If someone told you in 1998 that two of the biggest movie stars of the next summer would be a seven-foot-tall frog named Jar Jar and a three-foot-tall bald-headed clone named Mini-Me, you'd spill your popcorn.
What would you say if someone told you next year's most popular catchphrase was going to be "bling blong?" Well, grip your popcorn bag a little tighter, and let's continue.
I've tried to write the opening to this interview for a week now, and it's been impossible. There's so much I'd like to put in this article, but it all gets too confusing. I think what I'll do is go over a bit of the problems I've been experiencing, and then get on with the interview part.
Here's one of the problems - when someone says "yes" to an interview about their new show, it's difficult to avoid discussion of other elements of their life. When Bill and Josh said "yes" to an interview, it was quite a task for me to stick to the knitting about their WB show Mission Hill. I had a bunch of off-topic questions, mostly about Josh Weinstein. The simplest question is: how many Josh Weinsteins ARE there in the entertainment business? According to the entries in the Internet Movie Database, Josh went from doing the first season of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, to moving to L.A., then, he started writing America's Funniest Home Videos, and bumped Al Jean and Co. out of the executive producer slot on The Simpsons Is he the SAME Josh Weinstein who changed his name to "J. Elvis Weinstein" when he executive produced UPN's Malcolm and Eddie? If there's another guy, how is it possible to tell who did what?
I had a bunch of off-topic Bill Oakley questions, too. I mean, I knew Bill worked on the Harvard Lampoon, but did he also work on some Superman comics? This is where the Internet is a help and a hindrance, because it gives you information based on people's names - - and lots of people have the same name.
Of course, all this stuff sounded like stalker questions, so I tossed all those questions out and focused on the show.
Keith, the WB publicist, gave me a number to call to get instructions on how to get to the Oakley / Weinstein Studios. Meghan, the office manager, gave me a list of directions to travel to their office in Santa Monica. Her primary instruction was, "if you think you've stumbled into someone's neighborhood, you're in the right part of town."
She was right. After getting off the interstate, I was wandering down a series of streets, with houses that looked like the opening credits of "Three's Company". This couldn't possibly be the right street. But there, at the end of the block was a little building that could easily be mistaken for a plumbing-supply office.
I found a door without a name on it. It opened into an empty group of offices with walls painted in the colors of Trix. It was at that point I discovered the reason for the nondescript location: the artwork. Corridors and offices were plastered with original artwork, cels, storyboards, backgrounds, and character studies that would fetch dumpster-divers millions on eBay. After their experiences with souvenir hunters on The Simpsons, it was no wonder these guys wanted to keep things low-key.
I heard a voice calling my name. It was Meghan, motioning me over to the main reception area. I guess I must have come in through the back door or something. Meghan asked me if I needed anything, and I asked her if she could point me to a rest room (Big Gulps and interviews don't usually work well without a bathroom break between the two). She pointed me down another corridor to a men's room in an adjoining company. Man, this place was so low-key, they even thought of the "can I just use your bathroom?" ruse.
When I returned to the reception area, the power went out throughout the building. This was, surprisingly, a good omen for me, as I had charged the battery on the minidisc player the night before, and I was fully-powered even if the building wasn't. When the power came on after a few minutes, Meghan asked me if I'd like a quick tour of the offices. That sounded like a great idea, so we went for a stroll.
Down one corridor was a row of doors that looked like the faculty offices of an English department at a community college. These were the writers' offices, explained Meghan. Some of the doors had windows with the shades pulled all the way down. "Some of them are in, sleeping," explained Meghan. "It's like a home to them."
When Meghan and I returned from the walkabout, Bill, Josh, and Keith had arrived. We shook hands, and headed for what could best be described as a writers' lounge, - a place not too dissimilar from Buddy, Rob, and Sally's office on The Dick Van Dyke Show, but without a piano. It seemed like a room the guys would feel comfortable, so that was where we'd do the interview.
Okay, I thought - no stalker questions, not a lot of Simpsons questions - this'll be an interesting interview if I just keep away from the obnoxious stuff. And so...
Thanks for meeting with me. If I could ask you introduce yourselves so I could make sure the levels are coming out okay -
Bill - Sure - I'm Bill Oakley --
Josh - I'm Josh Weinstein
Thank you. The uh - as you know, my site mostly concerns - well, the only thing it concerns really is single dads, and offshoots of single dads. There's a couple other questions I've been asking different people I'm interviewing - about - being in the business of creating single dad themes. Most of the concentrations, when people think of single dad shows, they think of the actors that are portraying the single dads. You know, like Fred MacMurray created the character of Steve Douglas, and things like that. But really, when you boil it down, it's the writers, the producers, the creative people that are telling the actors what to say that comes out on screen. And what that does is, it gives you a kind of - a peculiar kind of fame. I mean, you're well-known by your names at the ends of credits, but you're kind of like - like Ubu. You're like -
Bill - Right --
- right there, at the last second. When I told my daughter I was interviewing the two of you she said, "I know them - who are they?"
Josh - [laughs]
Bill - Yeah, excellent!
Josh - That's the best type of reputation to have.
