BEHIND THE STORY...
In 1988, the folks at Film Roman heard that Hanna-Barbera was not renewing their licensing deal with Edgar Rice Burroughs' company on Tarzan. We called ERB and asked to set up a pitch. They agreed and an appointment was made. An artist said suggested doing a series about Tarzan as a boy and did a piece of art. The artist's concern was that he knew other studios were pitching to ERB 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.
The artist 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 verbal style would keep the series light, even when the stories might be "dangerous" (i.e. violent). He agreed and we went to Phil Roman with the idea.
Phil was a bit reluctant. However, he liked the art and he really liked my series concept. ERB was impressed with the concept and said it was one of the best, and freshest ideas for Tarzan they had heard.
Around a week later, ERB called the studio and told us 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.) The studio told them no. Phil stated he had not paid to do a series before and wasn't going to start now. The artist 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 also we had a very good chance of selling another series. Phil was still not interested.
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 character 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. (Through the grapevine, we heard that another studio finally paid the $25,000 and was trying to sell a series of an adult Tarzan. Nothing came of their efforts.)
Several folks at other studios told me that I should have found a way to put up the money myself and started my own studio. In hindsight, that might have been a good idea… if I could have raised that much money.
text, image and format © John Cawley
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