Who Shada! Shada! Shada! [the first episode is online and is utterly captivating].
TV Anyone with Freeview might like to click over to channel 22 to see the rather dull (in a corporate video sense) ad banner for a new channel CBM. The Digital Spy discussion boards have entered a Metafilter like discussion and detective frenzy, speculation suggesting everything from the oft promised Trouble/Boomerang/TCM channel to a Christian Channel to something run by the Raelians. Reading through we see everything from the house of the person who's registered the domain name of the channel's website to a vague phone call to Freeview. What is the connection of the mysterious Glenn Carter or Stuart Long?
Theatre It's good to know that when Shakespeare was dropping of this mortal coil, he could still right. His will might be a formality but it's still a fabulous read:
"In the name of God, Amen. I, William Shackspeare of Stratford-upon-Avon in the county of Warwick, gent., in perfect health and memory, God be praised, do make and ordain this my last will and testament in manner and form following. That is to say, first, I commend my soul into the hands of God my Creator, hoping and assuredly believing, through the only merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour, to be made partaker of life everlasting, and my body to the earth whereof it is made."
Familes got the houses and money. Still thought of his company though, and everyone including Martin Clunes lookalike Burbage got a ring (or rather the brass and orders to buy as such). I on the other hand have a mousemat with his face on it ...
TV Just discovered Sonia Mansfield of the The Examiner of San Francisco. Her preview of this US season's sweeps is fabulously catty:
" On May 4 at 8 p.m., Tim Allen returns with "Tim Allen Presents: A User's Guide to Home Improvement," which is basically just a clip show and blooper reel. Only Allen, Richard Karn and "Tool Time" girl Debbe Dunning appear in the special. Apparently, the rest of the cast decided to move on with their careers."
I'm she and The Guardian's Charlie Brooker would get on like a 24 plot twist ...
Gender Relations Typical man.

“I Wasn’t Even Supposed to be on this Network”

TV Now that The Simpsons seemingly rule the world of television – and particularly animation – it’s often forgotten that before the yellow family appeared, primetime cartoons had been missing from screens on both sides of the Atlantic for many years. Post-Simpsons shows like South Park and King of the Hill broke out for a brief few years as the US networks rushed about looking for their own slice of Homer Simpson’s pie. And it was under these conditions that an animated spin-off from a low budget indie film was commissioned by the generally safe ABC network; a move which the channel’s own lawyers advised them against. That show would become Clerks: The Animated Series; a programme that everybody seemed to like as an idea, but no one wanted to make … a programme that in the end was never broadcast in its entirety and even now is only available in the sell-through market.

From a UK perspective, it’s perhaps not surprising that Clerks: The Animated Series never made it to the screen over here. Aside from The Simpsons (them again) no other imported animated half-hour has ever really established a convincing hold on a UK audience. South Park was quite popular when Channel 4 offered it in a Friday night post-Friends slot, but even the viewers’ appetite for that waned and now the series finds itself marooned in late night purgatory. A show like Clerks: The Animated Series, then, would seem to offer little to a mainstream broadcaster over here (and as such it’s a blessing that fans with the wherewithal can watch the whole thing on Region One DVD). But why did it fail to attract any kind of an audience in its own country?

In 1992 Kevin Smith was a convenience store worker in New Jersey. On the night of his 21st birthday he saw the no-budget film Slacker in which director Richard Linklater’s camera is a character which follows a series of free spirits, each of whom has an opinion or something to get off their chest. It was plotless and as such Smith noticed that although the audience were enjoying themselves it wasn’t a terribly fulfilling or even funny film. Of a mind that he could do better he watched a number of other low budget films looking for tips and decided upon the kind of work he wanted to or – more importantly – could achieve. He started to cast about looking for somewhere which would give him the techniques he needed and settled upon the Vancouver Film School where he studied for four months before dropping out and making Clerks, the movie.

