Today, Scoobanatics, I talk with Lane Raichert about his time on A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. Mr. Raichert worked as a writer and story editor for the first three seasons, and was also promoted to producer on the second and third.
You're about to learn all of this, anyway, so there's not much need for me to say anymore, so without further ado, I present to you:
An Interview With... Lane Raichert.
Scoobypedia: How did you get your start in the animation business?
Raichert: When I was 17, a family friend, Hanna-Barbera staff writer Doug Booth, was kind enough to offer me a tour of the studio back when I was visiting California. Doug showed me around, introduced me to workers in the trenches, everybody was super nice, and then I left. I thought that was the end of it: a lovely, generous day.
A couple days later, to my great surprise, Tex Avery and Chuck Couch, under Margaret Loesch, wanted to try me out on staff, hiring me into the local 839 animation union's apprentice system. I gratefully said yes, then moved from Minnesota to learn old school storyboarding under two old masters, one from WB and the other from Disney. The animation gods were kind to me from day one.
On my tour, I had brought along this big Red Book of blank pages that I had filled with inked cartoons and stupid gags just in case anyone wanted to see, but really, I was just there on a fluke because I was an art nerd interested in animation. I had zero idea that it was going to be any kind of a job interview.
Tex and Chuck were running an experimental creative group inside the studio at the time where we made TV shows the way they made theatrical shorts back in the 40s: we'd start with a premise, get that approved by the network, then go straight to storyboards, no scripts. Nowadays, lots of shows produce episodes this way, but back in 1980 at HB it was a rare and novel production model, mostly looked down upon by the script-centric Saturday Morning production professionals of the day: premise > outline > script > storyboard.
The script-centric production path was quicker (i.e. cheaper) to produce with less changes down the line, sure, but sometimes those assembly line shows took a hit in visual quality: especially if that show was more dependent on visual gags or kinetic timings.
Scoobypedia: How did you become story editor of A Pup Named Scooby-Doo? And what did that entail?
Raichert: In those days, the capable Jean MacCurdy was in charge of overseeing studio writing staffing (and many other high level studio tasks). At one of the weekly writing staff meetings they told all of us that Tom Ruegger was going to be producing this new show and that if any of us were interested in story editing to let them know. After a couple weeks, I noticed oddly that no one had volunteered. Usually roles like that were gobbled up quickly. Even back then, Tom had a reputation for being, let's say passionate, so—I'm guessing—some people weren't eager to jump into that kind of excitement. I didn't mind the heat in the kitchen, so I walked into Jean's office and said I'd be willing to do it. She seemed relieved, thanked me with a big hug, then we moved forward getting everybody's blessings.
I had recently worked with the impressive Bill Matheny on a couple other HB projects and asked ABC if we could bring Bill onboard as story editor too. He's one of the funniest (funnier than me by far) and most talented writers that I have ever worked with and thought he would really add to the show. Jennie Trias at ABC was supportive of my request and that started a rich period between Bill and I (and later Laren Bright) collaborating on and off together on a few fun projects together at HB— Addams Family being probably our little team's other most productive and creatively satisfying (for me at least) effort after Pup.
When Bill and I first met on how to approach Pup editorially, we discovered that we shared a similar humor on how ridiculous many of the Scooby-Doo tropes had been over the years. So we decided it might work to make fun of ourselves and exaggerate those themes and tropes rather than take ourselves as seriously. That eventually grew into our general writing style on A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. We were also inheriting Tom's team's terrific development work and their first few stories, which were already approved and some in production, so we wanted to merge into that existing material as naturally as possible.
Under HB's production system, we story editors were simply responsible for getting scripts made and approved. Once they were stamped "FINAL" then the producer and their teams would take it from there. The only real duties Bill and I had after the scripts were final would be to sit in on recording sessions and view final footage just to make sure no important network or creative directions were lost in transit to screen.
Scoobypedia: Scooby Dude was your third "Just Say No"-type story (after a couple of Flintstones Kids ones), where the skate park owner turned out to be a drug user. How did this episode come about and was there any creative input from outside forces?
