Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cartoons That Never Happened: THE DAFFY DUCK SHOW

Paul Rugg posted some pictures from his last day at Warner animation, and one of them is a reminder of an unproduced project that I was hearing a lot about in 1997-8: "The Daffy Duck Show," a proposed prime-time half-hour cartoon with Daffy as the star. Joe Alaskey was the likely choice to be the voice of Daffy, and the team that was working on the project included Spike Brandt, Tony Cervone, Doug Langdale, John McCann, and Rugg, who writes:

We had all worked months on the project. Jamie Kellner didn't like it. In all honesty, it was the best thing we had done at Warners.

As I recall, the idea started because the WB wanted a) a prime-time cartoon (attempts to retool Pinky and the Brain for prime time hadn't worked out) and b) a vehicle for Daffy, who was increasingly visible in the studio's marketing plans after Space Jam.

The format the writers came up with was similar to The Jack Benny Program, a show-within-a-show that would have allowed for both behind-the-scenes stories and "sketches" that would presumably have been more like typical Daffy Duck cartoons. Brandt described it this way:

Brandt: It was kind of a cross between Jack Benny and Larry Sanders. Instead of a talk show it was a variety show where you could put on skits. So you could have stuff happening both on stage as short-like things, and then all the shenanigans going on behind the scenes. That didn't go anywhere.

I've never seen any art that was created for the show, so I don't know what kind of look they were going for, but the project Brandt and Cervone later wound up doing, Duck Dodgers, probably had some similarities in character design.

The WB's attempts to find a prime-time cartoon -- this was after King of the Hill had become a hit and everybody finally realized that The Simpsons was not a fluke, leading to a huge investment in animation by almost every network -- were better than some of the other networks' (though nobody actually came up with a hit except Fox). Mission Hill wasn't a hit, but it was a pretty good show. But it was obvious that Jamie Kellner, a smart TV executive when it came to live-action programming, didn't like cartoons much or at least didn't know what kind of cartoons he wanted; hence the many animated projects, prime-time and Saturday morning, that were scrapped after a lot of time-consuming and expensive development when Kellner decided he didn't like what he'd ordered.

The Daffy Duck project may have been seen as a way of salvaging Warners' animation department. The whole animation department was set up to deliver cartoons that had a stylistic nod to the past (either in comedy or superheroes) and an audience with an all-ages mix. By 1997, everybody wanted cartoons that were more modern in look and feel and more specifically targeted at young children, and the WB network, their only patron, especially wanted that type of Saturday Morning cartoon. So there may have been some hope that they could continue with their house style by re-orienting it toward prime time.


Thad said...

Thank "God" it died the death it did. It sounded awful.

Mattieshoe said...

>>Thank "God" it died the death it did. It sounded awful.

Assuming it was going to look as band and lifeless as "Duck Dodgers" did, I'd agree with you.

But we know next to nothing about this project, and it may well have been alright. Although I never really went out of my way to see warner's "Illustrated Radio" shows like Pinky and The Brain. Just nothing really special there. No life, no real joy or advantage taken advantage of the fact that it was a cartoon)

Ricardo Cantoral said...

Sounded like another crappy sit-com WBA show. Even an average episode of Duck Dodgers didn't sound as bad this.

Mattieshoe said...

By the way, I don't include the early episodes of Pinky and The Brain in that category. the show was still pretty visually interesting and still quite appealing to look at at that point.

Whit said...

Jamie Kellner wasn't always wrong.

Cathy said...

Daffy was the first of the new breed of "screwball" characters that emerged in the late 1930s. No doubt I love watching the TV show of Looney tunes.