The Fred Seibert Interview — Part 1

In the first of a two-part interview, Joe Strike reveals how Fred Seibert came to revive television animation in the 1990s, helping Hanna-Barbera and Nickelodeon give birth to a slew of original hits.

Fred Seibert: The right man at the right time in animation.

If one man can be credited with resuscitating American commercial animation from its near-death experience in the '80s and '90s, the credit would have to go to Fred Seibert.

After putting the then-new MTV on the map with a series of unforgettable, no-two-alike animated ID spots, he took over the creatively exhausted Hanna-Barbera studio and engineered a turnaround that brought some of the countrys most innovative young animators to its doors. Their creations helped make another newborn cable network more than a place where old cartoons went to die. Moving onto an association with Nickelodeon, Fred proved his success was no fluke by midwifing a second batch of groundbreaking, creator-driven cartoons that helped cement Nicks dominance of the childrens television market.

Fred will often praise an associate or collaborator as being "an awesome judge of talent" a description he more than deserves himself. With an eye toward the main chance that others have overlooked, and an instinctive understanding of both the creative and commercial potential of animated cartoons, Fred has a knack for making himself the right man at the right time. In late March and early April 2003, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Fred Seibert in his Fifth Avenue office where he heads Frederator, the animation company he started in 1997. I discovered that he is not shy about taking or sharing credit for his successes, or accepting blame for his failures; I also learned why he prefers "cartoons" over "animation."

Joe Strike: Ive read a lot about you already, but can you give me the 10-cent recap how it all began?

Fred Seibert: Sure. I started in the media business in college radio at Columbia University. I went from there to becoming an independent record producer, making primarily jazz and blues records.

That got into me into commercial radio, into WHN here in New York, which was then a country music station. I did advertising and promotion; that was my introduction to that part of the world.

I was introduced to [MTV founder] Bob Pittman by my mentor, Dale Pon, who had been working with Bob in radio. One day I got a phone call, Hi, Im Bob Pittman, program director of [New York pop music radio station] WNBC, and were going to make you rich. By the way, Dale came up with the I Want my MTV slogan for me when I hired him after I didnt work for him anymore.

Huckleberry Hound, The Flintstones and Bugs Bunny are among Fred's favorite all-time animated characters. Left to right: © Hanna-Barbera; ™ & © 2001 Cartoon Network. An AOL Time Warner Company. All rights reserved; © AOL Time Warn

I basically developed a career as "the branding guy" in cable television, primarily at MTV networks. My then-partner, Alan Goodman, and I introduced the whole notion of branding to cable television through our company Fred/Alan. We helped clients like Nickelodeon develop unique personalities that people could connect with emotionally. Nowadays its a given, but back then branding was a new idea in TV promotion.

I dont do branding anymore; once other people started talking about branding I was onto something else. We actually introduced the word branding into the television lexicon. We did that until 1992, when we both decided we had had enough already of being in the service business.

Even though Seibert personally disliked Scooby-Doo, he couldn't deny its enduring appeal. © Warner Bros. All rights reserved.

Then I went and became the president of Hanna-Barbera when we closed Fred/Alan. That started me in animation.

JS: How did you come by that job?

FS: While I had Fred/Alan, the then marketing head of Hanna-Barbera approached us about doing some work for some new primetime series they were developing. I had no interest in talking with him about his new series. I had learned that doing advertising for television shows was a lousy business, so I really had no interest in that.

However, two of my three favorite cartoon characters of all time were Hanna-Barbera characters: Huckleberry Hound and The Flintstones.

JS: Whos number three?

FS: Bugs Bunny. Anyway, I spent the whole meeting quizzing him about the business behind the classic Hanna-Barbera characters which then was a complete mess. The company was owned at the time by Great American Television and it was a total gang-bang: one person controlled distribution rights, another controlled the characters and the studio had nothing to do with the library and the guy who ran the studio clearly hated the library.

I walked away with this little blueprint in my head, and I marched right into my clients at Nickelodeon. I told them there is an opportunity we can drive a train through. I sketched out a little scenario where I believed Nickelodeon could get Hanna-Barbera library properties for zero money instead of millions of dollars and participate in a merchandising upside if we did things right. The Nickelodeon people told me we cant do that.