Raichert: My memory is a bit fuzzy on this particular episode, and maybe ABC had asked us to try and do an "anti-drug" episode, I don't remember, but I believe "Scooby Dude" was just another story that developed internally and naturally. Back then, all 4 Networks were always interested in what they called "pro-social content," so whenever we could find natural ways to fold that into the recipe, they appreciated it. I don't remember any special involvement or outside consultant input the way we had on the FK Just Say No Special.
Scoobypedia: As I said above about Flintstone Kids having two similar themes, the first being a regular episode about smoking and another with drugs, which was a half-hour special with the Michael Jackson parody. How did the special come about?
Raichert: From my understanding, it was an ABC Children's Programming pro-social initiative: they got the approval and budget to do a prime time special in association with the Just Say No Foundation. And of course, HB was happy to fill any production orders from any network for any show.
Scoobypedia: When Tom Ruegger left to work on Tiny Toons, you were left in charge of running the show. Were you personally chosen by him or was this a studio decision?
Raichert: I wouldn't say I or any HB producer in those days "ran" the show inside that old HB production system. It was more of a shared production line, with the studio assigning collaborating supervisors to oversee the 2 main areas of the conveyer belt: story (scripts) and production (everything else). Hanna-Barbera's production model back then was less creator-driven than how many studios do it today. If anything, network executives and story editors ran the shows more than the producers at HB. (Tom was, after all, an ABC-approved story editor prior to producing Pup. Also, I'm sure Bill and I made lots of writing choices that Tom would not have done had he been overseeing script approvals.
(It's interesting to side note that in Hanna-Barbera's Henry Ford production line system of cartoon production, we story editors rarely even met with the directors who timed out our episodes. Directors were often outside freelancers hired out per episode; very different than the directors today who are usually the full time creative hubs and "souls" of most shows.)
Being that Tom was quitting HB to go work at a competing studio, it was more of a network and studio call as to who would fill Tom's now empty position. That said, Tom was still innovating inside the old system and was bringing lots of great new ideas to the franchise and how to run the show more holistically than what was traditionally practiced at HB, so we all appreciated and respected Tom's opinion on how to best pass the baton in his absence.
Tom and ABC were supportive of me filling his producer shoes on Pup, the studio less so. The HB studio production heads (Bill Hanna and Jayne Barbera) were understandably apprehensive of me because this was my first outing as producer (and I was so young, 26). The studio probably didn't want to make waves with ABC, so they reluctantly gave me the keys to the family car. But we did alright, and after a successful season coming in under budget, I started to earn some trust from the seasoned veterans on the production side.
One advantage to our smooth transition was Bill Matheny who had already story edited an entire season and our entire production crew with one year already under our belts; pros like Scott Jeralds, Victoria McCollum, Glen Kennedy, Jimmy Hickey, Deane Taylor, the Iverson family editorial team, Gordon Hunt's amazing VO team and talented cast, John Debney, and the rest of the production crew who had laid such solid foundations and always came through in a crunch. A Pup Named Scooby- Doo was a shining example of how good shows generally happen because of good crews.
Scoobypedia: Why were Fred's parents absent throughout the series?
Raichert: No special reason, it just worked out that way. I'm sure we would have gotten around to featuring them if we had been given more episodes. Mr. and Mrs. Jones would have been towering oddballs in a fun episode no doubt. Maybe Jones was a plain name they took to disguise themselves from the government which we all know is run by aliens? We may never know. :)
Scoobypedia: Were there any requests from Casey Kasem for Shaggy to be a vegetarian?
Raichert: Not that I know of.
Scoobypedia: Each season was shorter than the last. Do you know why this was?
Raichert: I think it was simple economics: ABC trying to squeeze the most value out of their finite programming dollars. Shows that aired on reruns still pulled in some numbers, and if they added few new shows into a rerun mix, it would help bring some attention and sizzle back to the schedule—especially at the start of the season during the ratings sweeps when numbers carried the most economic punch. A Pup Named Scooby-Doo was running when that whole industrial age broadcast business model (broadcasters licensing shows from IP owners) was slowly dying. The new model (IP owners airing their own shows)—I think is fair to say—has generally outcompeted that old model.
