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Even though the studio had one truly competent animator named Isadore "Friz" Freling, a talented penciller named Bob Clampett and a kid straight out of college washing cels named Charles Jones, it Looney Tunes and Merry Melody output was mediocre at best and out-and-out boring at its worst. Still, Warner's chief nabob, Jack Warner, demanded more cartoons than Leon Schlessinger could produce. Schlessinger, a con artist of no small repute who was also had notorious streak of cheapness, meanness and out-and-out dumbness, grifted Warner into giving him enough money to start a third production team. The only problem was finding someone to head it.
From out of the blue, a grifter with the gift of gab got Schlessinger's attention. He conned the con man into letting him head that third team as its new director. For his efforts, Schlessinger converted a rundown tool shed as the new site for this spanking new director. Give the guy credit though, among the people he grabbed to join him were the aforementioned Clampett and Jones. The next thing he did was dub the tool shed the Termite Terrace and then start focussing his attention on a group of childlike animals Freling created, particularly a round-as-a-beachball stuttering pig.
We now know the pig as Porky. He became the first true superstar of the Warner Bros. stable. From there, the director had Porky go on a duck hunt, where he met the personification of chaos in the form of a darn fool little black duck appropriately named Daffy. The next thing you knew, Porky had a co-star of equal stature.
At the same time, Jones and a guy named Bugs Hardaway had been working on a rabbit that they couldn't quite get their finger on, but everyone felt could be really big. The director, thinking so too, decided if sending Porky on a duck hunt worked so well once, why not put him on a rabbit hunt?
This was all well and good. Still, he felt the rabbit would need a signa- ture line so everyone could easily identify him. He remembered when he and all his friends used to greet each other in high school, they didn't say hello, but "What's Up, Doc?"
So, when Porky's Rabbit Hunt hit the big screen in the late 1930's, not only was the superstar status of Bugs' Bunny (as he was originally called as an homage to his true creator) assured, but his director, Tex Avery, also insured himself a place in animation immortality.
Avery went on to create a number of other great shorts for Warner Bros. Even more important, he not only gave Friz Freling the impetus to start also creating his own wonderful shorts, but then was the spur that sparked future monster directors Clampett and Jones. The next thing you knew, the Disney studio wasn't the bomb any more, real animation fans waited every two weeks to see the next great short from Warner Bros.
Still, Schlessinger's notorious cheapness even got to his star director. When he heard that Harmon-Ising was leaving MGM, he turned and conned MGM to give their director chair. Again, he started turning the animation world on its head, creating a series of incredible shorts such as Bad Luck Blackie, the Droopy Dog and Wolfie/Red Hot Riding Hood-Swing Shift Cinder- ella series. If that wasn't enough, while the other key MGM team, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, already had a hit duo on their hands in the form of Tom & Jerry, when Avery showed up it could arguably be said that--like Freling--there was something about Avery that brought out the best in them.
When MGM closed down its animation studio the first time, Avery struck gold again in the 1960's in the advertising world. Among his creations were the Raid Roaches, who you still see on TV ads today. As age and ill health caught up with him, his old friends Hanna and Barbera gave him a more-or- less honorary job at their now burgeoning studio. Among the people who worked there was the much underrated Mark Evanier and a guy named Andy Heyward. After leaving H-B, Heyward took their philosophy of fast-done, limited animation 'toons to even more extreme levels by with his own studio, DIC Entertainment.
Still, Heyward could never shake the influence of Avery.
"His mandate was to pass on the mantle to some of the younger guys there," recalls DIC Executive VP Robby London, who admits his total contact with Avery was nothing more than an introduction and a handshake but still is proud to say he got that much. "He was kind of professor emeritus there, kind of the same position Chuck Jones enjoys at Warner Bros. today. Andy was a young writer there, working on such shows as Yogi's Laugh Olympics and The New Adventures of Fred & Barney and had the great fortune and honor of learning from Tex there. He said Tex was always ready to help him when ever he had a problem and his influence was incredible."
"I can't think of a person in animation who doesn't owe the Tex Avery-Fritz Freling-Chuck Jones triumvirate at Warner Bros. a huge debt of gratitude. What they did was the all-time benchmark of what animation could do and what it was capable of."
Which goes a long way towards explaining why DIC suddenly dropped its normally pocket-pinching ways to go whole hog in creating the Tex Avery show, which is entering syndication as you read this.
