SDCC2008: Freaks, Geeks and Tiny Toons Detailed Con Report
The well-paced Freaks, Geeks and Tiny Toons panel began with much applause from a packed room, to which Paul Rugg replied, “Where the hell were you twelve years ago? Seriously, John and I were here. There were two people in the audience and they were both our wives!”.
In attendance were Jean MacCurdy, Paul Dini, John McCann, Andrea Romano, Sherri Stoner, Rich Arons and Bruce Timm, with moderation provided by Paul Rugg. While no news was announced at this panel it was still quite a treat for those who had not previously been privy to fantastic bits of information on the development of both shows. With the purpose of the panel being to create buzz around the Tiny Toons and Freakazoid DVD releases on July 29, 2008, Paul Rugg had each appropriate member of the panel dive right in to discussing the beginnings of Tiny Toons and how they became attached.
In 1988, a movie was being developed at Warner Bros. with Steven Spielberg, called Tiny Toons. As Disney had been successful with shows like Duck Tales, the decision was made to instead make it work for the TV format. Jean was brought in to tackle this project for WB. She hired Tom Ruegger, with whom she had worked with at Hanna-Barbera. Development began and Tom brought on other people, including those on the panel. In January 1989, Steven made the announcement of the production of sixty-five half hour episodes.
Some years before, Paul had met Tom Ruegger while they were jobbing around L.A., writing for various animation studios. They had known each other briefly at Filmation and became friends as they chatted over the years. During the development of Tiny Toons, Tom approached Paul to gauge his interest in the project. According to Paul, Tom said, “I’m doing this Tiny Toons thing. I’m really not sure what it is, or if it’s going to work or anything. But, are you interested in writing on it?” Paul was and asked Tom to let him know as it evolved. When Tiny Toons received the go ahead, Tom let him know there was a slot open for him on the show. Paul took the job and moved from San Francisco to L.A. to join the writing staff.
Bruce came in around the same time as Dini. He had been working the previous two years for John Kricfalusi on Mighty Mouse and Beanie and Cecil. While he was working there, he met a man named Bob Campbell. Bob ended up working on Tiny Toons and called Bruce to let him know some of John K.’s guys were working at Warner Bros. He invited Bruce to join along. Bruce thought it sounded fun. So, he came in and met with Art Vitello. Art thought Bruce could work out and that’s how he came on board.
Moderator, Paul Rugg then introduced a video providing an overview of Tiny Toons. Once the video finished, he moved on to Andrea Romano.
Andrea called the project a major challenge. She had worked with Jean and Tom at Hanna-Barbera. Andrea had been approached by both to work on Tiny Toons. She recalled the days prior to WBA having on-site facilities; working at the Imperial Bank building at Sherman Oaks, in a windowless office on an overturned, empty box. Andrea believed they might have auditioned every single voice actor alive in the attempt to find voices that fit the charming, diminutive, younger versions of the Looney Tunes characters they were looking to capture. A lot of voice over actors major careers were started on Tiny Toons. She noted that at three six minutes episodes per cartoon, it was akin to working on approximately 195 episodes. Andrea called the show an awesome responsibility and, “because it was so musical, a joy”.
Sherri had been writing skits for the Groundlings. Fellow Groundling, Wayne Kaatz knew she was a big Warner Bros. fan and asked if she’d writing an episode for Babs. Tom liked the script and offered her a staff position immediately. As her only writing experience had been for the Groundlings, Sherri admitted to having been naive about the writing process. She mentioned the pressure to get it just right, especially for Steven. The balance to this was that they only had to pass the work by Tom and Steven. Under normal circumstances, many network hands would touch a script prior to final approval.
Rich had not directed before, which Paul Rugg pointed out, “could be a problem”. He was walking down the hall one day with some layouts. Tom looked at him and asked him, “You want to direct?” Rich said, “Well, maybe. I guess. Would you like to some stuff I’ve timed or some animation I’ve done?” Tom replied, “No. You just look like you could direct.”
Rugg asked the panel how much lead time they had during the first year. Jean said they had 18 months. Andrea called it a luxury, as that was unusual in the animation business. Bruce added that it had not felt like a luxury as they were cranking work out at a hectic pace.
