Today's guest is Tom Ruegger, who you may have heard of him as the creator of Warner Bros. Animation's Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, and Hysteria, among others. But what we're talking about today is Tom's work on 80s Scooby-Doo, including his own series, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo.
So without further ado, An Interview With... Tom Ruegger. (Questions will be as Scoobypedia, answers will be as TR.)
Scoobypedia: How did you did you get into the biz?
TR: I drew cartoons as a kid. I loved Warner Bros. cartoons, Hanna-Barbera cartoons. I would lay down on the rug in front of the TV and draw what I was watching. Yogi, Huck, Bugs, Daffy, Popeye. My parents encouraged my drawing abilities.
In highschool and college, I drew editorial cartoons for the school newspapers. I attended Metuchen High School and then Dartmouth College where I majored in English.
Dartmouth at that time had a Film Studies Program led by Maurice Rapf, who wrote some Disney animated feature films including "Song of the South." He encouraged me to pursue animation. At Dartmouth, I applied for a grant from the Arthur and Lillie Mayer Foundation to make an animated cartoon entitled “The Premiere of Platypus Duck.” I won the grant and took about two years to complete the film.
After graduation, I led the Dartmouth Film Society for a year, then went home to New Jersey and tried to break into the New York City advertising business. At that time, I also worked construction for my brother Jim Ruegger's company, Hillside Construction.
Then, with the help of my dad and mom, I got a car, gathered together my animated film and portfolio, and drove to Los Angeles in search of work in animation. Bill Hanna gave me my first job as an assistant animator -- a one month trial period. I survived the trail and stayed in the animation department on staff at H-B for two years. I assisted many great legendary animators like Volus Jones, Dave Tendlar, Carlo Vinci, Kenny Muse and many others. After about a year, I was promoted to animator.
During these two years, I worked on animated series including "Godzilla," "Jana of the Jungle," "Superfriends," "The New Fred and Barney Show" and "Scooby-Doo."
Scoobypedia: Did you have any experience watching Scooby-Doo before working on it? If so, what's it like watching it then having to work on it? (Or if not Scooby than any of the other Hanna-Barbera shows you watched as a kid.)
TR: I never watched “Scooby” until I was asked to write an episode in 1982. Then I watched a bunch of them.
When I was young, I was a huge fan of Hanna-Barbera cartoons. I never missed "The Huckleberry Hound Show," "Quick Draw McGraw" and "Yogi Bear." They ran weeknights at 6:30 PM in syndication. They were new when I was a kid so that gives you an idea of my age.
I drew all the characters constantly and had drawings and posters of them on my bedroom walls. The H-B characters were easier to draw than most Disney and Warner Bros. characters, which added to their appeal for me.
Scoobypedia: Your first job on a Scooby project was as animator on Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo in 1979, then in 1983 and the few years after that, you were story editor and writer. How did that change take place?
TR: I was assistant-animating and animating at Hanna-Barbera up to 1980, when HB started shipping some animation work overseas to James Wang and Cuckoo's Nest in Taiwan.
Seeing the writing on the wall (diminishing animation opportunities in LA), I spent the Christmas layoff writing a spec animation script and then sent it around to the various cartoon studios in town. Arthur Nadel, the head of the story department at Filmation, read it, called me in, and along with Lou Scheimer, gave me a job as a writer at Filmation. I stayed there on staff for over 2 years and wrote stories and scripts for "Flash Gordon," "Hero High," "Blackstar," "Tarzan," "The Lone Ranger," "Zorro" and "Gilligan's Planet." The last thing I did there was to develop the "He-Man" series and write the bible for it.
At that point, Jim Ryan, a former "Fat Albert" writer who was working at H-B writing Scooby scripts (among other things), told me H-B was looking for writers. I interviewed with Joe Barbera who told me about some Yogi ideas he was working on. Apparently, I listened correctly because he offered me a job on the spot. I started there the following week, and shared an office with Hank Saroyan who was story editing on "Scooby."
My first assignment was on "The Gary Coleman Show," an animated series in which Gary was an angel.
Not long after that, Hank had me write an 11-minute "Scooby" episode ("No Sharking Zone"), which the network (Jenny Trias, Ame Simon) liked, and then Hank convinced everyone to make me the series story-editor because he wanted to pursue some other H-B projects.
That weekend, I took home videos of every episode of "Scooby-Doo" that I could find at the studio and watched them all. By Monday, I was a Scoobyphile. ("Rhat's right, Raggy!")
So that’s how I became the story-editor for "Scooby Doo."
