Not all great animated TV pitches become instant shows. Sometimes a pitch requires repetition…and repetition. In the case of Celebrity Deathmatch, I knew I had a solid concept – two celebrities with a score to settle face off in a clay animated wrestling ring…and fight to the death! The pitch could not have been any simpler and yet it had all of the components of great entertainment – pop culture, biting satire, cartoony violence and an animation style that was beloved but seldom seen. The very mention of the words “Celebrity Deathmatch” got the gears turning, producing unlimited mash-up possibilities: Snoop Dog vs. Snoopy, Peter Parker vs. Peter Pan, Madonna vs. The Madonna and so forth. On paper it seemed like a slam dunk, out of the park home run. And yet it would take MTV over a year to greenlight a pilot!
I had suggested the concept to one of the producers at MTV who was also a close friend of mine. He immediately loved the premise and saw all the possibilities of what a show titled “Celebrity Deathmatch” could be. But when he presented it to his boss, the exec for whatever reason just didn’t get it. “How could this be,” you ask? In my experience, selling a pitch always meant showing executives as much as I possibly could to help them visualize what I was selling. But in the case of CDM, I had yet to produce any designs or boards. I had no visual material. So perhaps the reason the MTV exec had trouble “seeing” the idea was because there was nothing to see. Whatever the reason, he wasn’t ready to move forward with the project.
Undaunted, I decided to continue to develop CDM. Over the next year I produced lots of visuals, including designs for a show logo, dozens of celebrity match ups and clay prototypes of the main characters.
I was determined to get something made. I knew if I could produce even 3 minutes of clay animation, it would be a huge step forward. So I started talking to Craig “Spike” Decker, one of the founders of “Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation.” Spike was willing to produce a series of shorts for a budget that was literally next to nothing. I wasn’t even sure that I’d break even on the deal but I saw it as a means to an end. I knew CDM was destined for bigger things but first I had to get it on its feet. Spike sent over contract and encouraged me to sign so we could get going…
Meanwhile, my buddy at MTV had not given up the good fight. Over the course of that year he had continued to hammer his boss about CDM whenever the opportunity presented itself. Finally, they were at a focus group somewhere looking at their slate of shows. Beavis and Butthead was winding down and, with the exception of Daria, nothing was really clicking for animation on the channel. The boss turned to my producer friend and suggested “We could really use a hit right about now.” To which my buddy responded with those two magic words “Celebrity Deathmatch.”
It was some time during that same evening that I got the phone call from the MTV exec. “What’s going on with that clay boxing idea of yours? Is it still available?” Fortunately, I had yet to sign the Spike and Mike deal as I was struggling to figure out how not to lose money on it. So the next day I went in to MTV Animation with some designs, a few clay puppets and that very simple yet elegant premise: “Two celebrities meet in a boxing ring and beat the living shit out of each other.” At first he seemed confused: “But you can’t actually beat the shit out of a celebrity, can you?” “Of course you can,” I assured him. “It’s clay animation. You can do anything you want!” The exec saw the puppets, the designs, the boxing ring and the endless possibilities. He finally got it.