"What we're trying to do is pay of an homage to the style that Tex created," says London, who supervised the entire 65-episode series. "To do that, we have created seven new character families of our own. We feel they are very much in the feel of what Tex would have done. We've also created 195 shorts featuring these seven character families."
"I think one of the big things about all these family groups is we made sure that like anything Tex did, they were really simple characters. The best example is Chuck Jones' Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. Tex did the same thing. All Elmer Fudd wanted to do when Tex directed him was shoot Bugs Bunny."
The key difference was where Jones learned the art of minimalism, where one raised eyebrow from Wile E. Coyote could speak volumes, Avery was the complete opposite of extremes. Sure, Droopy Dog might never let his lip quiver one iota, but at the same time he was putting Spike the Bulldog through some of the most excessive expressions of pain through the most outlandish series of gags he could think of. Think of the Mask--which was another character created as an homage to Tex Avery...with ABSOLUTELY NOTHING holding him back. That's Tex Avery style. It's also something that no self-respecting animator can resist taking a stab at.
"Absolutely!," London concurs. "I can tell you this, and I've never worked on a project that was such a talent magnet as this one. We had people quit such places as Dreamworks and Disney in order to work on this project. You see, animators know and revere the work of Tex Avery. They were contacting us from all over the world, and mind you this is a co-production with a studio in France and another in Japan, to get their hands on it. I won't go into the reputation we have here, but I will admit these animators were willing to work for us for less money in order to say they did something here. It was a labor of love. We all killed ourselves to get it done in the amount of time that we did."
It should be understood, most weekday animation projects usually consist of 39 half-hour episodes with each episode taking up 20-plus minutes of air time. No so with The Tex Avery Show. Let me repeat, the first season of this series consists 65 individual episodes, each one consisting of three short, independent shorts featuring London's aforementioned seven character families. To try to do this, even in the seemingly long time it takes to do an animated series (usually 2-3 years), is unheard of.
"I'll have to admit, usually when we start a new weekday show, we try to do 39-40 episodes before we syndicate it," says London. "We had never done a show like this where we tried to produce 65 episodes, each with three self- contained shorts in it. That was exhausting. It was completely overwhelming when we started 2 1/2 years ago. As much as I'm proud of what we've done now that it's completed, in my heart of hearts I have to honestly admit there were times I didn't know if we could do it."
Still, the final product is hitting the airwaves as we speak. It seems that the seven character families are starting to take hold.
It should be noted that under no circumstance did DIC get permission to use the old characters Avery created. They are all now parcel and property of Ted Turner and Time Warner, who airs them in a somewhat edited mode on The Cartoon Network. As such, they had to create a whole new crew, and they are as follows:
TEX AVERY HIMSELF: "He's sort of a western character who's constantly up against his eternal nemesis named Sagebrush Sid," says London. "They are constantly vying for the attention of a beautiful cowgirl named Chastity Knot. She's kind of based on another eternal Avery character, the sirens like Swing Shift Cinderella and Red Hot Riding Hood."
POMPEII PETE: "[He's] a Roman that got buried in the lava when the volcano erupted," says London. "One day a bunch of archaeologists cracked open this statue and found Pete perfectly alive inside. So, he is this 3,000 year old centurion who speaks this kind of Italian gibberish and can't keep a job no matter what he does. He's also always up against the same nemesis named Dan, only Dan takes on a number of different roles. For instance, in one short Dan might be this pompous businessman and Pete is his chauffeur. In another, Dan is a hospital patient pulling an insurance scam and Pete is an orderly. Pete kicks the stuff out of Dan, and always by accident. Dan always gets his comeuppence."
POWER POOCH: "He's a mangy dog who's latched onto a superhero's sneaker," says London. "Whenever he chews on it, he buffs up into a superdog. The only problem is when he goes to fight crime, the cops are just as prone to shoot at him because he always screws it up. He's totally incompetent, but has a little friend who he's always boasting to about what a great super- hero he is. It doesn't matter that the police want to kill him."
GENGHIS & CONNIE: "Genghis is your typical ferocious conqueror and Connie is a Shirley Temple panda bear who always gets the better of Genghis," says London. "It's always set in the ancient past and we have a great time with that."
