Monday, October 26, 2015

Life at the Jay Ward studio, as seen by Bill Scott, part 5

Jay Ward and Bill Scott, starting with nothing more than an idea for a single series, built a scrappy little independent animation studio from virtually nothing. And with fortuitous timing, they sold their pilot, Rocky The Flying Squirrel, to a major corporate sponsor, General Mills, as a series.  The future looked bright but, as they soon discovered, there was a dark side to the good news.

Through more chicanery than I can list here*, the duo was backed into a corner by General Mill's agency, D-F-S, and forced to produce the show for about half of a comparable Hanna-Barbera series, do the work in a foreign country where much of the staff lacked production experience, find talent to fly there and oversee the work, locate Hollywood animation talent to shore up the ragged edges, fight off constant agency meddling and deal with indifferent broadcasters (ABC and NBC).

It's no wonder that there were days when they felt they carried the weight of the world on their shoulders.  Just how much they felt that way became apparent when I discovered the cache of Bill Scott's gag cartoons.  Success was never guaranteed and they both knew it; the fledgling enterprise could have failed at any time.

Harmon-Tichton Studios was a producer of animated industrials & commercials.
Before 24 hour networks, TV animation was a largely cyclical business where animation talent would experience at least a 3 month hiatus while waiting for the networks to decide which shows would be chosen and/or renewed for the coming Fall season.  That maddening indecision was equally hard on the show's producers, which Bill Scott memorialized in the cartoons below.

Hanna-Barbera (The Huckleberry Hound Show, The Flintstones) and TV Spots (King Leonardo and His Loyal Subjects, Calvin and the Colonel) were two of Ward's chief competitors.

*I touch on that chicanery in The Art of Jay Ward Productions but for a more in-depth view, see The Moose That Roared by Keith Scott.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Life at the Jay Ward studio, as seen by Bill Scott, part 4

As we saw last week, not only was Jay Ward's and Bill Scott's relationship with General Mill's agency prickly on the best of days, their interaction with the network airing The Bullwinkle Show, NBC, wasn't much better.  The two producers felt that NBC didn't do enough promotion to ensure audience awareness of their show or its name change from Rocky and His Friends and its move to prime time.

 And, much as it is to most producers and creators today, Broadcast Standards and Practices was the bane of their existence.

Bill Scott responded to an early network "push" to make cartoons more educational*:

*For those too young to remember, PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service, was originally known as NET, National Educational Television, hence Scott's reference to "National Educational TV."

Monday, October 12, 2015

Life at the Jay Ward studio, as seen by Bill Scott, part 3

 Jay Ward and Bill Scott had what could be politely called a "challenging relationship" with General Mills' agency, Dancer-Fitzgerald-Samples.  Not only had the agency insisted on a ridiculously low budget from the outset (which had necessitated setting up production in Mexico) but key agency personnel were also the primary investors in the that same Mexican studio.  Keeping costs low ensured that those investors made a return on their investment, which in turn affected the quality of the studio's output.  The one person at D-F-S who seemed to be the consistent target of Bill and Jay's ire was agency exec, Gordon Johnson, pictured below in the first two cartoons. The the man holding the sign is Peter Piech, president of Producer's Associates of Television, who often found himself caught between the two adversaries.

Agency interference was a recurring theme.  Bill Scott took special joy in illustrating portions of their memos:

Several others in this series can be seen in The Art of Jay Ward Productions.  To read about more zany agency antics, check out Keith Scott's history of the Jay Ward studio, The Moose That Roared.  Anyone running a business today will recognize the situations depicted in the cartoons below; apparently some things never change.  (My apologies for the missing part of the third scan.)

Next week, dealing with NBC.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Life at the Jay Ward studio, as seen by Bill Scott, part 2

Last time, you may remember, our heroes had sent their shows to Mexico City hoping for the best; unfortunately, their dreams were dashed on the rocky shores of reality as shows came back looking nothing like the producers had imagined.  Bill Scott was especially unhappy with the results, having had much more animation experience than his partner, Jay Ward.

This week, the frustrations of long-distance producing a show south of the border.  Compounding the lack of local control over the production, there were also language and cultural barriers, severe inexperience with animation production by the locals and vastly different conceptions of urgency.  Retake requests were steady but, as a result of the studio having pushed up against the deadlines, the error-riddled shows were often forced to air as is.  Viewing the finished product, Bill Scott could only speculate on what was going on in Mexico City and scribbled out these gags for Jay Ward expressing his aggravation.