Bill - Yes, I agree.
Good. It's uh, you're known in the industry, but you can still go out at night and see people.
Things were going pretty good, two minutes into the interview. These guys seemed comfortable, although I was thinking maybe there was a little inertia in the answers. I scanned down the list to find a question that would open up some details...
Real quick question on the billing - when you had it - when you decided about the billing, did you just go alphabetically, or did you just -
Bill - We've always -- we've just - we've been writing together for like twenty years, and it always, just, I guess it was originally was just alphabetically, and it's just always just sorta stayed that way.
Josh - Yeah, that's fine.
I know Castle Rock is doing the production, is that right? Do you have - are you going to have your own logo before the Castle Rock at all?
Josh - Yes.
Bill - We're going to have - you know like on The Simpsons, they have the couch gag on every episode? We're going - our production company logo is going to be different - well, there's not - we're going to rotate between different ones. We can't afford to make a new one for every episode, but we're going to have -
Josh - Each one will be animated.
Bill - Each one will be used twice, probably. But we'll have - it's a different one with a character / the characters saying "A Bill Oakley / Josh Weinstein Production" in various amusing circumstances.
Oh, good - okay - so, something to look forward to -
Bill - Yes, yes -
Josh - Yes, we want to keep people through the very last second.
Bill - Right!
Even on the squash? I mean, is it going to be pushed off?
Bill - I hope not - I guess we're going to make sure on that.
Josh - We'll have to see it.
Several of the publicists told me that Bill and Josh are of one mind - that they finished each other's sentences, and I could see what they were talking about as the interview progressed.
Quick question - I know about, um, MTV has their "Downtown" show, and that's why you had to go from The Downtowners to Mission Hill - any reason why "Mission Hill?" Or is it just - that's -
Bill - That's the name - that the name of the area where they live, and we went through about a thousand other titles, but they all ended up sounding just like - crummy TV shows from the 70's, that you know are like -
Josh - We didn't want to get -
Bill - Like Urban Legends! and they just-
Josh - We didn't want to go through, like The Hip Teens, or -
[Both] - Tooney-Town Teens
Josh - or The Hipsters, we wanted - 'cause we've known about that other show for a while and we thought, "one of us is going to have to change our name eventually, so we'd better think of a name." An alternate name. And we came up with -literally- what must have been like a thousand names, and Mission Hill's the only one that has like an acceptable ring to it and doesn't sound - - stupid. So -
Bill - It's just the - it's the name of the area where they live, so it seems pretty straightforward.
I just was wondering if there's - you know, it's like oh no, it's a different branch of the Hank Hill family or something like that, and so -
Bill - No, no.
Josh - No, and it's also because there are a lot of - like Springfield is to The Simpsons and there's so many towns - it's certainly the most popular name for a town - it's the same with "Mission Hill" - there are a lot of - many cities have a section called "Mission Hill," so I figured it's a sort of like a good "every neighborhood" sort of name for it.
Great. I talked with - I talked with Wallace Langham earlier on this week, and he had asked me to run something by you. I'd asked him if it was kinda like a twisted Party of Five - I mean, you've got the older brother doing things, and he said it's more like a "slacker" Party of Five, he just wanted to check and make sure that that was okay with you if he just, kind of - it was kind of a short version of it, but it -
Bill - That's okay. We try to avoid using the term "slacker" because it seems kinda out-of-date now.
Josh - 'cause it's already - 'cause technically, Andy and his friends are really Generation Y. They're not even like -slackers are too old now, already. So, but it's like a -
Bill - Yeah, that recalls the early 90's too much, and so - - it is - I would say that if this were seven years ago, he would be a slacker, but it's sort of a - he's a Post-Slacker slacker.
Josh - It's a Post-Slacker Party of Five.
Bill - Yeah, but Party of Five is a good analogy, to some extent I suppose.
Speaking of Party of Five, we're talking about older brothers - I don't know if you know the 60's show Hank, or The Monroes, or - Kirk Cameron had a show called Kirk - - this show isn't more like, my understanding it's more like - Sanford & Son, where you have - the younger person is the one that's controlling the guardian.
Josh - [laughs]
Bill - That's a pretty good analogy!
Josh - Yeah, I'd rather have someone compare it to Sanford & Son than Kirk
- or Uncle Buck, where you've got the more-in-control younger child.
Going quite well by this point. These guys were pretty comfortable putting stuff in historical contexts, so I followed on with the Big Picture stuff
Single Dads in animation: Pinocchio, Alvin & the Chipmunks (though that's debatable), Dr. Katz, Duckman, Rugrats, Augie Doggie, all the recent Disney movies like Aladdin - why is there such an appeal, do you think, of Single Dads - having a Single Dad in an animated field?
Bill - At least in our case, Andy is like, Andy is pretty much the id run wild or something because Andy doesn't have - since he's been out on his own, he's sort of - a lot of his worst instincts have taken root and -
Josh - 'cause he's got - his parents haven't been around to control them.
