Drawn Together's Bill Freiberger: Hate Mail Free Since 2004!
Bill Freiberger has been executive producer for Comedy Central’s hit animated series Drawn Together for two seasons now. Toon Zone News reporter Matt Hazuda recently sat down with one of the masterminds behind this show of debauchery, blood, and the occasional penis.
Warning: Adult Content Below. (That’s what she said!)
Do you have no morals, and do I have even less for laughing at the show all the time?
Good question. I like to think I do have morals. And I think those morals are reflected in Drawn Together. The show is a satire that makes fun of how people think and behave. I like to think that we’re holding a mirror to society and saying, “Look at what’s wrong with you people.” When we portray Captain Hero as a crazy, hedonistic rapist the message is, “Don’t blindly trust someone’s motives simply because they’re an authority figure. When we portray racism it’s not to celebrate racism, it’s to criticize it. And when we portray stereotypes it’s to say that sometimes there’s truth in them. Let’s not let them hurt us, let’s laugh at them.
The interesting point that you bring up is do you have fewer morals for laughing at the show. I like to think that most of our audience gets what we’re doing but I’m sure many don’t. There were many people in the 70s who watched All In The Family because they agreed with Archie Bunker. You’re never going to enlighten those people. But there’s a huge group of people in the middle who can have their eyes opened by satire.
What is it that executive producers do besides take all the credit and just yell at everyone?
It’s true, the Executive Producer gets a great deal of credit for the show but also has all the responsibility. He or she makes or approves every single decision about the content of the show. From the stories we tell to the color of a character’s eyes. We supervise the writing, the directing, the editing, the art, the animation, etc. The Executive Producer also deals with the network, listening to and sometimes even implementing their notes.
How did this show come together?
Dave Jeser and Matt Silverstein created the show. They’re big reality TV fans and fans of cartoons as well. They simply had the idea of combining the two. They had been working in standard network sitcoms and felt stifled and constrained. Often in a sitcom writer’s room, someone will pitch a joke that makes everyone laugh and then the person in charge will say, “We can’t say that on television.” and you’ll try to find another joke. Matt and Dave decided that they wanted to do a show where all those great jokes wouldn’t have to be thrown out. The rule would be, if everyone laughs it goes in.
So they developed their idea, figured out who the characters were and how they interrelated. Then they had their friend, Jordan Young (the Supervising Producer and former Simpsons animator) design the characters. When they were happy with the characters and the designs they went to various networks and pitched the show. They had interest from Showtime, Fox, MTV and Comedy Central. After much internal debating, they decided Comedy Central was the best fit for the show.
They produced a 5 minute presentation in Flash to see if the show worked. After seeing the presentation, Comedy Central ordered eight episodes of the show.
Any characters on the show based on anyone known in real life?
For the most part, the characters are based on an animation genre and a reality TV show archetype.
Has there been anything that was just “too vulgar” to do on the show?
Well, the standards and practices department at Comedy Central cuts stuff out for being “too vulgar” all the time. We are constantly fighting with them over what we can put into the show. Often this ends in some sort of compromise. For example, in the episode “Ghosteses In The Slot Machine,” Foxxy and Clara work in a strip club. Their outfits included pasties. Standards felt the pink and purple pasties that matched the characters’ outfits looked too much like nipples so we had to redo the animation, making the pasties 5% larger and of a less “natural” colors (light blue and bright green). And, of course, in the episode “Terms of Endearment,” the network made us remove the shot where Captain Hero gently falls off a horse directly into a wheelchair. I hope both of those scenes are restored in the DVD.
It’s rare that the creative team decides something is inappropriate, but it does happen. In “Ghosteses In The Slot Machine,” the characters have to redo each other’s living space (a “Trading Spaces” parody” and Clara thinks Foxxy’s living space is a tree. When Foxxy sees this, she gets mad at Clara for being a racist. All of that appears in the episode, but a shot where Clara tries to appease Foxxy by offering her a banana was removed. We felt it was racist without being satirical so we cut it. Also, there were other racist elements in that scene and we thought we were just “piling on.”
