Thursday, December 18, 2014

When Nick Toons Got Its Start


It commenced with one woman.

[Vanessa] Coffey began by producing an [animated] Thanksgiving special for Nick. At that point, the studio had only done animation once before, in the form of a Christmas special led by Ralph Bakshi. Soon, she started a dialogue with then-president Geraldine Laybourne and her team about recruiting original content.

Executives at the time were hesitant due to the fact that they didn't have the budget for bigger animation projects. Months of conversations and brainstorming later, Nick hired Vanessa as a consultant to look for original, creator-driven ideas. After testing pilots, they made Coffey vice president of animation, and assigned her to fill a 90-minute slot with three shows. ...

"Rugrats," "Ren & Stimpy" and "Doug" were each major successes, which can be fully credited with beginning Nick's golden age of cartoons. But not one of them came to her as a fully-formed idea. ...

But then, unpleasantness came. ...

... "That was the most amazing time in my life working on 'Ren & Stimpy,'" Coffey said, "But the situation with John was the most painful situation of my career."

The first six months came with playful disagreements regarding notes. As Coffey recalls, it was only after "Ren & Stimpy" aired with great ratings and garnered a college audience that Kricfalusi became difficult. "He turned," she said. "He said this on the phone: 'I'm the star. I'm making your network. It's all me.'"

Back in August, Kricfalusi expressed his frustrations. "I told her to think of it as though she got to play Santa. You don't give the kids presents that you want for yourself, do you? Kids don't want socks and underwear, they want toys and silly stuff," he said. "I thought to myself, 'Have you ever met a kid?' Who doesn't know that kids think rude things are funny?"

Coffey insists she was just doing what needed to be done to get the show to air. "I wasn't being a big bad executive," she said. "It was my job."

... Kricfalusi's behavior spiraled out of the realm of her patience and the legal terms of his deal with Nick. "Frankly, John was out of control," she said. In September of 1992, he and Nickelodeon parted ways. Kricfalusi insists he was not fired, though Coffey says simply, "He was in breach of contract for not delivering on time, disturbing content and not [being] within the budget." ...

I remember when the John K. kerfuffle went down. There were screams of outrage and anguish when Mr. Kricfalusi was dismissed from the show, but the series went on without him.

And John Kricfalusi went his own professional way. The lesson I draw from this? In conglomerateland, almost all cartoon creators are fungible. Unless your Steven Spielberg or Michael Bay, an executive can Deep Six you on forty hours notice.

I often tell newbies, "Learn to play well with others" (learned from cold, first-hand experience). Artists seldom get their way all or even three-quarters of the time, and it's useful to know this fact of life right out of the gate. If John Kricfalusi had owned the knowledge at the beginning of his Ren and Stempy career, perhaps he would have remained on board to supervise all of the R & S episodes, instead of just some of them.

Then again, maybe not.

2 comments:

Christopher Sobieniak said...

Yes, John could never play ball!

Manish Srivastava said...

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