Bill - Right. And his - a mom usually provides a control, at least in the case - like, Sanford & Son would be a good analogy - a mom usually provides a reasonable controlling influence, at least in a sillier show. Like Marge, for instance - she's the most level-headed person in the family, to some extent. And in this case, the mom has been removed. So, you can imagine what it would be like if it was just Homer and Bart, I mean, that's -
Josh - It would be like - Sanford & Son is good because Fred Sanford is like - he just lives it exactly the way he wants and it's a big - MESS - and he does it and - it's very similar to Andy.
Bill - Right. It's like - that's part of the extent - and I think that Kevin - Kevin yearns for some sort of - Kevin is extremely used to the controlling influence of the parents - their parents, who moved off to Wyoming and so - but he doesn't get it from Andy. He doesn't get any of the praise he's used to about getting good grades. He doesn't get any of the guidance that he needs. He doesn't get a birthday party thrown the way he wants, and so forth. And that's where a lot of the comedy comes from.
Do the parents make much of an appearance? Do you see them on occasion?
Josh - They check in, usually by phone, or Kevin will often call them, in desperation, and force Andy to talk to them.
Bill - They're like Charlie on Charlie's Angels - they just appear on the phone. In the pilot, they have an appearance, and then, in every other episode, they appear on the phone. Not every, but many of -
Josh - Pretty much -
Bill - ..Because Kevin is like- that's the weapon that he wields, that Kevin wields against Andy. It's like, "If you don't do - if you don't, you know, stop drinking, I'm going to call Mom and Dad. If you don't --"
Josh - Normally, they'll have a fight, and then the end result is that Kevin disappears for a second, and returns with the phone and says, "Mom and Dad would like to speak to you."
Bill - And then the parents, there's one, in the season finale, the parents come back - for one act - just to see what they have wrought - they're disappointed.
The - now, you're having story arcs? I mean, It's not a status quo show - you're actually going to have like story arcs and grow the characters out, and do more things? -
Bill - Andy -
Josh - Yeah, Andy. Andy is pretty much - Like, Kevin in always going to be - we never say what school year he's is in -
Bill - He's either a junior or a senior in school, depending on the time of year - whether it's the prom, or a college application time, or whatever -
Josh - But Andy - Andy has a *real* arc where - very realistic to people in their early twenties is, where he gets fired, or leaves a job, he will *leave* it, and he won't - - like, Homer appears back at the plant the very next day after being fired, but *every* time Andy leaves a job he will move onto the next job. So, about every six to eight episodes, Andy will change jobs.
Can you give me an idea of some of the jobs he has in it?
Josh - Sure.
Bill - He only has two so far, the first - because we only have so far, eighteen episodes - the first is - he works at "Ron's Waterbed World," and in the pilot - it's just this crummy sort of, you know, urban waterbed store, and it's - and the boss is a foreign guy who is really mean to the employees. Andy works there with Gwen, who is sort of this on-again, off-again girlfriend, and he just sells waterbeds. And, obviously it's a dead-end job, it's nothing, because Andy's real goal is to be a cartoonist, and it's something he works at, and he'll gradually become more successful at over the course of the series. But in the meantime, he just has this crummy, minimum wage job at the waterbed store. He has various interactions with Ron. Then, in the eighth episode, Ron - Ron never paid any taxes, so he gets hauled off to jail, and the place is closed. And Andy is -
Josh - It's shut down by the Treasury Department.
Bill - - and Andy's unemployed for two episodes, until finally his life falls apart completely. He just spends his time like sorta drinking and eating Bugles and watching TV, and he becomes a big disaster. And Jim, his roommate and his best friend from high school, helps him get a job at - this very low-level job at this ad agency where Jim works. And then that becomes - that's sort of a - that arc is the two of them working at the ad agency - it's sort of an homage to thirtysomething, which continues for the next nine episodes. And then, sometime in the next season, and hopefully there will be a next season, in the early first or second episode, he will get fired from the ad agency.
How many do you have in the can right now?
Bill - We don't have any totally in the can, but we have many at a variety of stages -
Josh - Because we have - we have thirteen recorded, because every animated episode takes about ten months to produce, so we're getting our first color version back next week, but we have thirteen episodes recorded. Then, the network ordered five more episodes to at least be recorded, after that, so -
Bill - So eighteen - we're working on - eighteen are in various stages of production.
They're sitting on tape, just waiting to work on that last part.
Bill - Mmm-hmm.
The pilot? Did you have a pilot already or are you still waiting for the color pilot?
Bill - We have the pilot. We have - the color - the color is coming back from Korea uh, today, from uh, so then we have to edit it, and we have to put music and so forth and so on. It'll be ready in about three or four weeks.
So it's like - when is your premiere? When are you -
Bill - September.
Josh - Probably the end of September.
Keith - Whatever that Tuesday is.
Bill - Yeah, Rusty told us last night it was the twenty-third, the last week.
Keith - I think the day's the twenty-second. It's a Tuesday.
Josh - It would normally be on Fridays, but I think they're going to premiere us on Tuesdays, to give us a big to-do.
So, you'll be up against, um, on Fridays -
Bill - Friday at eight, there's not - there's The Hughleys on ABC, there is some sort of news magazine on some other channel - there's what used to be called Ryan Caufield, it's a cop show on FOX. There's - there's nothing else like it.