The plot of the film, as described on the back of the video box is thus: “Clerks tells the brilliantly funny story of a day in the lives of 22-year-old Dante (Brian O’Halloran), who works in a Quick Stop convenience store, and his crazy friend Randal (Jeff Anderson), who works in the neighbouring video store. It’s 6am, and Dante discovers that he has to go to work on his day off. It’s just the beginning of a hilariously bad day, where he has to survive his girlfriend’s graphic sexual confessions, a mad hockey team, the unexpected arrival of his sexy ex-girlfriend and a constant stream of offensive customers. This is a day Dante will never forget.”

The passage of time in the film is signaled by cutaways to the two drug dealers who linger outside the shops, Jay and Silent Bob. Jay (Jason Mewes) is a loud mouth, keen to get a sale and equally keen to boast about his sexual powers. Silent Bob (played by Kevin Smith himself) is the perfect straight man in that he says nothing at all, no matter how coarse Jay’s insults frequently become.

By using his place of work, Smith was doubling up to keep costs even lower, filming largely in the dead of night (rationalized in the film by the gluing together of the locks to the shutters). The funding for the film is described on the official website thus: “Clerks was made for $27,575. It was mainly funded by 10 credit cards that Kevin had to his name, funds garnered from store credit after he sold his comic book collection, a family donation, and paychecks from working at the Quick Stop and RST Video.” His partner in funding and production was Scott Mosier, who also eventually appeared in five roles during the film as various cast members dropped out. Together they began View Askew, the production company which would be behind all of Smith’s later film projects and eventually Clerks: The Animated Series (under the pseudonym Toon Askew).

Smith went on to make another film set in what was termed the View Askewniverse of New Jersey (Mallrats, featuring Jay and Silent Bob in minor roles) and in time he returned to what was actually his first love. He had always been a fan of comics, and using some of the kudos he had built he was able to produce a series of spin-off comic-books using some of the same characters from Clerks, but now unfettered by technical and budgetary concerns. The titles, produced by independent publisher Oni Press mostly followed the exploits of Jay and Silent Bob (offering a blueprint for the eventual film about those characters) but three Clerks comics were also produced. The first was concerned with a quest for profit from Star Wars merchandise, the next was a “lost scene” issue which filled in a scene from the original film when Dante and Randal visited a funeral for an old school friend, and finally there was a Christmas special. The embryonic roots of the cartoon series can be found in this seasonal number; as Dante visits his ex-girlfriend Caitlin and Randal finds himself in the much more fantastical situation of being kidnapped by Santa’s helpers and put to work in a toy grotto which has suddenly appeared between the Quick Stop and the video store.

This stretching of the film’s “reality” would become a hallmark of the eventual cartoon series; in hindsight it’s obvious that the comic-book format was sparking Smith’s imagination and suggesting a possible animated form for his franchise. But before that there was another consideration. In 1995, without his consultation, Miramax (still the rights holders to the original film) joined sister company Touchstone Television in the production of a pilot for a possible sitcom version of Clerks. Smith wasn’t aware of anything until an actor who had auditioned for one of the parts told him it was being made.

In this version only trace elements of the original concept remained. The show was still set in a convenience store (or a sitcom set version of one, see ITV1′s recent Hardware) but Dante became less of a strict loser, Randal moved more towards a physical comedian and a new character, Todd, was introduced as an ice-cream seller (no really) who became the one who goofs about (much as Randal did in the film). Jay and Silent Bob did not appear, although Ray, a shoplifter picked up some of their patter. Another absentee were the customers, whose misdirection was one of the joys of the original film. In this new sitcom-Clerks all of the characters were likable in the traditional sense and as such they did not make fun of the patrons. Perhaps because of Smith’s lack of involvement with the project, all of the original characters from the film were re-cast.
In the end, though, the series didn’t enter production. Whether Smith would have been able to block it isn’t clear, but it’s not hard to understand why he would want to put out his own television series, if only to see his vision on screen, done “properly”. Making a cartoon would allow him to be more creative with situations and facilitate the introduction of the fantasy elements from the comic books.

