Monday, June 29, 2009

DWA's Early Foray Into Television Animation

A commenter asks:

The only false start that I can remember DWA having on television was "Father of the Pride" in 2004 , which was five years ago. What was the other DWA television flop thirteen years ago ? (Or was it a planned tv show that was never produced ?)

Well, pull up some comfy chairs, friends and neighbors, and I'll tell you of DreamWorks Animation first television studio ... located in sun-kissed Encino on fabled Ventura Boulevard a dozen years ago ...

Before there was Madagascar penguins, before there were prides and fathers and 'Vegas magicians, DreamWorks Animation ran its own teevee animation division, located in a glossy mid-Valley office building.

This was in the middle nineties, when the proprietors of of DreamWorks SKG had visions of a television animation empire dancing in their heads, and the horizons for small-screen projects seemed wide. (Mr. Spielberg, after all, had already enjoyed fine success with Animaniacs, Tiny Toons, Pinky and the Brain and others.  And Jeffrey had been present at the birthing of Disney Television Animation.)

Animation for the small screen was then roaring, and top talent was pulling down good salaries at a variety of L.A. studios.  DreamWorks Animation signed a sizable staff to term contractsat high wages and set about to develop new series that would knock the socks off the competition. (I walked through the facility numerous times in those early months, and morale and hopes were high.)

Word was going around that DreamWorks TV Animation was finalizing a deal to supply ABC with all its Saturday morning animated programs ... but then Disney (led by Jeffrey's former compadre Michael Eisner) swooped in and bough the network, and the rumored deal between DreamWorks and the broadcaster never happened.

DreamWorks t.v. division soldiered on, developing other projects. Toonsylvania, a comedy series produced and directed by Bill Kopp and Jeff DeGrandis, was broadcast on Fox, lasted from February to December in 1998, and was then distributed on VHS. (It's never shown up on DVD.)

Also in 1998, DreamWorks' animated mini-series Invasion America ran on the Warner Bros. in prime time. After it aired, one of the artists who worked on it told me.

"Steven Spielberg [one of the show's creators] is really unhappy with the animation and production quality, and didn't think Invasion America looked good at all. He thought the overseas studio did a really poor job" ...

After the two series, the studio in Encino slowly wound down. The staff, which had circulated a petition against one of DreamWorks TV Animation's execs and caused Jefrey Katzenberg to drive over to tamp out fires of discontent, became fatalistic about the division's chances of survival. "We know we're gone as soon as our Personal Service Agreements are up" was a major theme, and by and by the offices in Encino were closed. (The Lakeside building on DreamWorks Animation's Glendale campus, originally slated to house the television animation division, today houses feature animation staff.)

It took most of  a decade before DreamWorks Animation again got seriously involved in television. Father of the Pride was a primetime misfire, but The Penguins of Madagascar has been a solid Nicktoons hit, with other series from DWA features are now in the teevee pipeline.

It took awhile, but DreamWorks Animation is now back in the television business. And now you know the rest of the story.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

""Steven Spielberg [one of the show's creators] is really unhappy with the animation and production quality, and didn't think Invasion America looked good at all. He thought the overseas studio did a really poor job" ..."

HAH! This from a guy who takes all his money upfront, then nickels and dimes the production to death. Don't blame the "overseas studios" for bad preperation in Encino. The show was a mess on these shores LONG before it left to be animated overseas. And that is a fact.

It really was a horrible show. Not as bad as Father of the Pride, but close.

Anonymous said...

Spielberg's presence in tv cartoons turned back the clock on the art by at least one-hundred years. He and his posse of sycophants staged a fan-boy reenactment of the Golden Age that was as heinous and artificial as Saving Private Ryan's reenactment of D Day. I still cry rivers of tears when I see Tiny Toons.

Anonymous said...

"Spielberg's presence in tv cartoons turned back the clock on the art by at least one-hundred years."

He made TV cartoons black-and-white silent films?

Anonymous said...

Spielberg's presence in tv cartoons turned back the clock on the art by at least one-hundred years.

Didn't Spielberg's Amazing Stories show feature "Family Dog"? I liked "Family Dog."

Anonymous said...

Spielberg demonstrated through Tiny Toons that he really didn't understand the magic behind Looney Tunes at all.

Anonymous said...

Just youtube'd Tiny Toons to refresh my memory. He broke the clock permanently.

Anonymous said...

Did Spielberg even do anything on Tiny Toons besides say "hi" to the producers every once in a while?

KC Johnson said...

Huh. I really enjoyed "Tiny Toons" and "Animaniacs" back in the day. They both had a huge college student following.

Anonymous said...

"Did Spielberg even do anything on Tiny Toons besides say "hi" to the producers every once in a while?"

Yes.

tomnel said...

The last few episodes of 'Toonsylvania' were done in the lakeside building on the lot, it was a very empty building those last few days.

MZ said...

I worked on the development of Toonsylvania for 9 months before working on 13 episodes of the show. It was one of the best experiences of my animation career. I got to work for some of the best talents in the business, and we had a lot of creative control. We were all anxious to get in on the ground floor of a company before they were mired by the cluster f**k that was prevalent at the other big studios. Nearly 40 artists, (all but three), signed a petition to bring attention an exec who they felt was responsible for leading the division down the wrong path. In the end, JK sided with his buddy, and there you go. However, the show got good ratings, I won an Emmy from it, and it even got a pick-up. More than you can say about other series they did. My garage is full of drawings from that time. I'm very proud to have been part of it.

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