Josh - Luckily, there's like no other animated show for this audience.
Bill - No show for this audience on at that time.
And you were taking the Tuesday one so - that was where King of the Hill was moved off for Sunday -
Bill - That's just the special -
Josh - That's just for that one night - for the premiere -
Bill - 'cause they're gonna - that's where Buffy is. That's their big show, so I guess they're going to put us on after Buffy.
Um, who's doing your music? Is it Danny Elfman?
Josh - No, we wanted a different - right now we're still meeting with composers for - we want to have a score, you know, during the episode - but we're meeting with - we can't say who it is but they're very - an excellent band to do the - opening theme. And we're working on it with them now, so we can't say who it is - because then it might - they might drop out.
So, you're looking for, like a -
Bill - We're just looking for a regular composer who's just sort of a - who's sort of like Alf Clausen was on The Simpsons, a very versatile guy, works in a lot of different styles - who can give the show a sort of, you know, a "dramatic support" with the music.
Josh - We don't want to have like - "Rock -n- Roll" music underneath -
Bill - Right.
Josh - 'cause that would just seem - tacky.
Bill - And like sorta Saved by the Bell. - We don't want it to be like Saved by the Bell with like, "Weoowww"...
Yeah, you want them to play - standards and things -
Josh - That's why, like, The Simpsons worked so well, because it just had sort of a - traditional - score, and it wasn't - cartoony or anything like that - it just worked - like a movie.
Yeah - I mean, it's sounds like you're trying for a timeless - a timeless feeling that - you've been talking about "dating" it with specific things. After your experience with The Simpsons, do you look more toward - what this is going to look like twenty years from now, on a disc somewhere, and - in some delivery system on-demand?
Bill - Yes, that's a big concern of ours is - a lot of times, people are so - are really driven wild with excitement by tons of pop cultural references, and every episode - like tons of up-to-the-minute pop cultural references - but like, whenever we did those on The Simpsons, you watch those in reruns and you're like - "That's lame!"
Josh - It's really -
Bill - "That joke about Billy Ray Cyrus is - it doesn't seem like it cuts it anymore, y'know?" And so, we *do* - we definitely do pop cultural references, but we try to keep them to a more timeless thing, or a more satirical thing, so that the show will play - - so that the show will not seem dated. And, y'know, that's to some extent the case with the music is: we're trying to find music that - that is not - that is sort of, y'know, an interesting, alternative-rock feel, but is not something that will seem horribly dated, even in three or four years.
Right. Um, do you have catchphrases yet? Have you found any that are - -
Josh - [pauses] We have - some, yes. [grins]
Bill - Kevin - - [turns to Josh] Do you want to talk about it?
Josh - No, you can go ahead.
Bill - Kevin is extremely anal-retentive, and often, and says - it's very hard to explain - it needs its own - it needs its special setup -
Josh - When you see it executed, it will make sense, but he's sort of - a little bit obsessive - - obsessive/compulsive, and he likes to keep orderly - things orderly - and when he's going over things, he has a little phrase he says in his head. He says it out loud to drown out everything else, and it's -- "bling blong".
Bill - When he's checking his homework to make sure he's done all the answers, he just goes like, "bling - - blong -- bling -- blong -- bling -- blong --" And he does it - says it in a variety of different circumstances to drown out distractions, and so forth.
Josh - and he'll also sing it to, like, different tunes.
Bill - Right.
Josh - Like "Bling-bling-bling blinga-blonga-blinga" or whatever.
Bill - [laughs]
Josh - But that's - something that may or may not -
-appear on a T-shirt somewhere?
Bill - Yeah, it - it seems like it would - I mean, people would - if it's the kind of catchphrase that will work with - I think it might work - people might like it. But it wasn't invented really to be a catchphrase. It's more just kind of his character. And other characters have things that they say repeatedly like - - Andy doesn't have a catchphrase, per se, but he often uses this nomenclature of, like, calling people, you know, like "Talentless McMoron" or, he always uses -
Josh - "Blank Mc Blank"
Bill - He always - he says "you're -- Jerky McIdiot" or whatever. He uses this nomenclature of calling people like these fictional names with "Mc" in the middle. And Jim always - Jim always says "AWEsome" or "oKAY" in this really slow, weird monotone, which -um
Josh - But those are more like sort of very charactery things. 'Cause, um, we didn't want to go out and create a catchphrase, because then, it's gonna seem really cheesy, and then it's always the things you don't expect that catch on. So -
Bill - Right. We didn't expect that Jim saying "AWEsome" would be so entertaining, but -
Josh - It's only so great because the actor, Brian Poussain says it so - funnily - that it - we kept writing it in for him.
Bill - Yeah.
Do your -um - like in - I don't know how you - how comfortable you feel about, like, "In The Simpsons..."
Bill - That's all right.
Josh - Sure, that's all we knew for --
It's - it's a cultural reference that you can say, "In The Simpsons..." You had Harry Shearer doing eight or ten voices. Do you have your vocal talent doing six or seven characters?