I said, "No, no really," and I showed them how to do it. Reluctantly or skeptically they went to negotiate. They said well never get it for nothing and I said, well you go in asking for nothing, youll get it for half of nothing. So they went in using my script and they got seven properties The Jetsons, Yogi, a bunch of things for half, and they saved $7 million.

2 Stupid Dogs, the first show Seibert greenlit at Hanna-Barbera was unsuccessful. TM & © 2001 Cartoon Network. An AOL Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

One night I was having dinner with this guy from Turner Broadcasting and he said "Whats that watch?" We were in The Four Seasons where everyone is dressed fancy, and Im wearing a Hanna-Barbera wristwatch with Fred Flintstone and Scooby and Yogi and Huckleberry Hound on the dial. I told him about the deal I had helped Nickelodeon put together. He said "I didnt know you knew how to do that," and I said, "Well, now you know."

Fast-forward 18 months later: Turner buys Hanna-Barbera and puts the guy I had dinner with Scott Sassa in charge of the studio. Up to that point Scott had had only one conversation with any human being about Hanna-Barbera, and that was with me. He called me one morning and said, "Hey why dont you come out to L.A. and run Hanna-Barbera for us? I looked at my watch I was wearing the Hanna-Barbera watch again. It was 10:30 and I said "Sure, how about three months from now?" So Alan and I closed our company and that was that.

JS: What was Hanna-Barbera like at the time?

FS: A disaster. At the time I got there, in 1992, they no longer blanketed Saturday morning, and they hadnt had a hit since The Smurfs in 1983.

JS: And the quality of what they were producing

FS: The quality issues I always find interesting and debatable. My first interview experience at Hanna-Barbera was very enlightening. Film Threat had started a cartoon magazine. A 25-year old kid comes in and Im scared to death; I dont know anything about the cartoon business at that point nothing. I had a great interest psychically in cartoons but I hadnt watched them seriously since I was12.

The kid comes in and his first question is Why dont they make cartoons the way they used to? I do have a rap for that and I talked about The Flintstones, The Jetsons and Huckleberry Hound, bababa... He looks at me finally and says I mean the stuff they made in the '80s why dont they make good stuff like that any more. I realized the issue of cartoon quality is really all in the eye of the beholder. In general, especially for a 25-year old kid, whatever you grew up with was the best stuff.

A lot of people dismiss The Smurfs as a complete piece of junk. I cant dismiss The Smurfs people love it. For my age, the beginning of hating cartoons was Scooby-Doo. I couldnt stand Scooby-Doo, but what I cant dismiss is its ability to communicate with people as of even today. I have two young kids, five and seven, and theyre totally in love with Scooby-Doo, they think its the greatest.

It wasnt the quality per se of what had happened at Hanna-Barbera, it was the fact that they clearly had lost touch with communicating with human beings and making things that people fell in love with. They didnt make hits. They had no idea what people wanted anymore.

Seibert learned a lot from John Kricfalusi. Courtesy of Spumco.

JS: Who was hot at that point?

FS: Nickelodeon was new kid on block at that point; they had Rugrats, Doug and Ren & Stimpy.

JS: All three of which had very distinctive looks to them.

FS: Look aside, they were all popular. On Saturday morning FOX was really the winner at that moment. Actually, a Hanna-Barbera show, Tom and Jerry Kids was one of their hits. We had just come out of the Pee-wee Herman phase, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was big, so there was a lot of stuff out there.

JS: But Hanna-Barbera wasnt involved anymore.

FS: Not at all. They had stuff on the air, but in general, it was a sad state of affairs. They were in piss-poor shape, and Ted [Turner] was always a minute away from closing the place; he bought it for the library.

JS: And you came in swinging the ax?

FS: I guess according to some people. I didnt really, over the first year or two, let go of lot of people. It was really a painful time for me. In my television career I had never been where there were any people before me. I had always been the first guy in the room building organizations, so I never had to turn one around before. The idea that I had to come into this place of 300, 400 people and reduce the overhead significantly to the point where the place could breathe was really hard. At that point, many of those people had been there for years and were of a certain age. That was unbelievable pain, it was really hard; but it was one of the things it had to be done.