Your son helped write an episode for season 1. How did that come about and will he be writing any more?
A friend of mine was doing a Saturday morning kids show and wanted me to write an episode. I didn’t really want to do it but I wanted to help my friend out. So I needed to find something that would make it worthwhile for me. I thought it would be fun to write it with my then 12 year old son. So I agreed. While we were breaking stories my friend left the show and the whole thing went away. My son was very disappointed and wanted to write something else together. So, a few months later when I started working on Drawn Together and it was time for me to write a script I decided to give it another try. He and I truly wrote the episode together as a team. Sometimes we’d work in the same room. Other times we’d work separately and exchange scenes. In the end, we handed in a good first draft and one or two of my son’s jokes made it all the way to broadcast.
We haven’t written anything together since, but he’s come by the office a few times when the writers were pitching jokes for scripts and he joined in on the pitching. Another one of his jokes got in a different episode from those pitching sessions.
We’ve seen characters from everyone’s pasts on the show besides Toot and Spanky. Any plans to look at their backstories this season or in the future?
Yes, this season we will follow Toot to her fat camp reunion (complete with flashbacks) and we’ll meet Spanky’s wife and son.
The episodes “Terms of Endearment” was “banned” before it could air in season one, but finally showed up during season two premieres. What was the controversy surrouding this episode for anyone not familiar with it, and did you have to alter the episode greatly to finally get it on TV?
The problem with this episode was that it involved a super hero falling off a horse and winding up in a wheelchair. Christopher Reeve died a few weeks before it was supposed to air and the network decided not to air it. When it finally aired as the premiere episode of season 2b, the shot of Hero falling off a horse into a wheelchair was removed.
What’s with the penis obsession?
Penises are funny.
What did the team learn from season one, and did it change how the show was put together at all?
The show definitely evolved from season one to season two. When the season one episode “Terms of Endearment” finally aired in season two it seemed a bit out of place. I don’t think there were conscious decisions made to change the show, rather it was just an evolution. In fact, I couldn’t really put my finger on what we’re doing differently now. We’re just doing it.
Personal favorite episode?
“Terms of Endearment.” I like the complexity of the story. I like the message about never forgetting the past. And I like the fact that I wrote it with my son.
Any characters that you would consider difficult to write for?
Right now it seems to be toughest to write for Spanky. When Captain Hero became more of a pervert it eclipsed that quality in Spanky. Now Spanky (along with Foxxy) is usually the voice of reason on the show.
Do you know the muffin man?
I thought this was a serious interview… and yes.
Fill in the blank: I love to (verb) after a long day of working on the show.
Go to sleep.
Adult Swim declared your show unfunny during a recent broadcast. Care to respond to that claim?
I thought it was hilarious. Wouldn’t I be a hypocrite if I expected Christopher Reeve’s family to laugh off our portrayal of Hero in a wheelchair and then whined because someone made fun of us? I can dish it out and I can take it.
Any outraged parents call in to complain that little Billy or Susie saw something they shouldn’t have?
Not that I’m aware of. We’ve never received any mail at all about the show. It may get dealt with at before it ever reaches us, I don’t know. But I’ve never seen any.
I do know there was a problem with our posters in the New York City subway system when the show premiered. There were complaints and the posters were taken down a day or two after they were put up.
And a famous actress from a long running sitcom complained to the head of the network about our billboards and they were taken down as well.
Any chance the DT cast or crew will be at San Diego Comic-Con this year?
We did a panel at Comic-Con right before the premiere of Drawn Together. It was exactly the kind of presentation you’d expect from us — wild and vulgar. We played the censored/not censored game which had many jokes that were too raw to be broadcast. I guess there were complaints because when we wanted to go back before the second season, Comic-Con said no. We’d love to do another panel, it’s up to the powers that be at Comic-Con.
Many of the actors will be there for other shows that they’re involved with so you can get their autographs. I will most likely be there with my son. We go every year.
By the way, my son was on that Comic-Con panel. He was asked by a 30 year old man who was trying to break into the entertainment industry how a 13 year old was able to do it when he couldn’t. My son paused for a moment and then said, “Nepotism.”