Josh - Some we do. Some people, like Wally Langham, we chose specifically because he's so perfectly "Andy" - and we always liked him on Larry Sanders and other shows, where he's just naturally funny and has a great, clear, clean voice. So, he's sort of specifically just Andy, and Scott Menville - though he does a couple of different voices, he's really just perfect for Kevin. But we have a couple - a couple of guys who are like our Harry Shearer and Hank Azaria - our Tom Kenny and Nick Jamison, who both do like twenty different voices. And we also have Tress McNeil, who *did* work on The Simpsons and we loved so much that she does a lot of different -
Bill - Yeah, she does a huge variety of the different female voices.
Josh - ..and also teenage boys - she does, as well.
Um, I've seen your artwork style, but I'm trying to - can you compare it to an existing animation style? I'm trying - to me, it looks - to me, it looks something like The Critic, in terms of the line art.
Bill - It doesn't - you know, I think, when you see it in color, in color, moving - it doesn't look like The Critic so much. I mean, there's a little bit of - of similarity in that Loren, who's our head designer, did work on The Critic. But this is - it's more her style. It doesn't really -
Josh - Yeah, 'cause I think -
Bill - Also, the backgrounds, If you look out there [pointing at the hallway] at the few backgrounds we have -
Josh - We should show you the color -
Is this one of them here? [pointing to a watercolor background on a wall]
Bill - No, no.
Josh - No, that was one done by Phil Roman to try to sell - sell us on them. On a computer animation which we didn't like. But we should show you some of the colors, because the colors on the show are so bright and rich, and we can show you a background - - in that way it's totally different from The Critic...
Bill - Yeah, we wanted to - for one thing, I think the designs are pretty different, and also, in terms of the colors - first of all the *backgrounds* are totally different, because they're not watercolored. They're more like these weird, kinda like comic-booky - things, and also, the um -
Josh - That's what's also exciting - the show is sort of - we want it to look like a great - comic book. And it's sort of - we love these alternative sort of realistic, underground comic books. And we want it to have that feel.
Bill - Right.
Josh - And also, part of the show is something no other animated show has done: we use a lot of comic book and cartoon conventions. Like, if Andy and Kevin are fighting, you'll see like - a ball of dust and, like arms and feet sticking out and stuff like that. But we also play on those conventions.
Bill - Like, we have, when somebody looks at something - the dotted line comes out of their eye. And we - we do jokes about that, about -
You mean like thought balloons?
Bill - Yes, things like that. I mean, we try to keep them to like two or three per episode, because we don't want it to seem like - we don't want it to be "Saturday Morning-y" but we kind of use them in a weird, ironic way -
Josh - Also, because a lot of the show is so realistic, that it works really well when you do some weird convention. It helps.
Josh - Yeah.
Do you have a manic opening? I mean - it IS a manic opening?
Bill - [pauses] Yes.
Josh - [pauses, hands on mouth] Yes, we want it to be ... pretty energetic, so people don't fall asleep by the time it starts.
Bill - Yes!
Technical stuff - are you doing this in HDTV at all , or have you planned it on sixteen by nine format, or thinking about it?
Josh - No.
Bill - No, I don't think we're - no, we have not. We have not, because, basically you have to do two different - because of the animation, you have to draw all the backgrounds extra-wide, and it's like - it would take half-again as many people as we have, just to keep up with the extra-wide backgrounds.
Josh - Also, this is one of the last sort of hand-painted animated shows. A lot of people are using computers now - and it just doesn't - you don't get the same quality of color, or line quality, that we have in our show.
Bill - Loren McMullin - she designed our whole show, and she's a great artist that we've known for many years. And she's a director on The Critic and on King of the Hill - directed a lot of their best-looking episodes. And she's in charge of the whole visual style.
Josh - She's sort of - then we have like - individual directors direct episodes, but she's sort of the "head" director.
Guest stars - can you name some of the guest stars you're having this season?
Bill - We have - Jennifer Jason Leigh is our biggest guest star in this first season. And there are - David Clannan from thirtysomething, has the continuing - plays a special guest star in several episodes, because he's the boss for the entire ad agency arc, but I think that's about it.
Keith - Jane Wiedlin?
Bill - What?
Keith - Jane Wiedlin.
Bill - Oh, Jane Wiedlin - but she's a regular. She's a semi-regular, at least. She plays - Jane Wiedlin from the band The Go-Gos plays Gwen, who's Andy's on-again, off-again girlfriend.
Josh - Because, we found out when we were doing the Simpsons, it's like, even if you have like a really big-name guest star, it doesn't necessarily - like, the fans don't really like it unless it's a really good story, and the role is really good. So, when we have like a really good role that doesn't seem right for one of our actors, then we think, "well, is there somebody else?"
Bill - Right. But we're not going out just to try to get a lot of guest stars, because it doesn't seem - - also, because there's so many animated shows now that are doing that. Every week, you know, on King of the Hill and Simpsons, it's always like, they've got so-and-so...
Josh - and that's also something now, especially, that's going to seem very dated. It's like, "here's Mr. Rock Star of the Moment.." and then two months from now- -
It's like having someone from the past.
Wow - we had been chatting more than twenty minutes. This interview was just chugging right along.