JS: 2 Stupid Dogs came along at this point. [Note: as did SWAT Kats, a show we did not get to explore.]

FS: Actually what happened was I did what I always do. I told people around me, Im not really good at being a cog in the machine. If the way this place to going to be a machine, a widget producer, they put the wrong guy in the job.

I told the development people there are two things Im really interested in seeing personally while youre doing whatever work you do because I have no idea what a development department does. But Im interested in people you think are fantastic. And in this case Im very interested specifically in animators you think are fantastic with ideas, not writers I had a very specific lack of interest in writers and Im obviously interested in properties youre really thrilled about that you dont necessarily feel fits the system, whatever the system is.

One of the first things in was a guy named Donovan Cook with a thing called 2 Stupid Dogs. Depending on how you look at it either very intelligently or unbelievably stupidly I greenlit the series on half a storyboard and Donovans presence in the room.

It was an unbelievably unsuccessful show.

JS: I enjoyed it; it had a sly sense of humor and was a real change of pace from most of what was on at the time.

FS: Youre one of the few.

JS: What about the back-up feature, Super Secret Secret Squirrel? I thought that was a brilliant revival.

FS: I told Donovan well make 26 Stupid Dog shorts, but Id really like to stick to the old Hanna-Barbera formula of a half-hour with three shorts, and Id like the middle to be something else. Why dont we see if theres a great classic character we can do something with, and he came in with the squirrel.

For my future, a very interesting thing happened. I had assigned one of the older veterans at the studio to help Donovan because I knew it was a snakepit, and I didnt know enough to re-invent the system at that point. Donovan needed a guide to the system. Beyond that, he was not at all capable of handling a series. An animated series is a complex machine. From the outside it doesnt look complex; then you add on the complications of the Hanna-Barbera machine and the kid was doomed.

So I gave him an older guy, someone who was 45 and had been in the business since he was 20. He was actually someone elses recommendation, but I had the sense he could work with young folk without depressing them. We assigned this guy, Larry Huber, to be his supervisor, his handler.

Seibert talked to Bill Hanna (above) and Joe Barbera, not about business, but about cartoons.

It quickly became obvious Donovan was not going to let Larry in on 2 Stupid Dogs too well, and Donovan was going to be too busy to do anything other than set up Super Secret Secret Squirrel. Once Donovan set the stage he had his people redesign the characters and they made a couple of key creative decisions after that Larry took it and ran it. Larry showed himself to be something other than what I thought he was at the time, which was a capable line producer. I found out that one, he was an awesome spotter of talent. Two, he was willing to give that talent room to be what they had not been before; he was able to see an artist or director and say maybe theyd be good at story. And third, I found out he was a magical film story guy, which is not what those line producer types were known as he was an unbelievable story guy.

Donovan turned out to be significantly less interesting to me than I thought he was at the time, but he also was fantastic at a couple of things. He was an awesome spotter of talent as well. He brought in a new level of young talent into the system. Because I allowed him something the studio had never allowed before letting young people be in charge of their own destiny the crew that he bought in turned out to be incredibly important to my future. When Donovan was no longer with studio, at least a couple of dozen key people from the crew turned out to be the nucleus of the new world order for us.

JS: That led to What A Cartoon!?

FS: Not directly. I was able to populate some of What A Cartoon! from some of 2 Stupid Dogs crew.

JS: Where is Donovan now?

FS: Donovan fell eventually into the bowels of the Disney system. He did one show at Disney that fit the Donovan thing, Nightmare Ned, and then went onto to do a lot of TV movie work for them; he directed that Peter Pan sequel Return to Neverland.

JS: So youre at Hanna-Barbera now, youve turned this awesome

FS: I hadnt done anything at that point. Not near. Ever hear the phrase turning a battleship around in a bathtub'? Well I was in the bathtub with the battleship and we were still moving forward. 2 Stupid Dogs as far as all those people were concerned was a complete aberration.

JS: The old-timers?

FS: Even the new-timers, everyone. I hadnt even made a dent into the system at that point. It was just like oh, heres another new guy in charge of wasting our money. That was really all that had happened there.