With his long term fellow producer Scott Mosier, Smith began pitching the cartoon series in 1995 and the first meeting was with Fox television. Fox turned down the idea feeling that the only primetime cartoon series possible was their own The Simpsons, and that nothing else could be successful. Other studios looked at the concept and liked some of it, but the interest simply wasn’t there. The idea was put on the back burner and Smith went back to making movies, producing another low budget feature, his most mature work so far, Chasing Amy (in which Ben Affleck played a comic book artist who falls in love with a lesbian) and Dogma (a road movie satirizing Catholicism which brought him in conflict with the church). He produced further Clerks comics and wrote a hugely popular sequence for the Marvel Comics series Daredevil (and would later cameo in the film adaptation of that title).

There was other prime time cartoons being made of course, but not on the networks. Beavis and Butthead were hiking their way through promos on MTV and Todd Mcfarlane’s Spawn sat in the wee small hours on F/X. None of it could be described as mainstream, though. The real breakthrough came with South Park, which began as a video Christmas card passed amongst studio executives and went on to become Comedy Central’s greatest hit (now in its seventh season). The ratings it was gathering on that cable channel made the networks sit up and take notice; when Butthead creator Mike Judge’s next project King of the Hill was suddenly being called “the new Simpsons” it was clear a renaissance was happening in primetime animation.

Time for Clerks: The Animated Series to be given a second chance. Smith and Mosier returned to Fox, the other major networks, the WB, F/X and HBO (current home of Sex and the City and Six Feet Under). The latter was considered to be their best meeting. In creating their concept for the animated series Smith and Mosier had sanitized the original Clerks idea in an effort to make it more suitable for television. Nonetheless, HBO wanted to know where all the profanity had gone – they had thought that the best bits of the feature had been the “dick and fart” jokes. But despite some signs of interest, all the networks passed again. Meanwhile The Family Guy, Dilbert, Baby Blues and Mission Hill (the last not yet seen in the UK) were all being taken up. Things were looking desperate.

Then UPN (United Paramount Network) made an offer. They wanted 13 episodes “on the air” (which meant they would be produced and shown whatever). The problem was, UPN wasn’t a real network – it was a night package carried in syndication across cable television stations. Alongside Star Trek: Voyager it had a reputation for wall to wall wrestling (during one of their promotion drives for the “sport” they forced their other programmes to include an episode which featured a top wrestler). As UPN was making its approach, one of its heads, Dean Valentine, called Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney’s Buena Vista’s film company who – more importantly – owned the rights-holder to Clerks, Miramax. Hearing that UPN were interested, Eisner decided he was too. The company were looking to try out new types of programming on their ABC network, and so they also approached Smith.
With potential deals from UPN and now ABC, the clincher for Smith and co came when an executive at ABC convinced him that UPN would not exist within a year. Smith, believing the ABC man’s honesty and eyeing this sudden offer to appear on the fourth largest network in America signed on the dotted line for six episodes (which is unusual for a mid-season replacement, and that offers some pointers as to what was to come).

Also in the mix by now was David Mandel. Smith let his agent know of his intentions, and was surprised to learn that Dave Mandel, a past writer of Seinfeld who had recently signed a three-year nine million dollar contract with ABC was interested in trying animation. A lunch was set up which Mandel attended mostly because he wanted to meet the guys who had made those films. The meeting went well, and a common ground was in evidence about the approach they wanted to take with the material.

By this time Smith’s various productions had developed something of a following and a site had been set up to track stories about the director’s projects new and old. The punningly titled News Askew was begun by some fans in 1997 as the third film Chasing Amy went to video; it would eventually become linked to as the source by the View Askew Productions official website. Over the years the discussion boards on the site would be frequented by Smith, Mosier and friends – actors from the director’s film would also visit on occasion. It was a good way to float ideas by the fans and also clear up any rumours which might surface elsewhere on the web.