FREDDY THE FLY: "He's based on the late Red Skelton's character Freddie The Freeloader," says London. "He's a ne'er-do-well, Tom Waits-kinda fly who is always on the lookout for the next meal. He resides in the mansion of Amanda Banshee, who's kind of like Leona Helmsley, a mean ultra-rich you know what. The other thing Freddy loves to do is live in her house and drive her completely out of her mind. I mean she will destroy an entire mansion to try to get Freddy, but never does."
MAURICE & MOOCH: "Mooch is an eternally hungry fox who lives in the suburbs and Mooch is a chicken who he's constantly trying to eat,"says London."It's kind of the Roadrunner and Coyote all over again, only this time it's in the suburbs. He'll dress up as a babysitter. He'll pretend he's a karate instructor. Anything that will get him into the house that Maurice lives in. Of course, he also always gets his butt kicked doing it."
EINSTONE: "He's the first genius in the land before minds. He's the self- described Cro-Magnon in the world of Neanderthals. He's the smartest person in the world, but he's only got an IQ of 20. So, he's constantly inventing stupid things. The thing is, because of his inventions he's constantly looked up to and idolized by everyone else in the world. He's always a bit on the pompous side as well, and gets his as well."
This only leaves DIC one last major problem. Sure, anyone who has spent the slightest amount of time loving or working in the animation world knows who Tex Avery is, but ask any normal person on the street and you'll get a very different answer. Now try it on the some of the lowest forms of humanity, your average independent station manager, and you have a hard sell in front of you.
London admits he has one major advantage when it comes to getting this series on the air in that its syndicator is General Mills' Program Exchange and the Exchange does have some serious clout in the syndication world. He also has some other points to bring up though.
"I'll tell you something really interesting," he confides. "What you just said is absolutely true in America. In France, Tex is known to the public. I just came back from a business trip in Nice, and in the windows there's Tex Avery-brand blue jeans and t-shirts. It's kind of like Jerry Lewis but even more extreme. The thing is, Tex is equally well known in a number of other European countries."
"Also, the humor is so physical and so simple that kids love it, yet it has so many inside jokes that 40 year-old boomers like us are still totally amused. That's what's so great about Tex's legacy. I mean we do lots of shows that I'm very proud of from the point of view of professionalism and craft, but mean nothing to me as its intended audience. The Tex Avery show is something I look forward to seeing. It may have been exhausting to do, but it wasn't like doing homework."
Still, London will be the first to admit that he's hedging his bets on whether the series will be a hit or not. He acknowledges that the current syndication world is so fragmented and deconstructed that having a hit animated series these days is a tough one. Still, he seems hopeful. He also will be the first to tell you if the show is a success, DIC will do more.
"We sure want to do more," he admits. "I think once people start to see them, there will be more. We just got an incredible response from MIPCom. I can't tell you how many people came up to us to tell us how they loved it. The animation grapevine is giving it a fantastic buzz, which is something I admit that DIC is not used to. Let's just say this, I would not be ashamed to show these to Chuck Jones just to see what he would say about them."
I'd just love to be there when the old master sees this homage to his mentor. From the amount of love and caring that went into this series, I wouldn't be surprised if Jones gave it a thumbs up.
-#- CARTOON NETWORK CELEBRATES FIFTH ANNIVERSARY
October 1 was a landmark day for the Cartoon Network. The all-animation cable net celebrated its fifth anniversary by announcing that in over the last year its viewership increased to 45.3 million, a whopping 15 million over the same time in 1996. That's a 50% increase.
"Cartoon Network is one of the strongest and most valuable brands on television," said Carter P. Maguire, Executive VP of parent company Turner Network Systems. "Since its launch on October 1, 1992, it has consistently ranked as one of basic cable's highest-rated networks. Our affiliates are responding to consumer demand by adding Cartoon Network to their programming line-up."
Also, the Cartoon Network will pay tribute to Hanna-Barbera's dog of Mystery, Scooby Doo, this Halloween season.
It will all kick off with a 25-hour marathon at midnight, Saturday, October 25 and run through Sunday, October 26 with back-to-back episodes of the original first two seasons of Scooby's show, Scooby Doo, Where Are You? If that isn't enough, starting on Monday, October 27, the Cartoon Network will then air a different Scooby movie every day on through Friday, October 31. Each of the New Scooby Doo Movies will start at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Each movie had a special set of "guest stars," mostly other TV characters (if they show the one that featured Sonny & Cher it might scare everyone away for real). The announced schedule of movies are:
All times are Eastern U.S. Check your local television guide for specific times.
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