Bugs, Daffy, Porky and the gang are back sitcom-style.
The highly-anticipated re-imagining of The Looney Tunes Show as a Seinfeld/Odd Couple-style sitcom from Warner Bros. Animation finally bows tonight on Cartoon Network at 8:00 pm, and we have a roundtable discussion with producers Tony Cervone and Spike Brandt, designer Jessica Borutski, story editor Hugh Davidson and writer Rachel Ramras. In tonight's opener, Bugs and Daffy are introduced as mismatched roommates and Bugs discovers just how little Daffy knows about him when they appear on the Besties game show. However, Elmer Fudd steals the show in his Barry White-inspired performance of "Grilled Cheese" in the Merrie Melodies' music video segment.
Bill Desowitz: How did the show come about?
Hugh Davidson: At first, we didn't know what the plan was and if there was even going to be a show. We basically had a creative day to talk about what options there might be to update it. We watched a bunch of the classic shorts and weren't sure we even wanted to it, but at the end of the day, what we pitched was a variety or sketch show.
Rachel Ramras: We come from a sketch background -- the Groundlings here in Los Angeles -- so we were thinking along the lines of The Muppet Show…
HD: Where you could see Bugs put on a hat and be a reporter. That was basically the idea. We had a ton of material and sketches and that's what the show was going to be for a while.
RR: But then while we were doing it, the characters seemed so rich with who they are, so why have them be out of character? It seemed like a disservice to the characters and not capturing what's so wonderful about them.
HD: So it evolved from the writing into the sitcom that we now have. It's more about the friendship between Bugs, Daffy and Porky -- more than anything else. It's not that much about suburbia but their relationships and putting them together in that persistent world. In the half-hour format, there's room for their characters and you needed that grounded world to really have the same anarchic spirit that they used to have in the shorts. And then they can be just as crazy now in a grocery store.
RR: Now we can delve into their characters even deeper and really tell an entire story, and have them relate to characters that they were never able to relate to. In one episode, we have Speedy Gonzalez hanging out with Lola Bunny and we've never seen that before… she's a funny character and a funny foil and we wrote to Kristen Wiig's voice… she's also from the Groundlings. We also have Tina, who is Daffy's girlfriend. He meets her at a Kinko's type place and gets instantly infatuated. And in one episode Lola helps Daffy woo her and in the process Lola falls in love with Daffy -- just for that one episode. And that's another thing about these women. They're bringing a real honesty to these characters. It's not a ditz or a puff girl. Kristen is a real tough New Yorker.
HD: And there was a worry early on that everyone expressed: What will it sound like having Bugs talk to a character voiced by Kristen Wiig, who's not doing something crazy with her voice? And it ends up being very funny and compelling, particularly in this format, where the show has enough room to breathe. You get to know them more -- there's not that breakneck pace that you associate with the shorts. It's just a different thing.
Once we settled on the sitcom format, everything began to feel right. What's most important to us is that we maintain the integrity of the characters and that we feel something when we watch them. It came down to feeling. Our favorite cartoons are the Chuck Jones cartoons -- they're the most human. That's what we want out of it. But a lot of Bugs' actions in [the classic cartoons] are because he's in mortal danger. You take the mortal danger away, and you wonder why he's still acting like that. It kind of has a ripple effect and it does change a lot of stuff.
BD: What was your mission in redesigning the characters?
Jessica Borutski: My mission was to make them look fresh and new for a new generation of kids. So I wanted to keep about all the things that I love about the characters and just streamlined all of the shapes that I like and changed some proportions a bit. And with Bugs I made him purple for fun.
TC: Maybe the characters were a little too young-looking in the first set of drawings and we aged them up a bit.
BD: What is the dynamic like here between Bugs and Daffy?
HD: Bugs is still funny, smart and accomplished, and Daffy is clearly his nitwitted friend. But I got this idea watching them as a kid that Bugs found something amusing about him. And in our world, Bugs is unflappable and it's nice to have a character that's just flappable -- Bugs finds something amusing about it or just tolerates it.
RR: And the good thing about Porky is that Daffy gets to be the alpha male around Porky. There's like a tier of friendship. And we have Porky being always happy and wanting to be part of the gang. So we're pretty relentless with Porky -- he's easy to pick on, but he's just thrilled to be hanging out with them.
BD: What is the role of Merrie Melodies and the Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote shorts?
Spike Brandt: We think of [them] as bonus material on a DVD. It's just extra. It wasn't hard enough coming up with one format, so we decided to tackle two more.
BD: And why did you decide to make the shorts in CG [produced by the Israeli studio, Crew 972]?
TC: CGI works really well for them because we get to create one environment -- this desert environment -- and shoot cartoons in it. And they're silent characters, so we don't have to worry about lip sync. And by their nature, they're all about speed and height. So we could do a lot of cool stuff with the camera, so they translate very well.
SB: That was something that we tested very early on and everybody was really excited by the results of that. We tried to hang on to that.
TC: And the sitcom part of the show is very verbal-based comedy, even though it's an animated show, and it's kind of cool to have this section that is completely non-verbal. It's all based on pantomime.
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.
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