Scoobypedia: You seemed to be have been hired for the shows between 1983-1986, only after someone else had the idea for them, yet clearly you had such a large role in scripting it all, and by the final year on 13 Ghosts, you were associate producer. How much of them did you contribute to, percentage-wise?
TR: During 1983 and 1984, I was the studio's "Scooby" story guy. I worked with other writers like Charlie Howell, George Atkins, Gene Ayres and John Ludin to come up with funny premises and scripts.
While I led the story area, I was not invited to participate in the storyboarding process and rough cuts, which were supervised at first by Art Scott and George Singer and later by Kay Wright. Kay actually encouraged me to become more involved in the non-story aspects of the show, which I greatly appreciated.
Bill Perez was the title designer for the two main title sequences of the 1983 and 1984 versions of "Scooby." I clashed creatively with Bill on these titles, feeling they didn't do the series justice. But Bill had been doing title designs at H-B for over 15 years at this point, and he had a lock on this arena.
I made such a nuisance of myself on this issue that when "13 Ghosts" came along, the powers-that-be capitulated. Mitch Schauer, the brilliant artist, director and series producer, was allowed to design, board and direct the main title sequence for the series he created, "The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo." Two years later, Scott Jeralds and I were allowed to design the main title for "A Pup Named Scooby-Doo."
IMO, these main titles were a big improvement.
Scoobypedia: When Daphne was brought back for The New Scooby and Scrappy Doo Show, the entire format was changed back to a mystery one, that had two segments for each half hour, except for the last couple that were full length. Why was there suddenly an exception to those two?
TR: I sold the network on a couple of longer stories with bigger plots -- with guest stars like Freddy, Velma and Scooby's relatives ("Happy Birthday, Scooby-Doo," Wedding Bell Boos!," "The Nutcracker Scoob"). The success of these longer episodes helped set the stage for Jenny Trias, Squire Rushnell and ABC giving us a green light to pursue the half-hour format for "The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo."
My biggest "Scooby" regret:
Allowing "Happy Birthday, Scooby-Doo" to be broadcast with Freddy's last name said to be "Rogers" rather than "Jones." The recording team and producers might have caught it, but I wrote it into the script, so it's my bad. And I knew better! I knew their last names!
By the way, the lousy "proscenium arch" staging of "The Nutcracker Scoob" storyboard was a turning point for me at H-B. When I went to the series producer George Singer with my suggestions on how to fix the storyboard -- which was almost entirely in long shots -- he told me to keep my nose out of his business. He made zero effort to improve the storyboard.
If you watch this episode, you'll see that it's virtually a stage play, with no character coming within 30 feet of the camera. (It was also painted with an early version of H-B's computer coloring process which rendered lots of shots on soft focus.) So the episode looks pretty bad. For me, "The Nutcracker Scoob" was a huge disappointment, since the cartoon could have been a great holiday episode if it had been done with an iota of care.
After this cartoon, I made sure that I had a say in the look and production of the cartoons I wrote on, and the network backed me up. So, on "13 Ghosts," I became the associate producer as well as story editor, and on "Pup," I was producer. Of course, on "13 Ghosts," Mitch Schauer was the producer, so I had no reason for concern about the visual quality of the show. Mitch was and is a masterful artist, producer and director.
Scoobypedia: Was there any discussion to just bring back the original format of just Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Velma, and Daphne? Because it seemed like HB and ABC were beating around the bush with those New Scooby-Doo Mysteries episodes that had the "special appearances by" Fred & Velma.
It seemed like maybe they were only going half way because they wanted some of that original formula, but were hesitant to turn it into a regular series again, because they were stuck on the belief that the original premise of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! still needed "fixing."
TR: I think the network liked the 11-minute format there for a while, and adding Velma and Fred would just make those smaller stories too crowded with characters.
Scoobypedia: Once Scrappy had done his job securing success once again for Scooby-Doo. Did anyone at HB ever ask the question: "Okay, he did his job. Can we now try something different without Scrappy?" or were ABC and/or HB still holding onto the believe that Scrappy was still the key to the franchise's success? Because he was even in The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, yet his entire presence was made redundant with the addition of Flim-Flam.
TR: In his first season, with Lenny Weinrib voicing him, Scrappy was obnoxious beyond belief. He was so off-putting that he created a "jump-the-shark" situation for the series.
But, once Don Messick took over the voice of the character, Scrappy mellowed out considerably and was sort of likable. He was still feisty and always ready to defend his uncle and friends, but he wasn't an A-hole.
And in the 11-minute segments, Scrappy became sort of a duo with Daphne while Scooby and Shaggy continued their comedy duo routine.
