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"Dan Vs. Toonzone News" Interviewing Co-Creators Dan Mandel and Chris Pearson

Dan Vs. co-creators Dan Mandel and Chris Pearson may share the same names as the two male leads in their show, but their relationship is much better. The two have known each other since high school days, and their first show on TV has turned out to be one of the Hub Network’s breakout hits, garnering much critical acclaim and an enthusiastic fanbase that crosses over into multiple demographics. Pretty good for a pair that had no experience in animation before, and had initially conceived of Dan Vs. as a live-action sitcom.

Toonzone News was able to talk with the pair via e-mail on the eve of season 2 of Dan Vs. debuting on the Hub. We also have a still and video clip from “Dan Vs. Dancing,” the next new premiere episode of Dan Vs. debuting on February 4, 2012.

TOONZONE NEWS: Your original intent was to do the show in live-action. What made you think of doing it as an animated show instead? How did your approach to the show change once you made that decision?

DAN MANDEL: Chris’ agent said Adult Swim was looking for new shows and Chris asked me if Dan Vs. could be a cartoon. Not having any connections at HBO to sell the Eastbound and Down-style, R-rated, live-action sitcom it was devised to be, it seemed like the thing to do at the time.

CHRIS PEARSON: As for how the approach changed, I think the animated format opened up the possibilities. I remember pitching the cartoon version to Dan, saying something like “If it’s a cartoon, we can do ‘Dan Vs. the Mailman’ one week, and ‘Dan vs. the Lost City of Atlantis’ the next.”

TOONZONE NEWS: Neither of you have a background in animation as far as I can tell. What was the biggest hurdle or learning curve you had to get over to do the show in animation?

DAN MANDEL: To the uninitiated, the Starz Film Roman building is very much like a house of mirrors maze with no mirrors. It’s very easy to get lost inside. Figuring out where I needed to go and how to get there was frustratingly difficult for the first few months.

CHRIS PEARSON: Would a background in animation have made that easier?

TOONZONE NEWS: How exactly did you link up with the Hub?

DAN MANDEL: We were optioned by the Hatchery years ago, which was run by Dan Angel (one of our current exec producers) and Margaret Loesch. When Margaret was named CEO of a new network we were mulling about at Cartoon Network, and she asked if we wanted to go ahead and be on her new network. Shockingly to no one we said, “where do we sign?” Well, we didn’t say that exactly, but it was pretty much the vibe.

CHRIS PEARSON: Margaret jokes that she had to start a whole network to get this show on the air.

TOONZONE NEWS: What does a typical day for the two of you look like while producing Dan Vs? How do you two divide up responsibilities on the show?

DAN MANDEL: There is no typical day. That’s why one goes into show biz in the first place.

CHRIS PEARSON: Definitely one of the perks is that every day is a little different. As for how we divide responsibilities, Dan comes from an acting background (and does a lot of voices for us in Season 2, starting with a Guest Star role in “Neighbors”) so he’s more of the go-to when we have actors in the booth. My background is in writing, so that’s where I concentrate my efforts.

TOONZONE NEWS: You’ve said elsewhere that Dan and Chris are loosely based on the two of you. Is Elise based on anybody you’re willing to identify?

CHRIS PEARSON: She’s based just as loosely on my wife Elise, who did spend some of her teenage years in Japan, but to the best of my knowledge isn’t really a ninja.

TOONZONE NEWS: Have you worked out Elise’s whole mysterious backstory, or do you just make it up as you go?

DAN MANDEL: Yes.

CHRIS PEARSON: I think we have the basic timeline of her life down, but we’ll wait for the “Elise” spinoff before we delve too deep into specifics.

TOONZONE NEWS: A lot of creators we interview will say that characters evolved or changed after the voice actors are cast and they start doing things in the booth. Did that happen with the cast of Dan Vs., and if so, how?

DAN MANDEL: Maybe subconsciously for Dan and Chris. Dave and Curtis have pretty much played them as written to the nth degree from the beginning. Curtis was pitch perfect from the first call back and Dave Foley’s Dave Foley. Elise, however, is another story. She was really only going to show up for a small amount of time in every few episodes at most. But when we got Paget and she began to deliver like we knew she could (which is, of course, why we jumped at the chance to cast her), everybody wanted more Elise.