So as had been customary on other occasions with other projects, Smith posted the first announcement on the boards about the series as early as November 1998:

“Well, not Scott and me, exactly. Instead, it’s going to be about clerks – or, more precisely, Clerks – The Animated Series. Look for it in January 2000. The particulars I’ll hold off on, as there are a few networks bidding on the show currently, and we’re not sure where it’s going to eventually air. All I will say is, God bless South Park – they’ve really opened the doors. Many moons ago, pre-Park, we were begging Fox to do an animated Clerks, likening it to The Simpsons, and they stared at us blankly. Last week, however, five networks not only listened to us seriously, but ardently – some even going so far as to giving us carte blanche to create more than one program. What a difference a few years makes …”

The mainstream media caught on in February 1999 after an article in Daily Variety. “For us, it’s not about recreating the movie,” Smith said in the article. “We want to push the edge of the envelope in another direction. We’re talking about being a bit surreal using the animation medium. I mean, why bother doing animation unless you’re going to be wacky with it?” The budget for the show was set at $750,000 an episode (which would have been enough to make the original film 21 times over), a similar figure to the cost of many other animated series, including Family Guy.

Writing as part of a team was a fairly alien process for Kevin Smith. Although he had been hired to re-write other people’s work before (the barroom drama Coyote Ugly and teen road movie Overnight Delivery) this was the first time someone else had equal input on the scripts. But he and Mandel were hitting it off well. The first draft of the pilot script was 90 pages long (an average half hour cartoon is 20 or so). This was done purposefully so that the material could be looked at to see what would not work in context. Within a few days it was cut down to 30.

Much of the time they would each write an equal share and then, as is the tradition with American sitcoms, the work would be looked over by team of gag writers, which in this case included Scott Mosier with Steve Buckner and Brian Kelly (whose experience included the ratings winner News Radio). Smith was amazed at their ability to produce joke after joke, and still remain satisfied when only one or two made the final draft. He would also rely on animation directors on this occasion with Chris Bailey the supervising directors covering shows one and three, and Nick Fillipi and Steve Loter covering the others.

Looking at the scripts for the series, its incredible how consistent the writing is. Frequently with both American sitcoms and cartoons it is possible to discern a difference in scripting. Even in the earlier seasons of The Simpsons its often possible to tell the quality of the show you are about to watch by the writer’s name in the credits. It would be difficult for any followers of Smith’s work, however, to discern another voice here. The dialogue is just as structured as in the films.

Once the writing had been approved (after a read-through with an audience of friends and studio executives) the voice recording began. Anyone who has seen the Disney series Hercules will have been amazed at how, for once, the original cast of the film re-appeared to a man in the television series. Strangely considering the other battles which would take place over the production of the series, the replacement of the regular cast from the film was never under consideration. So Brian O’Halloran re-appeared as Dante, Jeff Anderson played Randall and Jason Mewes was still in there as Jay. That they were not specifically voice artists was shown in their delivery which differs little in style from that found in the original film, imbuing the cartoon with an unusual level of naturalism.

In addition to the regular cast the series was also able to boast Alec Baldwin as the clerks’ arch-nemesis Leonardo Leonardo (after Alan Rickman left due to network pressure), but there were further star turns to come. An episode about a virus featured a general played by James Woods (whose only directing note was to “be James Woods”) whilst another featured a court case presided over by the right honourable Judge Reinhold.

Alongside this former Whose Line is it Anyway? regular Mike McShane appeared in the credits of nearly every episode, often finding himself acting in scenes people by other characters he was also voicing. Throughout the rest of the series Mandel and Smith called in a few favours and there were moments featuring the collective casts of Kids in the Hall and Saturday Night Live plus blink and you’ll miss them cameos from Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow (Ben Affleck was due to appear in an later unproduced episode apparently).

