With the success of Deathbowl ’98 a symbolic battle had been won. But the war to get this stop-motion slugfest on the air as a regular series still remained. Three major obstacles needed to be overcome for this to happen: 1) We needed a production staff. 2) We needed a production facility. 3) Most importantly, we needed an official greenlight from MTV and an order for episodes which we had yet to obtain.
With the ratings success of the Deathbowl ’98, a series order should have been a foregone conclusion. But a new executive had recently come on board at MTV as head of programming and with him, a new set of standards. We had clearly tapped into an audience with the Superbowl halftime special but could Celebrity Deathmatch support a half hour of programming? That remained to be seen. I was frustrated but more determined than ever to prove this show had legs. And arms. And lots of exploding guts.
My producing partner, John Lynn, and I assembled a group of writers and together we pounded out a half hour script that would become a template for the series: Hosts Nick Diamond and Johnny Gomez would guide the viewers through three Deathmatch battles – two undercard fights and a main event. Mills Lane would handle the refereeing duties and wrestling superstar Stone Cold Steve Austin would be on hand to provide his own unique commentary. The first episode would feature Hillary Clinton vs. Monica Lewinsky, Jim Carey vs. Mariah Carey and the cast of Seinfeld vs. Tim Allen. MTV staff writer Chris Kreski would handle the first draft. Kreski, who sadly died of cancer in 2005, was also a writer for The WWE and combined his knowledge of professional wrestling and pop culture to produce a script that was equal parts violent blood fest and scathing satire. His script helped set the tone for the entire series.
With our pilot script approved we were finally greenlit for a 13 episode order. I couldn’t have been happier, but my delight was short-lived. In a move similar to the Superbowl counterprogramming stunt, our series premiere would be May 14, 1998 - the same night as the Seinfeld series finale. Once again we were backing into an air date, only this time we were required to deliver 22 minutes of animation for the premiere and a new episode each week after that for six consecutive weeks! With less than five months to the premiere we needed to assemble a production team AND build an entire stop-motion animation facility from the ground up. While I was fully aware of what was expected, I had no idea how I was going to pull it off. The only thing I knew for sure was that the clock was ticking.
To be continued…