CHRIS PEARSON: I think Curtis gave us a broader emotional range to work with. If we want to write Dan as angry and wistful at the same time, we know Curtis will get what we’re going for and play the emotion perfectly. He gives us a safety net, which in turn gives us more freedom to stretch Dan’s emotions a little more.

TOONZONE NEWS: Which episodes so far have been about things that really drive one or the other of you crazy? 

DAN MANDEL: I think a lot of them, in general. But mainly the little things. I mean, nobody likes traffic. And who hasn’t, in a sad fit of tired hunger, gone through the drive thru on the way home from work only to find that when you get home, they got your order wrong and you immediately wanted to burn said place to the ground but you don’t because of what a hassle it would be to get back into rush hour traffic for something you didn’t really want in the first place, let alone put your shoes back on? I’d give you more examples but I can’t really remember what shows we did right now. Oh, and Maryland! That was the same episode, wasn’t it? Well their drivers mostly. So to answer your question: Maryland drivers. Was that an episode? I don’t really watch this show…

CHRIS PEARSON: I have always hated George Washington.

TOONZONE NEWS: How serious are you about trying to get Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad to be on the show as Chris’ parents? Are you planning to do a “Chris’ parents” episode anyway? Or a “Dan’s parents” episode?

CHRIS PEARSON: I think that was something Dan just tossed off as a joke.

DAN MANDEL: Super serious, given all the one-off, obscure animation that doesn’t promote positive role models that Bill Cosby’s doing all the time. As far as Dan or Chris’ parents showing up, I’d say that’ll be when you know we’ve run out of ideas. I mean, maybe you could do Chris’ parents, as Chris is a more “normal” human character. But Dan’s parents? Whether they’re nice or whacked out or some combination of whatever, they can mainly just take away from Dan as a character because they can basically only either be a tool to explain everything away or cheap gags.

TOONZONE NEWS: The show seems to have a pretty broad and loyal fandom across a lot of demographics. Did the audience response surprise you?

DAN MANDEL: I will admit, when I see the diversity just in the Facebook posts (http://www.facebook.com/danvsshow) I’m a little surprised. I knew we’d get college stoners and disaffected youth, but I did not expect hardcore Christians and My Little Pony fans. Glad to have ‘em, though. It’s a show, man. Everyone’s welcome!

CHRIS PEARSON: What surprised me was the fan art. Not just the amount of it, which is awesome, and the variety of styles and media, but some of the art itself was pretty surprising. I certainly didn’t think there would be so much attention devoted to Chris and Dan … uh… doing activities together.

TOONZONE NEWS: Did you make any major changes in the way you approached the show in season 2 vs season 1?

DAN MANDEL: Just tried to have things run smoother. We’ve been lucky to have been surrounded by a lot of high level professionals to buffer the fact that we’ve basically been learning on the job.

CHRIS PEARSON: Plus, the identity of the show had been established, so we didn’t have to go through all the “What is this show about? Who is this Dan guy, anyway? What does the show look like?” stuff that you have to figure out in Season 1. Fewer creative battles, overall.

TOONZONE NEWS: What can we expect for season 2?

DAN MANDEL: Well you already got two holiday specials in a row, so how about that?

CHRIS PEARSON: A whole new batch of adversaries, of course. We also brought back a couple of characters from Season 1 that we really enjoyed. If you’re a fan of the show already, I think you can expect to love Season 2 as well. If you haven’t seen the show before, you can expect to discover a fun new program that you should tell all of your friends about. Seriously. Tell your friends.

Toonzone News would like to thank Dan Mandel and Chris Pearson for speaking with us, and to Crystal Williams at the Hub PR for setting it up. Dan Vs. airs on Saturdays at 8:00 PM Eastern/5:00 PM Pacific, with the next new episode (“Dan Vs. Dancing” — you noticed the still up there, didn’t you?) premiering this Saturday, February 4, 2012.

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