These voice recordings, edited together would be used as a guide for the art director and storyboard artist discussing how each shot would appear. Each episode would comprise 800 scenes per show. These would then be looked at by the producers who would offer suggestions as to how they could be improved or changed to fit in with their “vision”.

One of the main notes for the series (seen during a short documentary on the DVD release) is “Trying for that comic book look, but with more depth.” All of the artists involved were comic fans and they were weary of the fact that other animations were said to exhibit that style of art but really didn’t – it was a layman’s idea of what comic books look like. Unlike other series, the film dictated the look of the characters, but they still wanted to take advantage of the fact that they were in animation, so there had to be the same scope. The touchstone for the look of the main characters was that if they were drawn in silhouette, the viewer should still be able to work out which was which. In addition to this, as with The Flintstones, it was hoped that the viewer at home would also be able to draw each character themselves.

Although Silent Bob was fairly easy to reinvent, Jay caused a few issues because in the film he was the bad guy. Whenever the design assignment was passed to an artist their first instinct was to create a malevolent look, with lots of points, slightly fox-like. Eventually they arrived at an atypical design for the show – by giving him dots for eyes Jay was made immediately more appealing. Once they had the look for these characters, Dante fell into place relatively quickly, although the look for Randal was close to the wire in terms of shipping the first episode for animation as the crew wanted to get as close as possible to the original actor.

The eventual graphics were certainly different to most other shows. Although there were some spectacular sequences, the series generally took its cues from the Hanna-Barbera style (see Huckleberry Hound and Hong Kong Phooey). This meant that in some comic moments, the joke was a slight change in the frame, perhaps a look in someone’s eyes. This was a refreshing change and more focused than The Simpsons‘ model of something happening all over the screen, sometimes as a distraction as to what was going on in the story.

As with most US animation series, once the initial story-board work had been completed, the work was farmed out to animators overseas to draw the actual cartoon. Unfortunately it was here that a culture gap opened up. Although clear storyboards would be sent to Korea the cartoons would arrive back looking completely wrong. In scene after scene the Quick Stop sign on the front of the store would appear misspelled or with seemingly random lettering and sometimes the convenience store boys would be speaking each other’s lines.

Over in Korea there were two animation teams, and when Smith and co noticed that the second episode returned was far better than the first it was clear that one of the teams wasn’t as good as the other. The lead animator from the failing team was duly dismissed, with immediate results. Everything went relatively smoothly for the next few episodes, but then when the sixth and final episode was returned many of the mistakes which had appeared before were back. It transpired that the animator hadn’t been fired after all but had been left to work with the good animators whose work was now suffering as a result. However as Kevin Smith described in a posting to News Askew: “Chris Bailey and producer John Bush were able to travel over there and sit down with the animators, illustrating in person what they were looking for.”

Although the problems were finally overcome some of the frustration of the producers, and in particular Bailey can be seen from this posting to News Askew at the end of April 2000:

“Today we finished the last little bit on the last of the six Clerks cartoons. It came down to the wire since as of last night, six retakes were still missing from some of the shows. I was told that it was too late to get the changes in the shows, but after promising the post production crew hookers and beer, they found a way to make it happen. Thanks guys!

“What’s a retake? It’s when we ask the Koreans animators for a second (or third, or fourth or fifth …) pass on the animation. Some of the retakes were due to us needing something new, like another line of dialogue or a new shot, but most were because of things like paint mistakes, where they might forget to colour Randal’s head or they paint the sky day colours instead of night.

“Our last minute retakes entailed repositioning a title card, adding moving mouths to a dialogue shot of Jay (the Korean animator forgot to draw them), repainting a ladies room door so that it didn’t change colour from shot to shot, fixing a camera move that was panning in the wrong direction and swapping out a couple of backgrounds and replacing them with better ones. It seemed like whenever we thought we were done, we found new things that needed doing. At times it seemed like we’d never finish by the deadline.”