The next big step was What A Cartoon! A lot of business stuff was going on in the meantime. We had to carve through lot of very complicated things to get Hanna-Barbera on a footing that would allow us to do anything.

JS: Like getting the library back?

FS: That was the least of it. How they paid for things, how they accounted for things, what employees were necessary and what werent, characters that had been licensed out in perpetuity to sweetheart companies, we had union issuesthere was an amazing amount of complexity to issues that had nothing to do with cartoons. It was a nightmare.

I said to friends at the time its like boulders from here to the horizon, and if you lift every boulder theres a snake underneath.

Cow & Chicken was a success for the newly named Cartoon Network. Courtesy of Cartoon Network.

JS: And all the boulders needed to be moved.

FS: [in a whisper]: Oh God, yeah.

JS: It mustve been painful to focus energy your energy on that as opposed to the creative.

FS: It was, but luckily I had a number-two man, Jed Simmons, who spent an enormous amount of selfless hours fixing it, so it worked out really nicely.

So, the next big thing was What A Cartoon! I had been a consultant to Nickelodeon for many years before going to Hanna-Barbera. In 1989, the Nickelodeon programming and business team came to me and said we really need to get into the [original production] cartoon business how do we do it?

I had never really done anything in cartoons. I was really just a neophyte, an interested media person, but I knew about the way Looney Tunes, theatrical cartoons had been made. I said, it seems to me that what they did was make a six-minute cartoon, run it before a movie and, if people liked it, they made another one [featuring the same character]. If they didnt like it they stopped making it.

Why dont we do a system like that, where we make these little containable things? Everything I know about the [TV] cartoon business is they go right to 13 episodes on everything, and they dont believe they can pilot.

I suggested a system that I thought made some kind of sense, but I had no idea how to execute it, because I knew nothing about cartoons. As usual when youre a consultant, they took pieces of my idea and threw out the rest. The piece that they took, that turned out to be valuable for a couple of years at Nickelodeon, was that they made pilots, which was radically different from the way that Hollywood made cartoons for kids. And thats when you got Ren and Stimpy.

So when I got to Hanna-Barbera, I knew they hadnt done the system the way I wanted to do it because I didnt think pilots were the thing. To me, pilots are things that youll never show anybody and theyre messy, theyre all over the place, theyre not disciplined. Every one Nickelodeon did was a different length.

I thought why dont you make things with some discipline, and then you can actually show it and make a dollar from it? Why make something youre just going to throw into the soup? Because they made a lot of pilots at Nickelodeon back then, and youve never heard of the other ones because they were unairable.

My model for everything Ive done successfully in the media business, no matter what medium Ive been in, whether I was a record producer or in radio was Berry Gordys Motown. I loved the idea that they were all in a house and the recording studio was here, and the writing studios were here and the promotion department was here, and quality control Berry Gordys office was up here, and when they needed an extra singer they went to the receptionist and said, do you sing? I love that.

When I started doing promotion for MTV, Id never done television promotion, so I built a system like Motown. On Monday you wrote, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays you did audio, on Thursdays and Fridays you did video, and then next week you started again. Thats how we got spots out.

I always loved the idea of a factory system where the goal of the factory was unique creative work; where you could discipline the execution process so that it didnt get out of control. I always thought you could get more good, interesting work out of that kind of creative system. My love of going to Hanna-Barbera was I always had the sense they had that system in the old days and they had lost sight of it.

So I arrive, knowing I want to make these short cartoons like Looney Tunes used to be done. I want to try lots and lots of talent even before I walked through the door because I knew Hanna-Barbera was not a place that talented people felt they belonged. Hanna-Barbera was a place for three kinds of people: people getting their first job, people on their last job or filling in between jobs, and people who really had a tough time getting jobs elsewhere.

In the mid '80s before I went to Hanna-Barbera, both Disney and Warner Bros. got into the television animation business by raiding the company and they raided the cream. All the people left at Hanna-Barbera thought they were the cream, but that wasnt the case. They were talented people, but the top people went elsewhere and they made the Tiny Toons, the Disney Afternoon shows and so forth.

