Frames of Time...
047_04 - Tarzan's "other" Adventure
Mitch had come to work as storyboard artist on GARFIELD AND FRIENDS, which I was producing. Mitch was one of those creators who had a lightning fast draw. He was also gifted with the ability to draw in many styles and media.
As a board artist on Garfield, he continually was on the phone talking deals with one person or another. His visual gags on the series became so popular, that the writer started including them in his scripts. One day we discovered we were both trying to get Phil Roman to start a development department. (Phil was resistant because with the Saturday morning series and primetime specials, he had plenty of work.) Mitch and I began talking, and before we knew it, we became a small development department using lunch hours and evenings.
The way we usually worked is Mitch would come in with a drawing and maybe a title. He'd ask me, "What sort of series could we do with this?" I would then write a pitch including basic premise, key characters, and possible storylines. Mitch and I would talk a bit and then I would go polish it. As a rule, Mitch had few comments, seemingly pleased that I could develop a series based on almost anything he could draw.
At one point, Mitch heard that Hanna-Barbera was not renewing their licensing deal with Edgar Rice Burroughs' company on Tarzan. Mitch called ERB and asked to set up a pitch. They agreed and an appointment was made. He told me he wanted to do a series of Tarzan as a boy and did the accompanying art. His only concern was that he knew other studios were pitching and the idea of doing a young Tarzan might seem common.
That night I came up with a series concept that would allow the young Tarzan tales to occur at almost any age. My idea was that an adult Tarzan would do the series as journal entries. This way, the stories could take place anywhere in the timeline from Tarzan's joining with the apes up to him becoming "king" of the Apes. I then created a number of premises for episodes.
Mitch liked the idea, but wondered what kind of narrator would be used. I told him my first choice for narrator of tales would be John Cleese. I figured his colorful style would keep the series light, even when the stories might be "dangerous" (i.e. violent). He agreed and we went to Phil with the idea.
Phil was a bit reluctant. However, he liked Mitch's art, he liked my series concept, and he liked the idea of meeting executives from other studios. Phil and Mitch went to the meeting. (Phil felt ERB would be interested in meeting only the head of the studio and the artist.) When they came back we met and I found out the ERB were impressed with the concept and had said it was one of the best, and freshest ideas for Tarzan they had heard.
Around a week later, ERB called Phil and told him that they had accepted our pitch for a new series and would offer the rights to Film Roman for $25,000. (This meant the studio would pay ERB $25,000 for the rights to use Tarzan in a pitch and series, and if no series was sold, the studio would be out the money.) Phil told them no. As he explained to us, he never had to pay to do a series before and wasn't going to start now. Mitch and I were heart broken.
We talked up the idea to some friends at networks and soon discovered my concept had a strong chance for a sale at two of the (then) three networks. We again approached Phil with the news that not only could we get the rights, but we had a very good chance of selling another series. Phil was still not interested. Again, Mitch and I were disappointed.
A few weeks later, the studio got another call from ERB. It seems, even though several studios were interested in acquiring Tarzan for animation, none of them had the originality of our pitch. ERB went on to explain they felt our version would allow for major merchandising potential and an actual re-birth of interest. They felt that was worth something, so they would drop their fee to $20,000. Phil told them no. A week later they called and said they would go to $15,000. Phil said, "No." That was the last we heard. (Though in the grapevine, we heard that another studio had paid the $25,000 and was trying to sell a series of an adult Tarzan. Nothing came of their efforts.)
Years later, when I was relaying this to a producer friend, he told me we had made a big mistake. With a network interest, a low fee, and full backing of ERB (which was never an easy thing to get), we should have financed the $15,000 ourselves and started our own studio. Looking back I can see that might have been a possibility.
Of note, Tarzan was not the only property that came close to fruition in those times. Mitch was developing an animated series based on BONANZA and had the interest of the rights holders who only wanted some additional funds. We were offered the rights to all the Harvey characters when our pitch "beat the pants off of" (as one Harvey exec said) every other concept they had seen. Again, Phil withheld any funds and a few years later Harvey was sold to a young millionaire in Southern California. There was a series about pirate dogs that attracted the interest of a major action star that wanted to get into animation. There was a satire of Batman that Nickelodeon considered for one of their first cartoon series. FOX was interested in my bible for an animated series based on BIG. Universal loved our idea for an animated Munsters series. All those stories may come along on later days.
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