Scoobypedia: The internet can't decide whether Pup ran for 3 or 4 seasons (or even on episode order),and while Warner Home Video did label them as 4 seasons, they aren't entirely reliable in how they release Scooby on DVD. Could you clarify the amount of seasons HB were ordered to work on by ABC?
Raichert: As far as I can tell, IMDb has the episodes and years posted correctly: 4 seasons. (And yeah, I wouldn't lean on DVD releases for any kind of historical accuracy; those retail projects are sometimes overseen completely by marketing departments who sometimes never even talk to the original teams and seem to have no opposition to mixing up episode orders or even deleting shows from collections.)
Pup's seasons were:
- Season 1 = 13x half hours
- Season 2 = 8x half hours
- Season 3 = 3x half hours
- Season 4 = 3x half hours
Sometimes, in seasons 3 and 4, there were more than one episode that made up the half hour. Tom produced Season 1, I produced Seasons 2 and 3 (I was on HB staff from July 7, 1980 to July 7 1990), and Craig Zukowski produced Season 4. Bill worked on all the seasons, I did not work on Season 4 at all.
Scoobypedia: At ABC, Scooby was redone almost every year before Pup. When it came to the end of Pup, did HB or ABC show any interest in doing another Scooby series?
Raichert: HB was always interested in doing any series at any time, Scooby or not, so a big yes on that. Remember, back then, HB was almost exclusively a seller, they very rarely made their own programming decisions. HB would have done Scooby every year forever given the chance, but they were almost completely dependent on broadcast buyers to fund each and every production. I left HB staff in 1990, so I don't know what was on the drawing board over there, but I'm guessing they were pitching Scooby all the time to potential buyers until they officially shut their doors.
As far as ABC goes, what I had heard was that they had creatively and programmatically wanted to air Pup for another season, but that HB had essentially offered them an economic offer on Dark Water that was hard to refuse. So ABC, with limited programming dollars, had to make a decision: air 13 episodes of Dark Water for next to nothing, or pay full price for more Pup episodes. Clearly, they could use those programming dollars elsewhere and they did. It was sad for us Pup fans, but it does makes sense from ABC's economic point of view: they only have so many slots that they can fill every year. (Another example of licensed toy properties outcompeting original programming in that era's changing market.)
In a way, Dark Water killed A Pup Named Scooby-Doo's next season. That's ironic considering that I had eagerly worked on writing some of those first 5 Dark Water episodes having no idea it would shorten Pup's chances for more episodes.
(Side note: Speaking of changing business models, one aspect that excited me about working on Dark Water was how the powers that be finally let me write episodically—something I had been evangelizing for years, but most programmers back then were of the school that continuing stories spread out over several TV episodes "wouldn't work." My how things have changed.)
Scoobypedia: Between Pup and the other Scooby series you continued working on as an artist in the Warner Bros. era, is there a particular favourite incarnation you worked on?
Raichert: Not really, they each have their strengths and shortcomings. I enjoyed the old school vibe of Zombie Island and I thought some of the writing and VO performances in Be Cool, Scooby-Doo was interesting and well done.
Scoobypedia: Did you have a favourite character out of the gang to work on?
Raichert: As for writing, it's impossible to pick one. Maybe Pup's version of Freddy, because we made him so cheerfully insane, though Daphne was also always a treat. As far as storyboarding, I definitely find Shaggy the most fun to draw and pose out.
Scoobypedia: Would you have liked to continue writing for Scooby?
Raichert: Creatively, yes, I miss them like the old friends that they are. But it's been good to branch out and make rich and satisfying new imaginary friends on other shows and projects (probably ReBoot and Addams Family and Cel Damage being my other top favorites up there with Pup), so I have no complaints.
Scoobypedia: In closing, is there anything new you've worked on you would like to plug?
Raichert: Yes, thank you: I'm currently working on my own epic gothic science fiction book series that has little to nothing to do with Scooby, other than maybe a couple Easter eggs. :) Release dates still TBD. I'll have a website or something someday when the pie is baked and ready to taste.
Thank you tremendously to Lane for taking the time to respond to these. You can check his website at here and follow him on Twitter, where his handle is @LaneRaichert.
And a big thank you to Muddlemore (@ConradTerminus) for assisting.
Goodbye, for now!