I'm sure you've been asked this question ten thousand times - after the success of The Simpsons, is it more difficult, or is it less difficult to go to another series? I mean, when you're doing things, do you feel more pressure having this one to be another Simpsons, or another success? Or do you compartmentalize that?
Bill - Well, we didn't create The Simpsons, so obviously, if this were to be any kind of success, that would be great for us.
Josh - It's more like, I'd say - we were huge Simpsons fans before we worked on the show, and then we worked on the show for almost six years. And it's more - we've *learned* so much from The Simpsons, that - then, we sort of apply a lot of what we learned to this show. Like, in telling stories and creating characters, and that sort of thing.
Bill - One thing about this show - there's certain things that we liked about The Simpsons, that we've always like, and there's certain we didn't like about it. And this show contains all the types of things - like, we really love freeze-frame, background jokes that are just like - things that just go by in the background and you have to have a VCR to see. And this show is loaded with them. Because they take this in a city, and there's probably more -
Josh - Right, like - every store has signs, inside and outside, and there are street signs, and there are funny - we have like a whole pack - we even had someone come up with one hundred different, funny, subway and bus destinations.
Bill - [laughs]
Josh - So, just like when a bus drives by, it'll have a have a funny location -
Bill - Right, they'll always be different. I mean, they're about as funny as that kind of thing can be. They're not going to be laugh riots, but -
Josh - But the whole world is really carefully designed, down to the fact that there's, I think, five different brands of soda, in this world, and like, different characters like different brands of soda, and stuff like that.
Bill - But, that's the kind of thing - and also, in terms of stories - we were really big fans - when we - our biggest - what we were most excited about in The Simpsons was like, in the second and third seasons, we really liked the show when it was very realistic. I mean, it was realistic, but there would be occasional grabs out into absurdity or whatever, like Homer falling off the cliff, or whatever. But then, as the show - even when we were there, the show started to become less realistic, and people would often become very famous for things that would happen like that. So we've - this show is VERY realistic, and we try to keep it to that, because that's what we like. But there's the occasional jab out into craziness. And also, back in the early seasons of The Simpsons, it wasn't - the story was the most important thing, and it wasn't - even - when we were there - by the time we were running it, people were used to "every single line had to be a joke." And we felt that got in the way of telling the stories, and we preferred the episodes from the second and third seasons, where the pace was a little slower. There wasn't a joke every single line. And that's what we're doing. We prefer to let the story breathe, and put the jokes where appropriate, not just trying to cram one into every line.
How many storylines are you running in an episode? Are you having an A-B-C?
Bill - Usually two.
Josh - Two.
Bill - One or two.
Josh - Two. It might be, if it's one, it's usually one that sort of involves all the main characters in one story, and if not, like, we usually - say we have a main Andy story, then we'll have a Kevin 'B' story, or vice-versa. And we also, like The Simpsons, we are branching out into stories of side characters, like Jim or Posey.
Bill - Gus and Wally have - there's a whole Gus and Wally episode in the first thirteen.
A flawless interview, I think. Okay, why not ask a question from the fans?
Why are there so many Minnesotans involved with Single Dad shows? I don't know if you've - like, Mike Farrell - is a single dad. Is - is there something innately - funny about people from Minnesota in terms of single dads?
Bill - I don't know.
Josh - I -
Bill - Neither of us are from Minnesota.
I didn't know if - I had something here that you were from Minnesota.
Josh - No.
Oh, well, I apologize.
Bill - That's okay. We're from Washington, DC.
Josh - That's an interesting question, though.
It was tempting to ask Bill and Josh to record a Krusty-style "I heartily endorse this event or product" ID, but I went with the old familiar chant. Click here to hear Bill and Josh's ID. It's in MP3 format, so if your WAV player doesn't play it right, you really need to update your operating system.
Okay, so the confusion continues. I was reading in a MST3K fan book that says Josh Weinstein was introduced to Joel Hodgson by his high-school buddy and Writer's Block compadre Trace Beaulieu. The three of them write the first season episodes of MST3K for KTMA in Minneapolis. Then, Josh goes to Hollywood to do America's Funniest Home Videos.*
(*At the request of the folks at Satellite News, it should be noted that The Official MST3K FAQ available at www.mst3kinfo.com does not say this in its bio of Josh Weinstein and never has. )
I found an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that seems to point to a grassy-knoll Weinstein, so perhaps this is the clue. Eerily, the OTHER Josh Weinstein has a new show coming out on NBC this fall, Freaks and Geeks. Obviously more mistaken-identities for journalists everywhere.
Me? I'm not going to worry about it. I'm going to watch Mission Hill and see if "bling blong" becomes a catchphrase. You heard it here first.
The year came and went. Mission Hill received the lowest ratings for a network television show since the days of the Dumont network and was pulled off the schedule after just two outings.
Yet the thing wouldn't DIE. It remained in limbo for countless months, hovering on the brink of oblivion. The Official Website went dark. Castle Rock shut down the production office. The WB removed the show from its website. Then, June came and BANG - - the show reappeared on Sunday nights, wrapping up a night of what's known in the trade as "urban comedies," targeted at African-American demographics. This wasn't the target audience for Mission Hill, but at least the show would finally have its unaired episodes broadcast.