Paul then moved on to the Freakazoid portion of the panel. A short overview of the cartoon was played for the audience. Emphasis was placed on the great deal of room allowed for the voice actors to improvise. After the clip ended, he asked Bruce Timm and Paul Dini to discuss how Freakazoid evolved.
Paul and Bruce had been working on Batman: The Animated Series. Steven had seen it, liked it, called Jean and told her he’d like to work with the Batman guys. He wanted something that was more action-adventure show, just as a change of pace from Animaniacs.
They came up with different pitches. There were a couple of different sci-fi shows. One was similar in theme to Jonny Quest. Because Steven had liked Batman, they also decided to throw a super hero in. They decided to make him somewhat like Spider-Man; a teenager who turns into a super hero, but weird, manic and insane. They were sure Steven wouldn’t like that pitch. So, of course, he did.
They wrote several scripts for Steven. As an example, Bruce mentioned a group of characters that were like Kung Fu nuns called, “Nunjas”. When they pitched the idea to Steven, it made him laugh, which Bruce felt good about. The script they turned in had the Nunjas in Las Vegas, fighting the Rat Pack. Another idea mentioned involved, “Ben Franklinstein”. Though he still liked the Freakazoid character, he felt the tone wasn’t quite what he was after. At that point Tom Ruegger was brought in to re-imagine the show. He brought in Paul Rugg and John McCann to work on it.
By the time the project reached Paul Rugg and John McCann for writing, they were already behind schedule. There was no time to do any major planning. Since they didn’t know what the show was, that gave them a little freedom to write whatever they thought was funny that day. That became the Freakazoid mentality. Tom had also written a large script of very short bits, like Mo-ron, that John called “perfect”. They started firing out the door and planned to fix them in post production.
Paul Rugg, then moved on to discussing the voice acting on Freakazoid and mentioned the show having given Craig Ferguson his start in the country as Roddy McStew.
Andrea recalled the search for someone with a genuine Scottish brogue. His agent had called Andrea and let her know that he had a guy who had just moved to Los Angeles from Scotland. This “dreamy” Scotsman came into her office at the Imperial Bank office, in a “leather jacket and torn jeans”. She added, “I know you shouldn’t base your voice cast off on what the guy looks like, but it was really my dreamy moment.” He used the words he was given and then started “goofing stuff”. The handful of people in the office listening to him, knew they found their guy. She also recalled the pleasure of working with talents like Jonathan Harris, David Werner, Ricardo Montalbán and other voice actors’ reaction to working with these legends.
Rugg then asked McCann to reply to the next question using “July 29th” in the answer and followed with, “Tell me something about Freakazoid.” John replied, “You know Paul, some of the best episodes of Freakazoid actually were thought up of on July 29th. Which coincidentally, this year, turns out to be the release date of the Freakazoid [boxed set]. My god, the cosmos works strangely.”
Paul Rugg asked Jean what it was like to fight the battles at the network and whether or not Freakazoid was a hard sell. Jean remembered one staff meeting where they had all the prime time and marketing people. During the kids report, she tried to describe the show to them and got up and started running around the room like Freakazoid. Unfortunately, they just didn’t get it. Paul added, “Pretty much like the next two years. Anyway…”
Paul pointed to and announced the presence of one of the Freakazoid directors in the audience, Scott Jeralds. Rugg then whispered into the mic, “You owe me twenty-five dollars!” Scott ran to the podium and handed him some money. Paul looked at the other panelists and said, “We are so eating today!”
Before going to Q&A, John wanted to make mention of the “children’s favorite”, Norm Abrams. Paul looked at the audience and said, “Oh. Now that is in our second season and you’re only seeing that out on DVD if you do your work!” He then snapped the twenty-five dollars at them. The audience laughed and applauded.
Paul was briefly interrupted by a man who handed him a piece of paper. He then said, ” By the way, I’ve just been handed this by a man I do not know…” and then proceeded to let the audience know of a signing after the panel.
Q&A with the audience began after some minor technical difficulties with the mic. As someone came to fix the mic, Rugg said, “I don’t think he works here.”