As for "13 Ghosts," some ABC network research indicated that our kid audience wanted someone they could relate to -- a young person. Mitch and I resisted, but the request was firm. We came up with the idea of adding a kid version of Sgt. Bilko/Phil Silvers -- a conman kid who could take advantage of Shaggy and Scooby.
Ultimately, it felt forced. Flim Flam did not fit in naturally to the scenario.
Scoobypedia: There were 13 ghosts to catch in 13 episodes of 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, yet there were only 11 captured and no conclusion. Why did they make a show with an actual recurring plot then not complete it? Was this maybe in the hopes that it would do so well it would get picked up for another season? Or did it finally get to the stage where ABC just wasn't invested in Scooby anymore (even if HB had a new idea) until Pup?
TR: We did not anticipate that the series would be cancelled after 13 episodes. We were ready to make more...and we were under the impression the series would be renewed. There was a money issue that prevented the renewal.
Scoobypedia: Who suggested Vincent Price should have his own character? What was it like working with him?
TR: Mitch Schauer. Mitch was and is the mastermind behind "The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo." The opening episode was designed, storyboarded, produced and directed by Mitch. Mitch redesigned all the characters and gave Shaggy’s shirt its first color change since the series began.
Mitch wanted Vincent Price in the role of plot instigator and mentor, and the casting department made it happen. (This was just two years after Vincent Price made a huge career comeback as the voice behind Michael Jackson's "Thriller.")
Vincent would perform the dialog for several episodes at each session. He rarely needed more than a couple of takes to nail each line. He was friendly and happy to be acting.
Scoobypedia: For Pup, did you go through several styles before settling on the Tex Avery style?
TR: I planned to do the Tex Avery wild-takes from the outset of my thinking on "A Pup Named Scooby-Doo." I thought it would add humor -- and it did.
When Joe Barbera saw what I was doing with the wild takes on Scooby, he called me into his office and reminded me that Tex always accompanied his wild takes with equally wild SFX, so we made the big wacky sounds a part of the Scooby wild takes as well.
Regarding the "Pup" series character designs: I worked with Scott Jeralds, Alfred Gimeno and the crew of designers and artists to come up with a visual look that split the difference between the 1969 Scooby series and the original Hanna-Barbera TV stars of the very early 60's like Huck and Yogi. And, of course, these were younger versions of the characters. So we made the designs our own.
Of course, Iwao Takamoto had designed the 1969 "Scooby" characters and he was still a kingpin at the studio, so, in the early stages of development, he called us all down to his office where he showed us how to draw the characters for "A Pup Named Scooby-Doo." He didn't change our designs, but he just wanted us to watch him draw them. For hours. No kidding. We stood behind Iwao for hours, watching him, as he sat at his drawing table, drawing these younger versions of Scooby and Shaggy over and over again. It was very strange because we had designed the characters and he wasn't changing the designs. He was just tracing over the lines in his own hand. "Like this," he'd say, as he drew a curving line for a pup named Scooby's face. "See? Like this," he'd say with each line he'd draw. "Like this. And this. And like this."
He seemed pleased.
On occasion, he would call us down again and have us watch him draw the “Pup” characters for a while, but we kept it to just an hour or two per week.
Scoobypedia: How do you feel about ideas you came up with, such as Coolsville and Daphne's wealth, being retconned into official "canon"? Also, do you consider Pup a prequel to Where Are You! or its own thing altogether?
TR: I like that "Scooby" "canon" has incorporated ideas I/we introduced in "A Pup Named Scooby Doo."
I consider "Pup" a prequel.
Scoobypedia: When deciding on the actors for the Scooby-Doo Detective Agency, you brought back Don Messick and Casey Kasem, but recast the others. Did it take long to find Kellie Martin (Daphne), Carl Steven (Freddie), and Christina Lange (Velma)? Can you describe what they each brought to their role that was necessary for these reimaginings (in comparison to other actors who auditioned)?
TR: We auditioned many kids for the roles.
There were many capable young actors for all the parts.
Kellie Martin was particularly strong, and seemed to understand the character instantly. She had Daphne's slightly spoiled and prissy personality locked in during her first reading at her audition. But she won the role outright when we asked her to scream and she let out a full-bodied blood-curdling scream from deep inside her soul that no other actor, child or adult, could replicate.
She's a brilliant actor with a wonderful personality.
Scoobypedia: How old are the gang supposed to be in Pup? As teens, they looked roughly the same age. Of course, Velma looked a little younger, which was exaggerated for Pup.
TR: Fred, Daphne, Shaggy -- about age 12. Velma might be 10 or 11.