I called Bill Oakley, now a consultant for Fox's Futurama, to talk about the (pardon this) re-animation of the French family...
I appreciate your talking with me again. Most of what I've been tracking in the past year has been the fall and rise, and fall and rise of Mission Hill...
Bill - Yes.
I can imagine it must be a difficult situation to be in - - I mean, it's - the show is back on the WB network but it seems to be, for lack of a better word, DOA. I mean, it doesn't seem to be promoted, supported - it just seems to be stuffed off in a back shelf.
Bill - [laughs]
It's great that they had it ON, but - -
Bill - Right - I believe that it's technically known as a "burn-off" and they're just getting rid of their episodes because they've paid all this money for them and they're just using them to fill time. However, you know, there's always the hope that - there have been plenty of shows that have been in that situation that have suddenly taken off - Seinfeld among them -
Bill - And there's always the hope that we will suddenly - that people will come to the show. However, they're certainly not making it easy for people to come to this show, given this timeslot and that the vast majority of people who'd be interested in this show have no idea that it's on.
Yeah, it seems to be that you need secret passwords and stuff to know that it's on.
Bill - Well, I think that's kind of cool in a way! [laughs] I like that, but yes. I mean, the thing is that the ratings are doing - we're actually doing pretty well, in that we're totally incompatible with all the shows that are on around it. It's actually amazing that it's doing as well as it is, given that every single person who wants to watch has to make a special appointment to tune in, and is not going to be a holdover from Jamie Foxx. There's actually some places where we're doing quite well - we're beating all the other shows by a significant margin - but they're mainly like weird, isolated cities.
Yeah, I think you're up against Match Game '77 on the Game Show Network.
Bill - [laughs]
Considering where you guys were a year ago, it doesn't seem like the WB had a lead-in for - you're also a half-hour comedy and the WB doesn't have anything but hour-long drama/comedy mixes.
Bill - Yes, exactly. Not to mention - we attract a lot of young men, and they're not interested in that. For example, last week, believe it or not - we were the number one show on the WB, at least for Sunday night, among men 18-34.
Bill - And last week they did like a record rating for the WB for the whole Sunday night. It's interesting but it's weird because, in terms of the grand numbers, no, we're not doing well - but in terms of these weird specific demographic things we're doing - we're doing pretty well in weird areas, but I don't think they're in areas the WB cares about.
How are sponsors doing? Are they just fall-in sponsors, or - -
Bill - I have no idea. I'm sure they're just sponsors that are - who just said "Give me twenty commercials on the WB, whatever time you have available."
Is there any kind of advertising on the WB for the show? I mean, I haven't seen anything on the network pushing Mission Hill.
Bill - They usually run an ad, as far as I can tell, during Jamie Foxx , and I've heard people say, at least the first week we were back, that they saw an ad during Buffy. But I don't know if they're running it anymore. I mean, they have a lot of stuff they want to push, like Baby Blues and Young Americans, in particular. So, I mean, basically we're just on our own. So, like I said to another journalist, it seems like basically the WB is allowing us to use their transmitters to broadcast the show to our friends. And that's working well because now we don't have to make all these tapes to give to our friends, you know? Now, they can make them themselves.
I guess in one way, it's frustrating, but in another way, since they don't care what you're doing, you can push the envelope and nobody seems to mind.
Bill - Oh yeah, but it's also- we did these shows a long time ago, so we don't have any contact with them at -all-. I mean, like, literally the last phone call we received from them was maybe three months ago, and before that it was like eight months. We've had one phone call with them in pretty much like ten months. So, the shows are all done and we've turned them all in, so - - it's just - they AND we had pretty much written it off, so we're just pleased the show is getting to be seen by its fans. And we do have, based on our website, where we communicate with our fans - - we actually have a newsletter that we send out every week. If you want to get on the newsletter, send us some feedback to the website. Just click on the feedback with your email address. And we send that out every week. We do have about probably at least one hundred fans who are really rabid.
Oh, they do the slow-mo with the episodes on tape - -
Bill - Well, I don't know. I think some of them do that, but the vast majority of them say, "I didn't know this show was ON, and now it's my favorite show!" or "this show could overtake The Simpsons if people just knew about it." But I don't think we can spend our lives agonizing over what could have been, because it's not going to be happening.
I'm trying to figure out how to phrase this question - - how far back did you realize that the show was doomed?
Bill - It was - well, the show was only on for two weeks, as you may have known, and the WB was having a lot of trouble in many different areas. And I think that they became afraid that we were going to kill their whole Friday night, because we were on at eight. Well, the night we premiered was odd because we were on right after Buffy, and there were like six other premieres. And it was partly do to our pushing, because we wanted to be on after Buffy, because that was their most prominent slot. However, there was all this other stuff on at that time, and there was no real promotion for the show, either. And it only aired once in its real timeslot. But it was also - the WB had never broadcast on that night before, and again, we're not really compatible with these other comedies they have.
I read somewhere that it was the lowest rated premiere since the days of the Dumont network.