The first audience member let the panel know they were very popular in a number of state institutions and then asked a Freakazoid question. He wanted to know how they came up with the character, Gutierrez. Paul Rugg took this question. He let the gentleman know that he had written that episode. Originally Gutierrez was a character named, “Wo Wu,” which had not gone over well, so they changed the name. Once he figured out he was writing for Kahn, he said it was the most fun he’s ever had. It was at that point that they knew they were going to get Ricardo. Andrea confirmed they wanted him to play right away.
The next question up touched on the Tiny Toons episode, “Buster and Babs Go Hawaiian.” The audience member wanted to know if the story had actually come from some college students and how it ended up in their lap. Andrea confirmed that this had happened. Jean continued the story. Three girls from Virginia had, indeed, sent their submission in blind. They had drawn it all on binder paper.
Jean spoke with the head of PR at the time, who thought it was “an amazing thing.” Both hopped on a plane to West Virginia and drove for hours, out in the middle of nowhere, to one of the girls’ homes. The told the girls they wanted to fly them out to Los Angeles to meet Steven Spielberg and make the submission into a cartoon. Jean recalled the girls saying, “Okay,” and then fed them a lot of Virginia Ham.
The third audience member up wanted to know if Freakazette would have appeared if the show had ever gone to season three. Rugg asked whether Tom or Paul Dini had written a Freakazette script. Dini remembered talking about it and possibly having written a script where Steph became Freakazette that fell by the wayside.
The fourth fan’s question was about the episode of Tiny Toons called, “13 Something.” He specifically mentioned the part where Buster and Babs try to get each other to admit they miss each other. He wanted to know who wrote it so he could call them a genius. Sherri humbly raised her hand and the audience member kept his word and thanked her.
The fifth question went to the music of They Might Be Giants in the episode, “Tiny Toon Music Television.” The fellow wanted to know how they ended up working with the band. Sherri listened them to a lot at the time and thought their style would fit right in with a cartoon. She and Art Vitello thought it’d be fun to animate something to their music.
The sixth audience member apologized for not having been there twelve years ago. His excuse being that the was nine. He asked them to talk a little bit about the development and production of the Tiny Toons DTV, How I Spent my Summer Vacation. Sherri took one. They were on hiatus when they were writing it. She, Paul Dini and Tom Ruegger sat in a room with ideas for it. It was divided up amongst the directors and writers who wrote it in segments. Tom then laid them out on the table and broke them out piles by episode. The end result weighed in at around 9,000 pages.
The seventh person thanked the panel for creating the cartoon renaissance of the 90’s and raising an entire generation of kids on “crazy, amazing cartoons.” She wanted to know who created Relax-o-vision. There was some confusion amongst the panel as to who actually came up with the idea. John thought Paul Rugg had written it as he was the, “master of specialty vision.” Paul Rugg, however, thought Dini wrote it. After the conversation wandered to who had written Man vs. Bear, Scott Jeralds, who had directed the episode, confirmed that Dini had written Relax-o-vision.
A very nervous eighth gentleman asked why they had created gag credits. Dini said, “We just like playing with your mind.” Rugg added, “Freakazoid was all about us! No. We did that because we thought it’d be fun to have people try to catch. That was just us really having fun with everyone.” The gentleman corrected them, by saying he was referring to Tiny Toons. Paul reminded that gag credits were used on Freakazoid as well.
The ninth fellow had been reading the Modern Masters Volume 3: Bruce Timm interview. He referred to the portion where Bruce had said they had some crazy ideas for Tiny Toons that Steven had nixed. He was wondering if there were any great story ideas that were pitched but never made it because of him. Bruce clarified, saying he didn’t really have any story ideas that were nixed because he wasn’t involved in that end of the process. They were encouraged to contribute gags and improvise during the storyboard stage. They had a lot of freedom. They would throw in all sorts of weird gags. Sometimes they would go a little too far and received some push back, but he didn’t remember any specific instances. John McCann added, “The cartoon bordello? That was cut.”
The tenth audience member thanked them for whomever designed Dizzy Devil, as he considered the character to be his role model. He asked Paul Rugg to do the “Rabbi Jerry Lewis” voice again. Paul did. It was fantastic and hilarious.
