Today I continue with more cartoon pilots that never went anywhere. Hang on tight, because there are more of these than you thought lying around. Here’s a fresh crop.
Samson Scrap (1960)
Created by Gene Deitch and Allen Swift
Directed by Gene Deitch
Voices: Allen Swift
After Deitch was forced off from Terrytoons, he formed his own studio, Gene Deitch Associates (GDA), which did commercial work for television. While there he developed several ideas, including short film “Munro” and a TV pilot “Samson Scrap”. Deitch himself explained the history in his book “How to Succeed in Animation”:
“In 1958, my best friend, New York actor Allen Swift and I concocted an animation property named Samson Scrap & Delilah. Samson Scrap was a dedicated junk man. “Better Things For Better Living Through Junk,” was Samson’s twist on the DuPont slogan of that time. Delilah was his lady horse, pulling Samson’s wagon, loaded with castoff treasures, to the magical garden of rusted stuff that was his junkyard. Two boys, living in what appeared to be the slums of Queens, named Pinetop and Washboard, (named after two of my favorite bluesmen), were Samson’s devoted acolytes, seeing in Samson’s treasure of trash the makings of unlimited new fun constructions. (Harking back to the days when kids still made their own toys!)
“We felt we had the makings of the perfect animated series, exactly at the time that Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were getting into it. We took the idea to Screen Gems, the branch of Columbia Pictures devoted to the budding TV syndication market. Screen Gems was headed by the legendary hardball producer, Ralph Cohn, who also handled H&B.
“Cohn went for our idea immediately. The wicked gleam in his eye told us that he saw a chance to have a counter weight against Bill and Joe, who he stated were “getting too big for their britches.”
“The H&B product at that time was limited to Ruff & Reddy and Huckleberry Hound, but those boys had already found the cheap production road to riches, well beyond their britches of the time. Anyway, Ralph presented me with a contract the thickness of your average phonebook. My lawyer waded through it and assured me that my grandchildren might see a few nickels from it, (in their maturity). In return for ten grand to produce three six-minute pilots, the contract gave Screen Gems rights to the next six properties we might create! One can easily understand why H&B got out from their clutches at the earliest opportunity.
“Well, as much as we yearned to get Samson Scrap & Delilah into the Big Time, we reluctantly said no thank you, and thus H&B made the millions and not us. So it goes.”
Eventually Deitch was able to get the pilot made when he signed on with William Snyder’s Rembrandt Films, with the animation work done in Czechoslovakia. The pilot didn’t sell, but it was given a theatrical release by Paramount in 1962, mixed in with their own in-house shorts.
The Joey Jingle Show (1967)
Directed by Fred Crippen
Voices: Mel Leven
After Roger Ramjet, Fred Crippen tried to sell other ideas, one of which was “The Joey Jingle Show” with singer Mel Leven. This looked to be a welcome addition to TV animation, a series of skits with oddball characters doing their own things, with Joey Jingle (a boy with a bell on his head) being used as a framing device.
Unfortunately the pilot was made at a bad time, when networks insisted on picking up only superhero shows. As a result, Joey Jingle was doomed to obscurity. The lone pilot, below, is more lively than most cartoons made at the time.
MAD Magazine (1973)
Editor for MAD Magazine: Al Feldstein
Directed by Chris Ishii, Gordon Bellamy, and Jimmy Murakami
Voices: Allen Swift, Patricia Bright, Gene Klaven, Hetty Galen, Herb Duncan, Bryna Raeburn, Len Maxwell
There has been several attempts at adapting MAD Magazine for television, and there was even a regular series on Cartoon Network from 2010 to 2013, but here I’m going to write about the mid-1970s attempt. Focus Entertainment in New York attempted to sell a series based on the magazine. A pilot was made, which featured the styling of Mort Drucker, Don Martin, Jack Davis, Dave Berg, and Antonio Prohias. Unfortunately, they made the mistake of literally using the magazine source material almost exactly as is for the cartoon, not realizing that the timing in comics and in animation are vastly different. Not to mention the staging and layouts, most of which were used as is in the comics without taking into account for the animation format.
Animator Dale Case, who worked on it, told me this:
“We blew up the comic panels and used them as layouts to get started. I worked on the [Oddfather] segment and it was really difficult drawing that stuff as we tried to follow the style as close as we could and still make it move.”
“The director Chris Ishii flew out from New York to hand out the picture. I remember going up to his hotel room on Hollywood blvd. one night and picking up my section. There was a huge stack of x-sheets scattered around and folders everywhere. He gave me a copy of the book and a stack of sheets and said start here and finish here….just follow the book. Not the best hand-out I have every had, but it gave a lot of freedom which is always nice.”
The pilot was reworked as a TV special (called, what else? “The MAD Magazine TV Special”), the idea being that more would follow if it became a success. ABC was supposed to air it in 1973, but they backed out at the last minute because, as MAD’s writer Dick DeBartolo explained, “Nobody wanted to sponsor a show that made fun of products that were advertised on TV, like car manufacturers.” It ultimately aired in syndication without fanfare, not even advertised in the magazine itself.
Thunder Lizards (1989)
Created by Joey Ahlbum and Marc Catapano
Directed by Joey Ahlbum
When Nickelodeon decided to start airing original cartoons made specifically for the cable network, they invested in eight pilots from different studios. Of those eight, three (Rugrats, Doug, and Ren & Stimpy) became a series.
Thunder Lizards is one of the five that got passed over. Joey Ahlbum is an animator in New York who has made a living creating commercials and bumpers, as well as animated segments for Sesame Street. Ahlbum has done several bumpers for Nickelodeon, one of which featured singing dinosaurs. The dinosaur bumper was used as a basis for this pilot, which featured a prehistoric band trying to find their missing bandmate.
NOTE: Steve Stanchfield’s regularly scheduled “Thunderbean Thursday” will return next week.