So here I am, I know that no first-level creative person would ever come to Hanna-Barbera, and I knew I needed system to attract them, and where I could try out as many people as possible and figure out who had the goods and who didnt.

Oh Yeah! Cartoons! was a collection of brand new shows created for Nickelodeon by Seibert. Courtesy of Nickelodeon.

I had this idea Id given Nickelodeon that they didnt execute the way I thought they shouldve. Id met John Kricfalusi in the meantime, who was very skeptical of Hanna-Barbera, but very envious simultaneously. We became very good friends. He told me lots of stuff and I listened very carefully, I was a great student.

Then I had a sister company that was starting a cartoon network. Corporate politics being what they are, they didnt want to do anything with Hanna-Barbera other than use the library. But they found out they had to, which no one likes. They came to me and they said I suppose we have to do original series with you.

So being a dope, or acting like a dope I go, what do you need original programming for, you have this great library? They said what I knew they would say, but I wanted to know. Were a new network, and advertisers and cable operators respect original programming, they dont respect library. If were going to get distributors and advertisers weve got to do new stuff.

I actually dont have many talents, but Im a good analyst, and I never do anything unless I know why Im doing it. If I fail, its because I didnt know why I was doing it to begin with. I said, why do you want to do original series? Now I knew where I was going with this, but they didnt. They said because thats what you do on television.

I said lets look at it. If its about publicity, when are we going to get publicity on an original series? The day we announce were doing one; the week we launch well get some; maybe if were on air for years and were a phenomenon, well get some more.

I had just made two series 2 Stupid Dogs and SWAT Kats for 10 million bucks, and they failed within a week. So were going to do all this stuff to get these two publicity hits, spend all this money and fail, because in showbiz thats the odds.

I said I have an idea how we can get publicity for 48 weeks every single week for almost 2 years. They said really? I said yeah Lets make a new show every week but I can do it for $10 million. How do you do that? Lets make it like Looney Tunes.

I had had my tutorial from John, I had spent a long time talking to Bill and Joe, not about Hanna-Barbera, but about Tom and Jerry and how they produced cartoons. I talked to Friz Freleng and a bunch of other people and they taught me how they made those shorts.

So I said well make a short cartoon every week. Itll be a new character every week, and youll run it at your most popular time: primetime Sunday evenings just before a cartoon movie. Well do it just like the old days, well run the cartoon just before the movie, and every other week for two years youll be able to get some publicity out of it. All of a sudden people will think every other week? They must be doing a lot of stuff!

Lo and behold, Cartoon Network bought it. So I called John and asked him who should I know? John gave me my first list.

Butch Hartman created both Johnny Bravo and Fairly OddParents. On the right Fairly OddParents' new full-length movie, Abra-Catastrophe. Bravo courtesy of Cartoon Network. OddParents courtesy of Nickelodeon.

JS: Who was on it?

FS: David Feiss, Eddie Fitzgerald, a guy named Tom Minton and four or five other guys whose names are escaping me. The only ones I wound up making deals with were Dave and Eddie, and Dave went the distance with Cow and Chicken, which was fantastic.

So I basically started with John, but there were 400 employees at Hanna-Barbera and I started there as well. A lot of the key talent that has gone far with me were people who were already at Hanna-Barbera when I got there.

I hired Larry Huber to be my supervising producer on What A Cartoon! He had supervised Donovan Cook on 2 Stupid Dogs; I said okay, you did such a great job with Donovan now youve got 48 of them to supervise. He felt like, is this a promotion?

I told the Hanna-Barbera staff I know the business youve been in has been one where you do management and network bidding. They tell you what to do and you do it. I know you got into this business because you feel like youre talented and you have something to say. Im here to make what you want to make.

At that point in the industry, the business was such that the cartoonists believed that if they did have an idea the studio or network would take it from them and they would get nothing.

JS: Work for hire.

FS: Right. I made a deal with them saying if we do your thing you will get something. They had all been complaining to me the first couple of years Id been there about this stuff.

I prepared for a stampede at the door. No one showed up.

JS: Was everyone there caught in a rut?

