Editor’s Note: This week Steve Stanchfield is on the road – off to explore several film collections away from his Ann Arbor home base. Filling in today is our resident “hunter of the obscure”, Charles Brubaker, with what I hope is the first of another series of continuing posts from him – on Unsold Animated Pilots. As you’ll see, this is a rich vein to mine as some very talented artists were involved in the creation of these cartoons – most of which have been swept under the rug, never to be seen again. Right or wrong, I think these deserve a second look. – Jerry Beck
It is said that, for every 100 show ideas pitched to a network, one gets greenlit for a pilot. And from that, even fewer actually gets turned into a series.
I don’t know the exact statistics, but bottom line is that it’s difficult to go from a pitch to an actual series. And it’s been going on since the dawn of television animation. I figure I’d share some of the classic animation pilots that never got picked up.
Gene Hattree (1964)
Produced by Total Television
Voices: Jackson Beck, Herb Duncan, Sandy Becker
Total Television had managed to gain success with their shows, most notably Underdog and Tennessee Tuxedo. But there were several ideas they pitched that never went anywhere, one of them being Gene Hattree, a horse sheriff (voiced by Sandy Becker) with a terrible singing skills. His deputy is Rabbit Foot (voiced by Herb Duncan), who wants to prove that he can catch crooks (Jackson Beck is the leader, “Tortilla Fats”), only to fail at each attempts.
The pilot was later included in a syndicated Underdog package in the 1970s, so it did eventually get airtime in some stations.
Terr’ble Tessie (1966)
Created and Directed by Gene Deitch
Voices: Gene Deitch, Allen Swift
The internet exploded when Marvel announced that they are going to update Thor by making a female version. Nearly 50 years before that Gene Deitch did the same thing to his comic strip character Terr’ble Thompson, whose adventures ran in a handful of newspapers in 1955 to 1956. When Deitch got hired at Terrytoons, he took his old comic strip concept, added a dog, and rechristened it as Tom Terrific.
Several years later Deitch was now in Prague and under contract with William Snyder. Under Snyder’s Rembrandt Films company, Deitch created several pilots for possible series, one of which was Terr’ble Tessie. Deitch took his Thompson character and made him a girl, a heroine of history who travels back in time to help historical figures. Deitch even gave sex-change operation to Thompson’s arch-nemesis, Mean Morgan, here in the pilot as Mean Matilda.
Whatever’s the case, the concept didn’t sell. All we have is this pilot, which is a reworking of the Christopher Columbus storyline from the newspaper strip. Deitch himself voiced Tessie, while Allen Swift fills in for Columbus.
Brutus and Brownie (1966)
Produced and Directed by Ed Graham Jr.
Voices: Ed Graham Jr., Carl Reiner
Ed Graham Productions was in business making commercials, many of which feature cereal mascots from Post, including Linus the Lionhearted, Sugar Bear, So Hi, Lovable Truly, and Rory Raccoon. The company would eventually produce two seasons worth of show featuring these characters for Saturday Morning, expanding their business, even if it was just for this one show.
Even after The Linus the Lionhearted Show went off the air, that didn’t stop Ed Graham Jr. from developing new ideas for a possible show. One of them were two funny animal dogs, Brutus and Brownie. In the pilot, the two debate on whether cartoon violence is funny or not, with Brutus (voiced by Carl Reiner) inflicting numerous painful slapsticks on his friend Brownie (Ed Graham Jr.).
The pilot, entitled “Funny is Funny”, didn’t sell, but it was given a theatrical release in 1966 by Universal International, when they were still releasing Walter Lantz cartoon. The video below is from a faded copy, although Technicolor prints exist.
Peter Bagge’s Hate (1996)
Created by Peter Bagge
Directed by Steve Loter
Voices: Christopher Faville, Phil Lenkowski, Aaron Smith
Peter Bagge has a fun drawing style, apparently influenced by classic animation, including those of Bob Clampett. His comics are always a pleasure to read, especially “Hate” starring Buddy Bradley. His fun style seems well suited for animation.
And some studios felt that way, too, as it turned out. Producer Marge Dean had a four minute pilot made based on Bagge’s Hate comics, produced by Rough Draft (with a “thanks to DiC” of all the places) in Los Angeles; this was shortly after MTV’s attempt at doing a Hate pilot in New York. From what we see here, however, the pilot is a disappointment, especially in terms of voice acting. It’s telling that none of the actors did much of anything else after this cartoon was made.
The pilot didn’t sell, and the Bradleys remained a comic exclusive. Probably for the best.