HISTORY

Compiled by John Pannozzi

As writer Paul Dini recalls, Terry Semel, president of Warner Bros. during the 1980s and 1990s, came up with an idea for an animated TV series.

“He was looking for a way to inject new life into the Warners animation department, which had been going along fine in releasing the old cartoons with Bugs and Daffy. The subject of new animation came up with the classic characters, and at the same time, they were pursuing the idea of doing something with junior versions of Looney Tunes characters. Either baby versions of Bugs and Daffy and Porky, or else their sons, daughters, nephews and offspring. What eventually happened was, after calling Steven Spielberg into the picture, they decided to do younger versions of similar types of characters, but not a direct relation. They’re not really linked by family; more by species and tradition. Once it was decided that that’s the way they were going, there was development done on Tiny Toons [originally called “Tiny Tunes”] as a feature, in conjunction with Amblin.”

Jean MacCurdy, then vice-president and general manager of Warner Bros. Animation, said that “The idea started- and it started before I got here-out of conversations with Dan Romanelli [head of licensing for Warners], Terry Semel and Steven. It was in the feature division for two years, in development there, and they finally decided that the best initial format would be television.”

The decision to make Tiny Toons into a TV series was made in December of 1988. As Tom Ruegger recalls, “Warner Bros. had a fairly sleepy animation division in 1989, when Terry Semel and Steven Spielberg got together and decided to make a syndicated afternoon cartoon show. They went to Jean, head of their sleepy animation division, and asked her what company they should hire to make their little show. Jean said, why hire some company? We can make the show ourselves. ‘Really?’ they said. Yup, said Jean. So they let Jean run with it. And Tiny Toons was the result. The division wasn’t sleepy anymore. The show was announced at MIP [MIPCOM is the world's audiovisual content market], I believe, in Cannes . It was called “Tiny Tunes” at that early announcement, and for Cannes there was a Mitch Schauer-drawn version of a young Bugs, leaning out of a set of WB cartoon rings. If you can believe it...they were calling this character Bitsy. This name made me cringe.”

Jean MacCurdy, who in the past had worked for Warners as Director of Animation Programming and worked with Friz Freleng, hired producer Tom Ruegger, who at the time was at Hanna-Barbera show-running “A Pup Named Scooby-Doo”. As Ruegger recalled, “The next day [after Jean called], I asked Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera if they would let me out of my contract. I wanted the chance to work with Steven and at Warners, so they let me go. I was packed up and out of there by the end of the day.

"The next day, I started working at Warners. My first hires were Alfred Gimeno and Ken Boyer [although Boyer recalls that Gimeno was hired a while later], both of whom started drawing up characters. I had my first meeting with Steven on the following day, and we went over characters, concepts and stories. Jean was there too. It was that first meeting when we came up with Acme Looniversity [the school where the Looney Tunes gang teach young cartoon characters] and Acme Acres [the city where the Looney Tunes and Tiny Toon characters live] as the settings. The name was changed to Tiny ‘Toons’. We reviewed what characters would be involved (junior versions of the classic Looney Tunes), but none of the names were figured out yet. Babs was the first character added to the mix. Elmyra’s name came from the first name of my next door neighbor.”

“Our feeling was that there’s a demand from the audience to have a certain world that you can emotionally tie into,” MacCurdy explains. “If you bounced around too much and did a different show every day, it wouldn’t have the value of giving them a home base. But we tried to give ourselves as much leeway as we could with the setting, and that’s why within Acme Acres, anything and everything is possible. We do take them to cartoony versions of real areas. But most stories take place in Acme Acres.”

Tiny Toons’s development went smoothly along, as Ruegger recalled. “After that meeting, with more to go on, I hired Wayne Kaatz, Tom Minton, Eddie Fitzgerald and a few other writers to start exploring the characters and the story concepts. Jim Reardon came on early, and Wayne Katz recommended a friend of his, Sherri Stoner, who came on board just after we finished series development [late in 1989] and started actually writing our first scripts. By then, Jean and I had hired our unit directors, who included Art Vitello, Art Leonardi, Eddie Fitzgerald and Ken Boyer.”

In March of 1989, MacCurdy hired Paul Dini as a staff writer. “They were still in the process of naming and creating some characters,” Dini relates. “I worked with them a little bit on honing the characters and then took over as story editor shortly thereafter.”

As Ruegger recalled, “Since we were doing junior versions of the classic characters, it was a fairly straight-forward process. We didn’t spend too much time working on characters that we had no intention of using. Montana Max, our variation on Yosemite Sam, was one of the toughest to complete. Steven finally had us come over to Amblin to screen “Tobacco Road”, a 40’s movie with a real hicky, goofy son in it. That character’s teeth made it into Montana Max’s final design.

"We had younger versions of other classic characters…Barky Marky was our junior version of Marc Anthony, he made it into very few cartoons. Chuck Jones was not particularly enthusiastic for us to use too much of the characters he felt that he had created. So there was never a lot of Little Beeper and Calamity [the students of the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote], or Barky. We felt more justified using Fifi, since she was a girl character, as opposed to Pepe. At that time, in the news, the pit bull had become well-known as a fierce breed, and we wanted to establish a sizable heavy for Furrball [the student of Sylvester], so we went with the pit bull. The Arnold voice was provided by Rob Paulsen, who was our utility infielder on Tiny Toons, and was to become one of the big voice stars on Animaniacs. Of course, the pit bull evolved and appeared as a heavy in other cartoons featuring other Tiny Toon characters.

"We liked the name ‘Mary Melody’. She was a very late add to the mix, and didn’t receive any character development. She basically filled the role of "Nice Generic Human Girl," and we used her when we needed a sympathetic and warm human character...as opposed to Montana Max and Elmyra, who oozed very limited sympathy. When Babs and Fifi and Shirley the Loon came into better focus and could carry a great deal of the feminine appeal of the show, we had very little need for Mary Melody.” Ruegger also claims that Mary was not based on So White from the unofficially banned Warner Bros. cartoon “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs”.

Ruegger continues, “As for Shirley, we wanted Plucky to have a female counterpart, and we wanted her to be quirky and strange, so the New Age movement lent itself to her character development. Gail Matthias provided Shirley's voice with her definitive ‘Valley Girl’ voice which she created and used on Saturday Night Live. Gail was the first and best at the Valley Girl sound, and we were very fortunate to land her in the role. In the drawings for Shirley, I pushed for a loon design...which we didn't really achieve. But the loon name stuck, and Shirley the Loon, as a name, matched up with her New Age persona.

"We had trouble getting some of the designs through, so when he liked one, we went with it. An even bigger problem was getting the names cleared through the legal department. ‘Plucky’ was probably the twelfth name we tried to get clearance on for the duck. The cat's name took forever. Maybe the twentieth name. It got so desperate I wanted to kill the cat off...or name it LEUKEMEOW and get rid of it in the second episode. I can tell you that Babs was ‘Babs’ from the first drawing we did of her. It jumped out as her name and it stuck. There was something cheeky about the name and the character. Plucky and Hamton went through massive name changes until we found the ones that were greenlit. We were writing scripts for them and recording them before we came up with their final names.”

Early names considered for Plucky were “Duck Amuck” (after the Daffy Duck cartoon of the same name) and “Mucky Duck”; Hamton was almost called “Hamlet”; the names “Puddy Tat” and “Alley Tat” were considered for Furrball; and Fowlmouth, who was inspired by Foghorn Leghorn, was early on called “Giblet”.