FS: I think there was a combination of cynicism, pessimism, disinterest and purely the fact that most people want to do what theyre told and complain about it rather than take the bull by the horns and do something for themselves.

A couple of guys that I actually went after who had expressed interest before said what will you pay me to make a storyboard? Well, Im not going to pay, this is your thing and Ill be interested in seeing what you have. But Im a professional I get paid to make a storyboard. I said, yeah when youre doing my work you do that, but when youre doing your work They completely missed the mark.

After beating the bushes for weeks, one of the kids shows up at the door. At the time he was probably about 25. Larry Huber calls them the fists. They were doing props or storyboards or character designs and they do what theyre told theyre a fist.

One of the fists turns up at the door and said I have an idea, can I pitch you my board with one of my other partners here? He pitched it to me and it wasnt that good. But because he showed up first, he got a short. It turned out to be the worst short. But before it was even done, he came back again with another one, and it was a lot less worse in terms of the pitch. He was enthusiastic and he had really learned things from the first, and I said lets do it and it turned out to be the second worst short. He ended up doing I think five What A Cartoon! shorts.

Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory and Courage the Cowardly Dog have all been successful and long-running shows for Cartoon Network. TM & © 2001 Cartoon Network. An AOL Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

JS: You mustve had faith in this guy.

FS: Well, every time out of the box he improved. Most people when they come back to you the second time theyre exactly the same or they go down. But this guy learned something every time out. By the time he was done his last short was probably in the top 25 but still not the top.

In my first season doing Oh Yeah! Cartoons [for Nickelodeon] I had one last slot to fill. He had been working on Johnny Bravo at the time and his contract was up. He called and said Im available, I have another project to show you. We looked at it and greenlit it, and that was The Fairly OddParents from Butch Hartman.

So the first place I went into was Hanna-Barbera and then I really started scanning the world. We just started putting our tentacles out, we called Ralph Bakshi out of nowhere and said Ralph, do you want to get back to your roots? and he did. Hes a character, but he was a very great character for us, hes larger than life.

JS: Why shouldnt people who make cartoon characters

FS: be characters, exactly.

At the time, if you think about, there were only a couple of well-known animation people and he was one of them. That was a great feather in our cap that looked to people like it was all beginners, to have a couple of well known veterans like Ralph in the mix.

JS: Didnt Bill [Hanna] or Joe [Barbera] do one as well?

FS: They each did one for just that reason. In fact, Bills was wonderful.

JS: They mustve enjoyed just getting hands-on and making a short again.

FS: Absolutely. Joe, on the other hand, wanted to know why he couldnt do all 48.

What A Cartoon! gave us Dexters Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Cow and Chicken, Johnny Bravo, Courage the Cowardly Dog which by the way gave Hanna-Barbera its first Oscar nomination in the studios history the Cow and Chicken spin-off I.M. Weasel, and we had a compilation of the shorts themselves, the What A Cartoon! Show. So we had seven series, any one of which earned enough money for the company to pay for the whole program.

JS: Basically a research and development program.

FS: Then on top of it I reinvigorated the who comes in the studio equation. Now talented people wanted to show up. Some 5,000 people pitched us cartoons from all over the world. We got into business with Ralph Bakshi, with Bruno Bozetto; we got into business with a broad range of people who never wouldve given Hanna-Barbera a passing chance. We worked with people who were 70 years old, who were 20 years old. We turned on its head the perception the people in the community had of us. And by the way, we made almost a billion dollars worth of value for the company.

JS: Does Hanna-Barbera still make cartoons?

FS: No. It morphed into what is now the Cartoon Network Studios. Some of the original Hanna-Barbera team continues to exist at Warner Bros. doing classic character things, primarily Scooby-Doo movies. What Ill call the new classic team the post-Dexter, Cow and Chicken, and all those things are at the Cartoon Network Studios, but with a lot of veterans there.

One of the key directors on all the Cartoon Network stuff is a guy who had already been there 20 years when I got there, a guy named Robert Alvarez, a fantastic director. So it isnt all like a new crew, but primarily a new crew. The name Hanna-Barbera is basically relegated to exploitation of the classic characters which is a shame, but thats life.

JS: That was basically the whole first period of post-theatrical animation.

