely ignorant of the process of making commercial cartoons, I’d talk to anyone who could give me a clue (and quite a few who couldn’t). John Kricfalusi introduced me to the artist/writer Pat Ventura when I told him I’d asked Joe Barbera to include an update of Screwball Squirrel in his new Fox Kids Droopy series (he rightly pointed out Pat, a Tex Avery fan, was already on the Tom & Jerry Kids Show writing staff, why start searching for someone new?). Along with John, Pat’s inadvertent influence on our future shorts would be incalculable.

As a little background, Pat graduated from CalArts in the 70s and proceeded to work all over the business as an artist, storyboarder, writer (he quickly found out that “writers” were in demand, writers-who-wrote-on-boards were not) and had done a great stint as a gag man at Disney features during their 1980s revival, writing many of the Roger Rabbit shorts. He left for the Tom & Jerry Kids Show because he had the great and rare insight to realize the opportunity to work with an old master of the shorts form was virtually extinct; working every day with Joe Barbera was too great to pass up. Which is when we met.

I took an immediate liking to Pat and he was one of the few people I took into my confidence about the looney idea of reviving the cartoon form through shorts. He was a great film historian and student (particularly the silents) and would patiently give me instruction. He’d tell me about his preference for Keaton, Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy. And why he preferred the composer Scott Bradley to the more revered Carl Stalling. He did his best to show me how gags were set up and staged and why, while he thought Looney Tunes were OK, he liked the Fleischers.

And we talked incessantly about short cartoons. Why they were good, why they weren’t. Why writing on boards was good and what you could learn from them. Because of Pat we started a weekly screening series at Hanna-Barbera where we could share some of the great shorts (animated and live action) Ted Turner had in his vast library with the studio staff who cared.

When I started talking to John and Pat I came at everything like a studio head. (It would take me a little while to get smarter.) How do I find hit shows? Shorts seemed like a good idea since we could get 25 “at bats” for every series we’d try the old way. So when I first broached the idea with Pat I said I wanted to do as many shorts as possible; I suggested that a bunch of three minute shorts would give us an idea of what characters we liked.

“No, not three minutes. Six, seven, eight,” Pat told me.

My logical “Why?” was answered that if I wanted to make cartoons then they needed to be made with artists who loved cartoons. And if I was going that way then the cartoons needed to be, well, cartoons. And cartoons absolutely were not three minutes.

Pat was so certain I just agreed on the spot. It took me a long time to realize just why his instinct was so right on. But from then on that was it. All our shorts, well over 100 by now, are seven minutes long. It drives some of our talented creators crazy (of course, we realize no matter what length we set, someone would be annoyed) but seven minutes it is. A real legacy of short cartoons. Shaped in part by our friend Pat Ventura.

Now, if only I could convince the folks at Cartoon Network.

(More next time.)

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13.
Part 14. Part 15.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts. Part 15.

December 30th, 2006

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Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13.
Part 14.

Starting at Hanna-Barbera in 1992 it was clear I wanted the studio to produce short cartoons, but I was only beginning to figure out how we should actually go about it.

Anyone who would listen I’d talk to about shorts. And I picked up tips anywhere I could.

Buzz Potamkin was our new head of production. His New York studio had produced my original MTV “Moonman” animation before he packed it in to go to Hollywood to make Saturday morning shows, and over the years he’d given me a pretty fair education on how TV cartoon studios worked in general, and in particular how Hanna-Barbera had gotten into the sad shape it was in. Together with my operating partner Jed Simmons we figured we could credibly ask for enough money from our boss Scott Sassa to make 48 short cartoons. It would cost about the same as two series, but instead of two chances to succeed (or fail, like with 2 Stupid Dogs or SWAT Kats)) we’d have 48. “Scott, I know I know nothing about making cartoons. But with 48 shots even someone as ignorant as me can hit,” I pleaded.

Buzz also suggested Larry Huber as supervising producer. Having proved his ability to work with new people and new ideas on 2 Stupid Dogs he would be perfect.

John Kricfalusi had long preached the difference between traditional writers and cartoon-artist-as-writers (“Fred, every writer puts a cartoon scene in where ‘the bomb blows up in his face’ and thinks it’s funny. A bomb going off is not funny! It’s how the face looks before the bomb, how long it waits to blow up, how it blows up, and what happens after it blows up that might be funny. An artist shows you that.”) and I bought it hook, line, and sinker.

As a pitcher and buyer of shows I knew the limitations of the traditional pitch: Here’s the idea, here’s two pages describing the idea, and here’s a few pictures of what the idea might look like. After listening to folks like Friz Freleng, Joe Barbera, and Chuck Jones talk about shorts pitches back in the day, I determined we would only put a short into production after a full storyboard pitch from the artist originating it. Please show us the actual film you want to make, not describe the idea of the film. I’d been in advertising long enough to know the difference between an idea and the actual execution; the gap was light years. If we saw the storyboard we’d have some idea of whether or not the creator had any real notion of cartoons (versus animation, not the same thing at all), whether he/she really understood their character, and whether or not he or she actually understood story.

OK, so there was a framework to operate in. Now what?

(More next time.)

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13.
Part 14.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts. Part 14.

December 30th, 2006

(L)Mike Lazzo, originating programmer, Cartoon Network & (R) Joe Barbera
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It was almost an accident I became president of the famous Hanna-Barbera studio, but it was a chance to revive cartoons through my idea of making shorts the way they did in the theatrical days.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13.

Cartoon Network had just launched and senior creative executive and programmer Mike Lazzo had a great idea for a “Cartoon Advisory Board” really just a great excuse to hang with legends. He assembled a room somewhere in Hollywood with Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera, Friz Freleng, Noel Blanc (Mel’s son), and John Kricfalusi. (…:::Later, Jerry Beck refreshes my recollections below in comments.) Mike had a bunch of questions he asked and they answered, but only one sticks in my mind. As I remember it went something like this:

Mike Lazzo: What makes a good producer?