In my original concept for the show, Velma was only supposed to say the word "Jinkies."
When she said "Jinkies," that meant she had figured out something crucial and Daphne, Freddy or Shaggy would move in beside her, look at the clues she has found, and decipher their meaning. In the episode wrap-ups, I considered giving Velma a few words to say, but not much.
I feel confident that this would have worked beautifully.
However, the story editors kept giving Velma dialog. I battled with them about this, but they wouldn't stop putting words in her mouth, so I finally gave in.
I regret that.
I wish she only said "Jinkies."
Scoobypedia: How did Freddie become an irrational conspiracy theorist? Was this why Red Herring was added?
TR: From my point of view, in the original "Scooby" series, Freddy always seemed pretty thick, and a real square. Not a deep thinker. Not terribly original. "Let’s split up gang" was his go-to reaction to most investigations. And why would he wear an ascot? Who wears an ascot? That made me think that something was a little off with Freddy. He has never proved himself to be a great intellect, and yet he imagines himself to be a great crime-solver/mystery-solver. Someone working in this area with limited brain power might jump to incorrect conclusions, might use faulty logic, and might be susceptible to weird conspiracy theories. That's what the Freddy in "Pup" is all about.
Scoobypedia: Similar to Pup, Flintstone Kids had a main bully, who had three underlings (and a dog of his own). Was anything like that at the concept stage for Red?
Scott Menville had auditioned well. We had considered him for Freddy, and when he didn't win that role, we cast him as an antagonist for our group.
Scoobypedia: Shaggy had an infant sister named Sugie. Was this based off of Maggie and, if so, why did you change the name?
TR: I recall using the name Sugie for Shaggy's sister in "Pup." Maggie was Shaggy's sister's name in "Wedding Bell Boos!" I suppose they are either the same character or there could be two different Rogers sisters.
Scoobypedia: The big question that is always on my mind when listening to the Pup theme song is: Who's singing that swinging beat? (Well, honestly, I'd like to know who sung all the songs and the names for the romps for each episode you produced, along with the "Let's go, Scooby!" and "Scooby-dooby-doo, scooba-dee-doo" bits. But I'd be just as happy with knowing the opening and closing themes.)
TR: I hummed these jazzy scat songs into a tape recorder and gave the tape to series composer John Debney. Then John Debney arranged each brief tune, made a fancier guide/click track for each, and brought in a trio of singers who performed all the scat songs one afternoon. I was there. The three women singers were awesome. They would often double and triple their tracks so it sounded like more performers. (Some day, I'll ask John their names. I don't recall their names at this moment.) They made the scat tunes better than John Debney's guide tracks.
I have alternates of these tracks and alternates of the main title in my collection of cassettes.
I also have titles for all the romps... need to go into my cassette collection some day.
I wrote the lyrics for the main title.
Again, I need to consult with John about the name of the lead singer.
Scoobypedia: The theme song of Pup features five of the monsters that appeared in season 1. But there was also this sixth red blob-like monster that jumped out of Scooby's bowl. Was this a monster planned to appear at some point?
TR: Yes, but I think it got redesigned.
Scoobpedia: In The Story Stick, Yogi Bear appears as a rabid animal. Was this a prototype for the Animaniacs style of skewering iconic cartoons?
TR: Not a prototype, since I’d been doing these sort of parodies all along, in "Yogi's Treasure Hunt," in "13 Ghosts," etc.
Scoobypedia: If you had the opportunity to work on Scooby again, would you be open to that? (I know you tried to do Mixed Nutz for Warner Bros., which included Scooby and Scrappy(!), but didn't work out.)
TR: Yes, I’d like to lead a "Scooby" production.
Scoobypedia: Out of the original five characters, is there any particular favourite you had writing for over the other?
TR: Scooby and Shaggy are comedy gold. And I loved Daphne in "A Pup Named Scooby-Doo." Producing/writing/re-writing the characters on "Pup" showed me that these are great characters with great depth and humor when allowed to breathe.
Scoobypedia: In closing, is there anything you've recently worked on you would like to plug?
TR: I'm currently developing several new shows. So... everyone reading this should contact all their favorite animation companies and broadcasters and cable channels and tell them to sign up Tom Ruegger to make more great cartoons!
End of interview.
I’d like to give a big thank you to Tom for the opportunity for agreeing to take the time out to answer these questions, and to our very own Muddlemore for arranging and assisting in this interview.
For more on Tom's ongoing adventures in animation, you can follow him on Facebook and Twitter, and check at his blog at Cartoonatics.
Goodbye for now.