FS: There couldve been more, but that was Hanna's and Barberas fault, which we can get into as a side issue.

JS: Which really set back the development of American animation.

FS: You could also make the argument it saved American animation. I get the whole thing. A lot of people think that the entire output of the Hanna-Barbera studio was shit. What happened was that the dialog on cartoons was not controlled by Hanna-Barbera. It was controlled by theatrical people: the Disneys, the Warner Bros. What people said was the Hanna-Barbera stuff was simple, limited animation you saw characters running past the same tree over and over it was garbage.

My point is that Hanna and Barbera were not entrepreneurs they were animation people. They started the studio out of desperation to work, unlike Walt Disney who wanted to start a business. At MGM, when somebody said lousy things about Tom and Jerry, the studio publicity person answered it. They didnt control the dialog they didnt speak up themselves. And over the years at Hanna-Barbera, when people said shitty things, they just seethed on their own, but they let people say shitty things.

JS: Do you think there was a bit of a guilt complex going on there?

FS: No not at all. They werent guilty at all. Zero. You ask Bill Hanna the day he died. At one point he made a bargain-basement pilot for NBC where you could see the animators hands visibly moving the drawings.

JS: Was that a fuck you to NBC?

FS: No. Bill Hannas mission in life was how to make it cheaper that was it. Remember, they started the studio when they were 48 years old. Their mission in life was to make a living. They have no guilt at all and by the way, I dont think they have any reason to have any guilt.

The fact that they did a lot of stupid things was because they werent business guys. They werent driven to build a business on a legacy like Walt Disney was they just wanted to work. They were working guys who happened to run a place who by the way happened between the two of them to be brilliantly talented and it worked. They were unbelievably competitive guys.

JS: Between each other or versus the industry?

FS: Everything. With each other, with everyone they just wanted to get across the finish line. So you could say that they started the decline.

JS: Well it was when they started to self-plagiarize

FS: They were plagiarists from the beginning. The Flintstones was The Honeymooners in stone-age drag. But when they started Hanna-Barbera, they and every one of their friends in '56 was out of work. So how can you say they were the beginning of the decline? They were the saviors. They figured out how to do it and keep it going. The fact that American animation had hit a peak in the late '40s early '50s all that meant was eventually it was going to come down.

JS: Then if anybodys responsible for bringing it up from that nadir, you would have to take credit

FS: I would be very thrilled and flattered to take a piece of that.

JS: Youre entitled to a large piece.

FS: Thank you very much. But there were a lot of other things going on at the same time the time was right. The reality for me is that the world was in a mood to listen to what I had to say. I said the exact same thing to Nickelodeon a few years earlier, but they didnt pay much attention. They went their own way and figured out a way to make it great. I was in the right place at the right time.

JS: But you knew what to do there.

FS: I knew how to guess there. I guessed, like Berry Gordy guessed.

JS: Your guesses were right more often than not.

FS: I had a couple of really big wrong ones.

JS: 2 Stupid Dogs and SWAT Kats?

FS: No, those were minor.

JS: Tell me the worst.

The New Jonny Quest almost killed the deal between Turner and Time-Warner. Courtesy of Cartoon Network.

FS: The New Jonny Quest a disaster. If any human being could have made more bad judgements than me on JONNY QUEST, I dont know who couldve. That thing almost scuttled the Turner merger with Time-Warner, it was so bad.

One after the other, after the other, I made bad judgements. I cant tell you I wont tell you how big a financial disaster that thing was. Leave out the fact that the show was just mediocre. Im telling you, behind the scenes it was a much larger mess than you could ever imagine frankly, than I ever could imagine. I was getting an hour of sleep a night for like a year. Suffice it to say it was a disaster, and Im willing to claim full responsibility for the disaster.

Part 2 continues Joe Strikes interview with Fred Seibert.

Joe Strike is a New York City television writer/producer with a lifelong interest in animation, and who remembers watching Astroboy when it first aired in the U.S. His work includes numerous promotional campaigns and special events programming for cable outlets including Bravo and the Sci Fi Channel. He interviewed Disney animation director Mark Dindal in the November 2000 Animation World Magazine.

Tags 
randomness