Bill - Yes, well, I don't know what to say about that. Even if the show - even if everybody in America who would like this show would tune in, it would never be in the top 50, because this show appeals to a very specific demographic, that, you know, likes alternative comic books. If everyone who ever bought an alternative comic book were watching this show, we would still have maybe a 2 or 3 rating.
Right. And things like the WB's coverage - I mean, they don't have WGN anymore, so it's not on a lot of cable systems in different markets. It must be frustrating - when you see these things, they're like your kids, and seeing them out there and nobody's noticing. I mean you still get feedback from people who "get it" - -
Bill - Yes. I mean, in terms of the WB's treatment - - I mean, realistically, you can't expect them to keep on a show that was performing at that level, but they didn't have a place to put it. In fact, they didn't for the rest of the season have any other half-hour timeslots. By the time they finally did, the whole animation boom had come and gone, and everybody was, "animated shows? yuck!"
So, no we're on the tail-side of it, I guess - -
Bill - Well, all we want is - - given that we had accustomed ourselves to the fact that the show was dead, we're very pleased that we're - we have our small fan base of - whatever, we have between - around 2 million viewers and somewhere between 500-1000 fans we communicate with on the Internet. We're pretty pleased with that.
Now, do you have distribution control at all? I mean, once this finishes at the WB, seeing this in another market, or - -
Bill - It's - I think it's possible but there's only thirteen episodes, so, you know, I guess it could go somewhere on cable. It's also being shown overseas, and it's also doing very well in like - in Poland and Hungary it's a big success. [laughs]
Bill - Also we won this award at the International Animation Festival! There was like this festival of all TV animation for the entire world, and we won this award for Best Animated Series for All Audiences.
Bill - So, you know, I think there are an adequate number of people who appreciate the show, but I just don't think there are enough people who know it exists, so I think it will have come and gone quietly.
Well, it'll probably get a lot of touring on borrowed tapes and such.
Bill - Yes.
Now, you've gone over to the Futurama crowd.
Bill - Yes, we're working here for this season, we're consulting.
And do you have other plans on other series with Josh?
Bill - Yeah, we have a couple of things that we're working on, but we don't have anything at the moment, because we're taking a bit of a vacation, as you can imagine. We're working on Futurama a couple of days a week, and the rest of the time we're just - - you know, taking it easy, and relaxing because we really - - honestly, we just finished up Mission Hill, because like, two weeks ago we just finished the last bit of production on it. It's been in production for like three years.
Have you heard from Castle Rock at all?
Bill - No, like I said, nobody calls us anymore! [laughs] Castle Rock really does love the show, and they've been very supportive of it, but they can't really DO anything. They were happy to give us money to keep our website up, and communicate with our fans and so forth, but there really isn't much of anything they can do, either.
So I guess you'll kinda wait it out while the WB does something with it over the summer.
Bill - Right, right.
And I guess it could always - they could always find another slot for it. So I guess you wish it could have been a more commercial success, having "bling-blong" on t-shirts...
Bill - That would have been extremely nice.
But I guess you take the kudos that you can get. And I guess it sounds like you're getting the positive response from people who understood what you were trying to do.
Bill - I guess the ultimate thing was that we didn't expect there would be so FEW people who would understand what we were doing! [laughs] I think I said this to someone else before: we expected that people would GET the show a lot more than they did. On the other hand, I think only three million people have even heard of the show. So, it's a matter of - - the people that would like this show don't watch that much TV, and they certainly don't watch the WB. So it was kind of a strange thing.
Bill gave me a new ID Click here to hear Bill's new ID.
You can visit the Official Site by clicking here.
Update on the Update!
Okay, I interviewed Bill on the 18th - - then, on the 19th, the WB decides on pulling the plug yet AGAIN on Mission Hill! Here's what Bill and Josh announced on the 19th:
Yesterday, the WB network cancelled "Mission Hill." Again, and for the last time. From what we have heard, the show won't even air this Sunday. Instead, you'll find a rerun of "For Your Love" in our slot...
We're obviously upset that this happened right as it seemed people were catching onto "Mission Hill." Although the ratings remained low, they had been picking up significantly in many cities (including Los Angeles) and, based on the feedback we've been receiving at the website, we had finally begun to attract the attention of the audience we were meant for -- despite our lousy time slot and complete lack of advertising and promotion.
We want to thank every one of you personally for taking the time to send us feedback and visit our website, and in particular, we owe our gratitude to those of you who went out of your way to promote the show, email friends, put up stickers, and help spread the word about the "Mission Hill." We won't forget you.
In the future, Mission Hill may come back on cable, or perhaps even as a comic book. Also, if Warner Bros. won't release videos or DVD's (we're already lobbying), we will bootleg the tapes and sell them from our web site. Furthermore, you'll be able to get the scripts and storyboards of the five fantastic episodes that will never be animated.
If anything develops, we'll inform you through this e-mail list and through the site. Keep checking www.missionhill.net We'll keep it running.
Again, our deepest thanks to all of you for your support.
Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein
Creators and Executive Producers, "Mission Hill"
So, that's the end of Mission Hill? We'll see.