Number eleven thanked Bruce for creating Harley Quinn and told Paul Dini he loved his run on Detective Comics. He wanted to know how Dini and Timm decided which Batman permutations to use during the Batman-through-the-ages portion of the episode. Paul said they were just having fun with it.
The twelfth gentlemen’s question was, “I guess I was just wondering what you guys are working on right now or for the future together… or not… together?” Bruce replied, “That’d cover everything.”
Bruce is coming up on his 20th year at Warner Bros. Andrea is as well and also works on SpongeBob SquarePants. Rich Arons started a company called Gang of Seven Animation. They are making a feature film called, Life and the Adventures of Santa Claus. They also did Biker Mice from Mars. Sherri has been doing work for Hasbro and recently finished something for DreamWorks. John said that Paul Rugg, Tom, Jean and he were working on something. While he couldn’t reveal anything further, he assured the audience that he thought they’d all be pleased.
Lucky number thirteen brought the discussion back to the “Tiny Toon Music Television” episode. One of the rumors going around the internet revolved around the delay of the release of the DVD being due to rights issues revolving around the use of the They Might Be Giants songs. Bruce replied, saying that may have been a rights issue that was not specifically related to TMBG. He had a feeling it was probably something complicated related to music.
The fourteenth person up wanted to share a personal Freakazoid moment with the panel. He had been arguing with his younger brother as to what Barbie’s little sister’s name was. His brother swore it was Stacy. He told his sibling he was confusing it with Malibu Stacy from The Simpsons. Freakazoid came on and one brother told the other, “Oh, Freakazoid’s coming on. Shut up.” In the episode, Mo-ron asks the name of Barbie’s kid sister. He thought that was amazing and “sick.” He then thanked the panel for the opportunity to tell his brother, “I told you.”
For his question, he asked the panel who created Lord Bravery and the Huntsman. John grabbed this question and told the audience he came up with The Huntsman and Paul Rugg created Lord Bravery. He also noted that Lord Bravery looked oddly like him.
At this point, the panel received the five minute warning from one of the convention staffers. Paul said, “It’s that man again. Who the hell are you?”
The fifteenth audience member told the panel she loved the episode with “Istanbul, Not Constantinople” and “Swan Lake.” She might have meant “Top Secret Apprentice.” Either way, Bruce replied that he had worked on “Particle Man,” but didn’t really have anything to do with “Istanbul, Not Constantinople.”
The sixteenth fellow up wanted to know what it was like to work with Tim Curry on the Freakazoid episode, “The Island of Dr. Mystico.” Paul Rugg took this question, saying it was wonderful working with Tim Curry, David Werner, Leonard Maltin and Jonathan Harris. He thought he was fun and loved that they always came in ready to play.
Number sixteen also wanted to know if they got into any trouble for the Mo-ron. John said that they probably couldn’t do it today, but they didn’t get into any trouble.
The seventeenth audience member asked his question while attempting to not break down laughing. He wanted to know who had come up with the rides for the Happy Go Land bits during Tiny Toons: How I Spent My Summer Vacation, like the Happy Go Pukey ride. Rich replied, saying that they came up with a huge list containing every single possible disgusting ride they could think of.
Paul Rugg then noted that they had time for one more question. This, of course, meant that the final audience member would have to mention that he had three questions. Paul told him, “There’s the man we don’t know! He’s going to come and make you go!” He wanted to know why both shows ended and what more they could have done to keep them going.
Paul grabbed the first part of that question, saying, “I’ll tell you why Freakazoid stopped airing, because no one watched it.” The audience responded with laughter and surprise. Paul followed by saying, “No. No. No kids watched it. See, because you make money when the little kids watch it and they weren’t watching it a lot. So, they got mad at us and made us go.” Paul asked Jean why Tiny Toons ended and she replied saying that the business deal ran out.
The panel ended with Paul yelling, “Okay, we’re done!” and something else that could not be heard over the cheers of the audience, but was likely the release date of the two DVDs, July 29th, 2008.
(Return to Toon Zone’s San Diego Comic-Con 2008 Complete Coverage)