Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pilot Reels - Promising Too Much

Here's the opening from Ned's Newt, which was developed and produced at Nelvana during my tenure there (1993-ish to 1997). The show came from - and animation done by (the late) Andy Knight and Mike Burgess for Red Rover Productions Limited in Toronto.

Before I go any further - I want to say that I LOVED this pilot and still do. It's great. It's hilarious. It tells you everything you need to know about the show. And that's the problem.

It's too damned good. The series couldn't live up to the promise of the pilot.

First, the audio that is on this show opening is NOT what was on the pilot film. In the original, whenever the Newt spoke, canned TV and movie dialogue came out of his mouth - he'd learned to talk by watching TV. It was everything from Wilma Flintstone to John Wayne. Hilarious - but due to rights clearances, they'd never be able to do that on the show. They settled for an actor doing impersonations - which was okay and PRACTICAL - was about a mile below what they showed in the pilot film.

Likewise, the design and quality of the animation was top notch. Brilliant - but unsustainable on an episodic TV budget. They promised too much.

While the series did run a full three seasons in production - in my opinion, it never lived up to the potential of the pilot film. There was nowhere to go but down.


  1. I would think that you pack everything into the pilot pitch when you try to sell it. It's a case of "you don't sell the steak, you sell the sizzle". I personally thought that what they did with the Newt, as far as the series itself, was a TV carbon copy of the Alladdin genie, without Robin Williams, (which might have been enough information to sell the series at the time). But what a different business this would have been if broadcasters and funding organization had demanded the producers to uphold the level of workmanship displayed in the pitch promos.

  2. Yeah, you should pack as much into the pilot as you can. And over-promising certainly didn't hurt Ned's Newt one bit.

    I've been in the situation on a few occasions where the broadcaster asked for a pilot - just to give us a taste. These have been no-to-low budget affairs, where you call in all your buddies to help. You work your hearts out - doing the best you can - only to have the pilot rejected because of the poor production values.

    There has to be a happy medium, where you produce a pilot that looks good - and the show looks even better. We actually did that with Freaky Stories - there was an initial ultra-low budget animatic pilot, followed by a decently budgeted but still animatic half-hour pilot. The series was animated with an 18K/half hour cel count.

    Each step of the pilot process was an improvement over the earlier version.

    (And as soon as I can find that original pilot, I'll post it here. I've got the 1/2 hour pilot, but DECODE owns it, so it's out of bounds.)

  3. Wait I don't get it. The show never matched the original pilot? I always thought that most shows were always done that way except for a few exceptions.

  4. The show matched the pilot in terms of idea and design. It did not match the pilot in terms of execution. The pilot was brilliant - animated on 1's, fantastic sound design. There was no way that they could match that on a series production basis.

    JPilot noted correctly (above) that they sold the sizzle, not the steak.