Joe Barbera: Fred Quimby was a great producer!

(Note from FS: I knew Joe despised Quimby, so this confused me right off the bat.)

Quimby would come in around 10 in the morning, go right to his office and make some phone calls. Around 11 his barber would come in and give him his daily trim and shave. 12:30 he was off to lunch, back at 2:30 for some calls to East Coast distributors and then he’d go home.

Mike Lazzo: What was the production unit doing all day?

Joe Barbera: We were making the cartoons we felt like making. Like I said, Fred Quimby was a great producer!

I was listening closely. “Hey, I can do that job!” I said out loud.

(More next time.)

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts. Part 13.

August 15th, 2006

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Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12.

Within months of arriving at Hanna-Barbera I had greenlit two series in the traditional way. But all I could think about was the idea of doing shorts the way I had pitched to Nickelodeon in the late 80s.

Impressed by the passion of the Trembley brothers (creators of SWAT Kats) I put the series into production under the direction of young Hanna-Barbera veteran Davis Doi, who made the show using the mainstream production techniques of the 80s. The creative team worked very hard, and we had a lot of hope for the show but by distributing it through syndication, which had become the weakest way to find a kids’ audience, ultimately the series failed. (Though there are currently 102,000[!] mentions on the internet.)

In the long run the pick-up of 2 Stupid Dogs affected me, Hanna-Barbera, and in fact, the entire cartoon industry, a lot more. Donovan Cook was a recently graduated CalArts animation whipper snapper who came in the office with half a storyboard. It had a great title, it was pretty funny, and it had a graphic style influenced by classic UPA and Hanna-Barbera that I loved (I was such a newbie to the business that I was completely unaware the style had become the mainstream of CalArts graduates who were more interested in cartoons than feature animation.) Donovan’s energy was infectious, and like an idiot I said “go!” on a 13 episode series that had no distribution commitment, half a storyboard, and a creator who’d barely done anything ever before. (The 2 Stupid Dogs story is interesting in and of itself to those who care, but that’ll be for another time.) We assigned another industry old hand, Larry Huber, to partner with Donovan, which turned out to be one of the smarted moves I’ve made in my career.

Little did I know that the most revolutionary thing I’d done in my animation career to that point was not in green lighting these two series, but in allowing the Trembley brothers and Donovan to actually make the series they wanted to make, rather than what our studio system had in store for them.

Simultaneously with these new productions the studio was finishing off shows sold by the previous administration, and my new partner Jed Simmons was trying like hell to turn around the business battleship that was stuck in the bathtub. If we didn’t turn around the downward trend of the financial graph, there was no way Ted Turner and Scott Sassa were going to let us do anything more, no matter how great it was.

And in the meantime, I was talking shorts to anyone who would sit long enough to listen. Some who listened were studio crew who sat because I was the boss, but thought I was a raving lunatic (from their perspective shorts had died 30 years before). Competitors and network executives politely nodded their heads and told me it sounded great (great for them that is; the faster I started this stupid idea, the faster I’d be shipped out of Hollywood). A lot of young folk were cautiously excited because they’d gotten into the business to make cartoons, even though the industry had actually abandoned cartoons years ago.

(More next time.)

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12.

Blog History of Frederator original cartoon shorts. Part 12

August 12th, 2006

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Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11.

I started as the new President of Hanna-Barbera in June of 1992.

First of all I need to get to know 300 new employees, in a new industry, in a new city. Within hours the development department was coming in with new pitches for series, specials, and feature films. I had absolutely no idea how to decide whether anything was any good, and who was talented enough. Everyone seemed talented.

So I talked with everyone who wanted to talk. Anyone who wanted to give me a theory about what made a hit could get a date with me. Three (or four) meals a day, six or seven days a week. Sometimes a midnight meeting at an artist’s house just to hang out.

One day a writer who’d worked at the studio for 30 years came by with an idea. “Imagine a pig.” OK I can do that. “And he works in a post office.” OK. “But, he’s really a superhero!”

Please, deliver me. Back to New York, preferably.

I told everyone I met about how I loved the Hanna-Barbera classic cartoons. Most of them laughed at me like I was an old fart (41 year old at the time). But along the way I’d run into a few folks, like John Kricfalusi, who enjoyed my interests and helped me to understand a little more about how to do what I wanted to do.

Then one day one of our newer development executives, Margot McDonough, thought there were some younger creative types she thought I might like. No one else with my kind of position would really want to meet them, but, after the pig in the post office I was desperate.
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(More next time.)

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts. Part 11.

August 10th, 2006

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Blog History of Frederator’s original short cartoons.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10.

After suddenly closing my ad agency, getting divorced, and moving to Los Angeles after 25 years in New York, I found myself running a famous company that hadn’t had a hit in over a decade, in a business where I knew almost nothing and no one.

Here’s what my COO partner Jed Simmons and I had to look forward to when we got to Hanna-Barbera in 1992:

The last hit at the studio was The Smurfs in 1981.
Tom & Jerry Kids was a hit on Fox Kids.
Fish Police was being finished up to air in primetime on CBS.
Capitol Critters was being produced with Steven Bochco for ABC.
Once Upon A Forest and The Pagemaster were feature films being made for 20th Century Fox.
Yo Yogi!, the adventures of a teenaged Yogi Bear at the mall, was being finished up for NBC.

One bright note: Eric Homan was cleaning cells in the Animation Art Department.

Had no one in this place ever seen a cartoon? I thought I was going to kill myself.

(More next time.)

Blog History of Frederator’s original short cartoons.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10.