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Carl Reiner Can’t Keep This Computer-Animated Alan Brady Under Wraps

With the debut of The Alan Brady Show, VFXWorlds Bill Desowitz took the opportunity to talk with Hollywood legend Carl Reiner about his upcoming ventures into animation and his otherwise animated life.

That old TV curmudgeon, Alan Brady, returns to the tube in a brand new computer-animated special, The Alan Brady Show, premiering August 17, 2003 on TV Land (10:00-10:30 pm). VFXWorld editor Bill Desowitz recently spoke to the always-funny Carl Reiner, creator and producer of the legendary sitcom that has been given new life on TV Land, about his first foray into computer-animation and the thrills of voice over work.

Alan Brady may have a new look, but hes the same old curmudgeon. © TV Land.

Alan Brady may have a new look, but hes the same old curmudgeon. © TV Land.

Bill Desowitz: What was it was like working with computer animation for the first time?

Carl Reiner: As a matter of fact, the only time I worked with it was to get some of the sound right. I was absolutely amazed when I came into that compound and saw 12 people working on it each one working on a leg or a foot, a grid. I couldnt believe that people know how to do that. Its very sophisticated and also frustrating for people who are used to saying, Put that line here. When you put it into the computer, you dont move lines around that fast. Painstaking. And were lucky to have people who dont feel the pain of the staking.

BD: Why did it take three years to get this going?

CR: Well, I think what happened was that they were looking for different ways to present this material. At one point they even had puppets. They had 10 people dressed in black with their arms in sleeves. I mean, I do applaud [TV Land] for being so dedicated to making this happen. The stick-to-itiveness that they had. They researched cartooning, they went to different countries and they finally came up with this

BD: Yeah, this unique look that has been termed 2-1/2D, which is very flat and monochromatic, just like a sitcom would look if you computer-animated it.

CR: Now thats your business, so you know all about animation. My wife (Estelle) is not a big animated person, so we dont go that often. But when I do see it, like the Toy Story movies or the Shreks, Ive been very impressed.

Impressed with Shrek, Reiner signs onto DreamWorks animated TV series Father of the Pride.

Impressed with Shrek, Reiner signs onto DreamWorks animated TV series Father of the Pride.

BD: Speaking of DreamWorks, I understand that youre one of the voice over stars of their upcoming NBC pilot, Father of the Pride, in which you play a curmudgeonly lion from the Siegfried & Roy show with son-in-law problems.

CR: Yes, as matter of fact, we go in next week and record two more episodes. Weve run the first one and it looks like thats going to be OK.

BD: Theres even an homage to Alan Brady where the lion loses his toupee on stage.

CR: Yeah, I saw the toupee. They not only did a rendering but they did cement statues of every character. Hes so cute, this big, old lion. Hes lost his hair in the back.

BD: I understand it takes nine months to produce one episode.

CR: These forward-thinking people who climb mountains, know theyre going to get there or dont know theyre going to get there. I applaud them.

BD: Does this voice work remind you of radio at all?

CR: Oh, yes. I didnt do a lot of radio. I started in radio with a workshop but the Army got me going before I could make a career of it. Believe it or not, my very first one was playing a ventriloquist for a [beer] commercial. And then I did a couple of cartoons for Ernie Pintoff, one was The Violinist [1959] that was very funny about a bird and a violin

BD: Around the same time your buddy Mel Brooks did The Critic [1963].

CR: So I started in voice overs and did a couple of cartoons, and I remember my mother asking, Which one are you? And I said, I play the big bird. But which one are you? Ma, Im the big bird. The big birds always me. But that was 100 years ago. I love doing voice overs because youre given so many chances in a recording session. Its a different kind of work, but its fun because you dont need makeup and if they come to your house, you can do it in your underwear.

Carl Reiner Photo courtesy of TV Land.

Carl Reiner Photo courtesy of TV Land.

BD: How long did it take you to get into doing Alan Brady again?

CR: Two seconds. I hadnt done Alan Brady for a few years. I did it on Mad About You. They asked me if Id come on the show, and I said, no, I dont want to come on any situation comedies. I dont want to be unfaithful to my old show, so they said do Alan Brady. So I found him pretty fast again [as a young-looking 70-odd-year-old]. Hes in the recesses of my mind and hes the Mr. Hyde that I never let out.

BD: Is he based on anybody real?

CR: Hes based on people I knew or heard about, and two were notorious for the treatment of the people around them: One was [Jackie] Gleason, who never spoke to his writers. I remember them telling me, We never see him; we shove it under the door. And then hearing about Milton Berle I never worked with him in those days from 48 on when he had the whistle and the towel around his neck and screaming at everyone. There was a lot of yelling and screaming, but offstage he was one of the most giving people to his friends. But the clearest one was Phil Silvers doing Top Banana. That combination. Youre only as good as your villain, but I didnt do [Alan Brady] that often. I was too busy writing. A lot of people think it was Sid [Caesar from Your Show of Shows]. The only thing I got from Sid was that he was a very big arbiter of the material. But if you go to lunch with a guy for nine years, you gotta like him.

BD: What about writing this new Alan Brady special? What was that like?

CR: That came out very quickly. As soon as they said do it I think they originally thought of bringing back a live variety show and said, Naw, I dont want to get back on television. And then they called a day or so later and said, How about an animated Alan Brady? Immediately, I said that sounded like something and I dont think it took more than a day or so to figure out that hes been around for 50 years, so Ill do an anniversary show [with reality TV thrown in]. And it just flew out.

The Alan Brady character debuted on the TV classic The Dick Van Dyke Show.

The Alan Brady character debuted on the TV classic The Dick Van Dyke Show.

BD: And youve got Dick Van Dyke doing the voice of the old writer and Rose Marie doing the voice of the receptionist.

CR: He just came to give us the tip of the hat and Rosie, whos always coughing. There was a joke that we didnt get to use where he had smoke coming through the speakerphone. Thats what you can do in cartoons that you cant do for real.

BD: So now you have to see how well the specials received and if it gets picked up.

CR: Im anxious to see the guts they have because thats an expensive process. Well see.

BD: The good news is that The Dick Van Dyke Show is being viewed by a whole new generation on TV Land.

CR: Well, theyre dealing with nostalgia so they know. The smart thing theyre doing is putting on a bunch of Alan Brady episodes leading up to the special, so the people who dont know him will. Its a good time his curmudgeonliness is back in fashion with Becker and a few other things.

Bill Desowitz is the editor of VFXWorld.

Bill Desowitz's picture

Bill Desowitz, former editor of VFXWorld, is currently the Crafts Editor of IndieWire.