Sunday, June 25, 2006


John McCann, one of the writers of Animaniacs and Freakazoid!, has a blog post called "Warners and Jean" where he talks about what made Warner Brothers Animation a good place to work in the '90s:

We were turning out 65 half-hours for the first season of "Animaniacs." At the same time, the division was making "Taz," "Batman," and wrapping up the last "Tiny Toon Adventures."

In the midst of this frenzy, there was only a single executive: Jean MacCurdy.

Jean let the producers run their shows while she ran the division. She trusted them and believed a person with passion for a series might turn out a better product than, say, a committe removed from the creative process.

Jean MacCurdy had been at Hanna-Barbera before coming to Warner Brothers in 1989 to be the "Executive in Charge of Production" for the WB TV Animation division; according to writer-producer Tom Ruegger, she was the one who convinced the WB higher-ups and Steven Spielberg that they could do "Tiny Toons" in-house instead of outsourcing it to another company. I've heard good and bad things about her stewardship of the animation division, as with every executive, but in general, what she did at WB was what executives are supposed to do: find talented people, put them to work on the right projects, and let them do their thing (within reason, budget, and network demands). Most famously, she convinced WB to let her put two youngish "Tiny Toons" artists, Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, in charge of the "Batman" series.

McCann also pinpoints when it all started to go wrong -- as I've said before, it was when Warner Brothers started its own network and moved all its animated shows there:

In time, the WB gobbled up the division. Kids WB spun away from Jean to become its own entity with executives over her. Jean finally stepped down as division president in 2001.

But for a time, there was no place like Warners.

The move to the WB wasn't all bad; there was less censorship than on Fox, so "Batman" and "Superman" occasionally got to kill people off and the comedy shows could get a bit more suggestive. But the WB network President, Jamie Kellner, didn't like cartoons that appealed to older audiences (it made them harder to sell to advertisers whose products were aimed only at very young kids), and kept cancelling older-skewing cartoons and pushing for the remaining shows' content to be youth-ified. And so we got Pinky and the Brain moving in with Elmyra; Batman and Superman stopped in favour of "Batman Beyond" (which was good, but was made specifically because the WB demanded a Batman show about a kid rather than an adult); Freakazoid! getting cancelled after only 24 episodes.

And with the animation division being folded into the WB network, the animation division ran into the problem which the Looney Tunes ran into on Cartoon Network: because the division was only able to produce cartoons for that network and that network alone, they were in big trouble once the network execs decided they'd rather show "Pokemon" instead.

Here's a skit John McCann wrote for "Freakazoid!", about the adventures of a superhero called The Huntsman -- a hero whose show has an incredibly long introduction but almost nothing after that (a spoof of those '60s shows, like "The Incredible Hulk," that would bookend a very short segment of new animation with two versions of the show's theme song):


Anonymous said...

Nice piece.
I'd take issue with one thing John had to say, though: "Tiny Toons" was well and truly finished before "Animaniacs!" was in any kind of real, active production. In fact, WB--under Jean, surely one of the most artist-friendly execs ever in TV animation--did the unprecedented move of retaining the entire animation art staff of TTA after those shows were completed and shipped; we were all employed full time, at full pay, and all assigned to development of what would become Animaniacs! for many gainful months. There wasn't any crossover of shows--there couldn't be, as with the exceptions of the move of Timm, Radomski and a few of their handpicked colleagues to "BTAS" and Art Vitello taking what had been his TTA crew to develop "Tazmania", the rest of the Animaniacs crew were the same people as the TTA crew. The artists, btw, had what is in my opinion an much undersung role in the development of all the Animaniacs characters; while some, like Sherri Stoner's "Slappy Squirrel", emanated from the writers and producers, and certainly the writers worked intensely on the series, so did all the artists--from directors down to the prop designers--contributing character ideas, gags, story plots, and, of course, all the designs.
That would likely never happen today.
At the very least, most of the artists would have been laid off for the 6 months or so it took to get the show finalized for storyboarding...I've often thought of Jean MacCurdy's generosity in doing that, and how genially she ran the entire department. They don't seem to make them like that anymore--at least, not over there. Any VP would do well to take a page from MacCurdy's book and make staff--artistic staff--feel as valued as we did. Believe me, it helps the bottom line, as it gives everyone a stake in the show's outcome.

John said...

Hopefully one day animators will be running ALL the studios, not just Pixar, whose films I despise anyway.

Anonymous said...

"Surname" has gotta be Matt Wilson; no one else on Earth hates Pixar but him.