Friday, January 12, 2007

A Brief History of Disney TVA

Disney Television Animation was the brainchild of Michael Eisner.

When Eisner became chairman in 1984, he wondered why the company wasn't doing television animation and quickly started the division. Michael couldn't sleep one night and came up with the idea for Disney Television Animation's first show: a series built around the chewy, animal-shaped candy called "Gummi Bears." Things mushroomed from there...

Gary Krisel, head of Disneyland Records, was put in charge and pretty quickly the new division was turning out a variety of animated tv shows. The early work included shows like The Wuzzles, The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, House of Mouse, and dozens of others.

A major turning point was Duck Tales, top-kicked by Fred Wolf (of Teenage Mutant Ninja Shelled Creatures fame). The show was costing a large sum of money for Television Animation to produce, the main lot was nervous, and everyone at the time was sweating major bullets over whether it would succeed or not.

But Tales turned out to be a major hit, delivering audience numbers far beyond expectations and becoming a cornerstone for what became the syndicated block called Disney Afternoon. Through the early and mid-nineties, the division turned out hit after hit, generating major revenue and making execs on the main lot deliriously happy.

Another fortuitous event at this time was taking the first three episodes of the spin-off series Alladin and turning them into a direct-to-video, feature-length sequel. Return of Jafar sold millions upon millions of video-cassettes, and the result was kind of inevitable: direct-to-video sequels to the Disney animated library became de riguer, and to this day remain major generators of big bucks for the Walt Disney Company. (They're no longer made by Disney TVA. Now it's DisneyToons that produces them.)

Twenty-two years and fifty-plus shows later, Disney TVA remains a major cash cow for its parent company. The picture below captures a moment in time when Disney TVA was headquartered at the corner of Magnolia and Lankershim Boulevards in the Television Academy complex and was near the peak of its power and profitability. The lucrative tv syndication market was only beginning to wither away under the onslaught of cable television and its universe of 150 channels, and Diz TVA was still years away from becoming a part of that universe as a subset of the Disney Channel.

Most of the smiling faces below are still in the 'toon business, but they are now scattered to Nickelodeon, to Cartoon Network, to Starz Media and a half dozen other places. In the world of animation, nothing is permanent...

101 Dalmatians crew

This is a picture of Skip Jones's "101 Dalmatians" crew at Disney TV Animation in 1997. (Skip Jones isn't in the picture, and it's late and I'm going to mangle some names and not have all the names, but I'm giving it a valiant shot. Feel free to identify the non-identified subjects in comments.)

Back row, left to right: Wendell Washer, Louis Tate, unknown-to-me, Rossen Varbanev, Enrique May, Bob Miller. Second row: Chris Headrick, (the guy being held up), Gordon Kent (the guy holding Chris up), Barbara Donatelli, Mike Svayko, John Ahern. Kneeling is David Courtland, Sharon her-name's-on-the-tip-of-my-tongue, Michelle Pneiwiski (with baby), Bob Gannoway behind Michelle, Tony Craig on the end, with a girl named Angela beside him.

Addendum:Skip Jones is in the photo. He's the man in the glasses standing underneath the open beak of the chicken. That's definitely Garrett Ho, the third man from the left, top row.

Corrections are better late than never, don't you think?


Anonymous said...

The unknown third person I believe, is Garret Ho (hard to tell by fuzzy photo).But I know he worked on the show after leaving Warners.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I thought that was Garrett too.

...and where is Kexx?

Anonymous said...

Kexx was not on Skip's crew. There were four different crews on this show.

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