November 27th, 2002

smokin'

Welcome to Eltingville

In response to a few comments/questions on the pilot, some random thoughts about the show not getting picked up and whatnot. It's going to be pretty off the cuff, so if it runs long, my apologies in advance:

We first got a hint of what was to come when a Cartoon Network executive began referring to the pilot as a "special", which I took to mean, "failed pilot". It was months before the pilot aired, and it pretty much sounded the death knell, in my paranoiud mind, for the project. Mind you, I was happy we got the pilot made. In all honestly, we still haven't been told why the show failed, and we're still not fully aware of the opinions of some key higher-ups regarding the pilot's merits or performance or the reaction it received from viewers. The few media reviews we received were, surprisingly enough, uniformly positive. Of course, with little time to promote the premiere, the reveiews were scarse, a wider reaction would have obviously been more mixed. The fan reaction we saw seemed very strong and largely supportive, but of course, that doesn't necessarily reflect the opinions of the entire viewership. We're not sure how many people actually saw the show, we've only heard rumors as to the actual ratings (and we heard nothing as to what would have been considered "good", or even "respectable" numbers for the show) but we're happy that everytime it airs more people write us about it, and more people post about it on-line (and then argue about it). We've seen people upload the show to newsgroups, we've seen people buy tapes of the show on e-bay, and that's pretty gratifying, as it means some folks really enjoyed it. It was extrememly gratifying to see the pilot garner a similar reaction that the comics first received -- namely, fans fighting over the material, and in general acting exactly like the characters in the Club. From what I've gathered, those who didn't like the pilot were either bored by it, upset by what it said about fandom, found it largely unfunny, or just hated it (citing the unlikeable characters, the yelling, and the amount of references used in the episode. Also saying that geek/fandom jokes were old hat and that I ripped off Kevin Smith, which kills me, as the show's based on material from 1994 and I've never even seen one of his movies, fer chrissakes!). Some folks loved the trivia sequence, some thought it went on way too long. I was aware of the pitfalls of the trivia-off, but decided to stay faithful to the Boba Fett strip, and go full barrel with it. Further episodes would have toned down the references, opened up the characters more, introduced the families of the Club, and relied less overtly on pop culture references as springboards for plots. I may have made a mistake choosing the Boba Fett strip as the basis of the pilot, because so many folks were simply turned off by the Club's behavior in the epsiode (although I maintain that Jerry comes off as sympathetic). It's something I truly agonized over when developing the pilot script -- but the reaction to that particular strip was very strong and I really thought it would work as a stand-alone episode if we never got to do any other shows. I know now that I made some serious mistakes on the script -- overdoing some sequences, not controlling the pace as well as I could have, being overly aggressive and not giving the viewers enough characterization. I refer to that now as "Pilot-itis", and the fact is, if you look at most shows or comics or strips, they usually start out somehwat creaky and then eventually, if given time, get it right, figure out what works and what doesn't, which characters shine and which don't. I think the second episode of Eltingville would have been tighter, funnier, and a hell of a lot better than the pilot. I'm very harsh on the pilot, I hated it for a long time and still wish I could rewrite it, but it's our baby, warts and all, and I think it has it's moments. I'm pleased with everything everyone else did on the show -- the board, the direction, animation, music, voice acting, color design. theme songs -- I'm even fairly satisfied with my character and background designs. Only my script needed to be punched up, I can't blame anyone but myself. I have nothing bad to say about the people we worked with at the Cartoon Network, I can't piss and moan about the "man" to cover up my mistakes. They gave us the tools to make the show and we did the best we could. It was a positive experience and a learning experience, they gave us a tremendous amount of freedom, and they were very supportive.

Anyway, as far as the pilot's failure goes, as I said, we never received an official death notice, no one even really came out and said that it just wasn't happening. It was just implied, and eventually taken as a given, and was then fact. It was really weird, really, it was like a relative had died and no one was allowed to mention her name or what happened. I can't say what killed the potential for a series -- maybe the Network didn't like the finished product, maybe the viewer reaction was poor or negative, maybe finances played a part. (We did have an early hint that perhaps the show wouldn't fly because of money matters, given that WTE was a fully-animated half hour show done for a late night Sunday slot that didn't warrant such an expensive outing -- and the Time/AOL financial situation that developed while we were in production couldn't have helped our cause any). It might just be that people didn't like WTE. We're not tight with too many people in animation or at the Cartoon Network, we don't have an agent or manager to dig around, all we know is that Eltingville just didn't make the grade.

People often ask about what we would have done with the series if it continued, and I already mentioned how we planned to approach further shows. We also would have punched up the roles of the two smallest kids -- Bill's sister, Jane, and Ward Willoughby, both of whom garnered a decent response from viewers who wished they had more to do in the pilot. I really liked those two characters (I should have probably used them more in the pilot) and would have designed more material for them. The hope was that Eltingville would evolve into more than a pop culture joke show, with a large cast and a somewhat tight continuity (which wouldn't be needed to enjoy a particular episode). I wanted to document a period in the lives of the Club as they left high school and eventually drifted apart, and beyond that I wanted to explore what pop culture means to America and why it's practically become our culture. And delve into unbalanced social relationships, between families, friends who tear each other apart, etc. I now firmly believe -- in hindsight of course -- that I over-thought the show, to the detriment of the pilot episode. The bible was 40 pages long, we mapped out the town, we developed all the families and neighbors and shopkeepers in the area, and I worked up about 25 episode plots, ten of which I could have started writing immediately if given the go-ahead (Some of these unused plots might see the light of day in some form in the wrap-up strip of the Club planned for the one-shot I'm working on for next year). I spread my ideas too thin and should have tightened up the first script, it needed more jokes, stronger jokes, better pacing and less introduction material. I definitely felt intimidated and nervous while writing the first script, I would hope a second one would have been free from those inhibitions.

Anyway, sorry if I'm rambling, sorry this is so long, this isn't Citizen Kane we're talking about. I've just got Eltingville on the mind after some mail came in on the repeat, and after reading the comments here. I had also (despite my better judgement) checked out some posts on boards and whatnot from people who had seen the pilot for the first time on Sunday. It was interesting to be able to read the comments in a fairly detached manner. When the pilot first aired some of the scathingly negative and nasty comments really hurt -- the show was, after all, several years of my life and you want people to like what you give birth to (even if it is a little ugly and screwed up). But I'm pretty much at peace with what Eltingville accomplished, what it failed to accomplish, what people thought of it and most importantly, what I think of it. It wasn't art, it wasn't important, we didn't hit a home run, but I think we got an over the fence double. I think we could have hit a few home runs once we got past the pilot, but you take your shot, and you see what happens. if we're lucky, we'll get another shot at something like this. If not, we have a lot more at bats with our comics.