It’s reputed that they had a week to finish everything; whether this really was the case isn’t clear although there certainly wasn’t a budget available and the crew and actors would eventually be breaking union rules and working for free to get everything finished.

Aside from problems with the animation, the programme makers were also increasingly exasperated with the process of having to pass their material with the station lawyers. This is a process that happens on all television products, but in their case they felt that their best jokes were going by the wayside because of an oversensitivity on display. To make matters worse there was also an incoherence to the decisions, which would sometimes only be made as the shows were getting a final edit. It was hard to see sight gags such as “Flintstones List” go (an infamous parody of Schindler’s List set in Bedrock which would gain a lot of publicity when the show aired), but the primary change from the films saw Jay and Silent Bob, the known drug dealers, turned into what ABC called “merry mischief makers”. The inference was still there about what they would be up to when they weren’t playing little league, but they were far cry from the characters who had appeared in the films and comic books.

As production progressed, network notes drifted from a trickle to a shower. In one episode a running gag involved all of Randal’s high school girlfriends having become lesbians since sleeping with him. This was allowed, but the artists were asked to make the girls “less dykey”. Their reaction was to give them all men’s voices. Eventually as the series neared completion, the network lawyers had a list of 50 or so things they wanted changing (use of the phrase “bong” for example). By the time a recognition was there that the series would not continue this was reduced to about three, because it would cost far too much to change them.

As was often the case, disclaimers appeared at the start of each show because it was thought that people might still find some of the material offensive To make those moments more painless Smith decided to include their version of the disclaimer (similar to that found at the start of his film Dogma which explained that he really hadn’t wanted to cause offense to the Catholic church). But even these were being changed at the network’s request. Another aspect of the disclaimer was so that celebrities being parodied in the show would not sue the studio for defamation.

Watching the court room scene in one episode where a list of directors had to pass back the profits for making poor movies you can see why. This nervousness about including the (fake) famous ran throughout the series. A down on his luck Patrick Swayze (voiced by comedian Chris Rock) appeared prominently in an unbroadcast episode as a pet shop owner; his appearance was only allowed by the studio lawyers and Swayze’s own people if the actor was seen at the end to get a new film role. In the same episode, a sight gag in which Randal puts together the pieces and realizes they have entered the territory of the film Outbreak included a reference to not being allowed to use Dustin Hoffman’s face and so they were substituting it with Al Pacino. This was for real – Hoffman is notorious about protecting his image rights.

When the show was commissioned in early 1999, the producers were advised that it would have a March start as a mid-season replacement for a previously cancelled programme. For some this is a better place to premiere, as less episodes are generally ordered and shown, and very often the producers will get a guaranteed order for a certain number of shows (usually 13 weeks) allowing them time to craft the programme without the spectre of cancellation hanging over them. At a promo show in Pasadena Smith remembers that journalists thought Clerks: The Animated Series was “the only breath of fresh air in this whole thing”. The only problem being that the network decided they were not ready to show any clips, leaving Smith and co to talk about a series no one could actually see.

Then the start date was moved to the summer, the last day in May 2000. This is traditionally a much more difficult place to target a programme as American schedules are taken up with re-runs of existing shows and sporting events. The producers began to worry, but the network still professed a love for Clerks, and by this time two episodes were mostly ready so an invitation was made for a viewing in front of the studio heads. As luck would have it, Smith arrived as his two friends Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were leaving after pitching their own show. They were happy to return to see the cartoons and laughed throughout. Smith was pleased that some A-list Hollywood stars were seen to like his work, but true to form the studio executives remained stony-faced.

It’s clear that ABC were becoming unsure about the potential of the show and whether it fitted inon their network. A change in culture was underway at the network, as Scott Mosier would later remember: “[That January] Who Wants to be a Millionaire aired and (ABC) shot up to being the top network … When you’re in last place, I think you think about things like hey let’s air Clerks that seems interesting and when you’re in first place I don’t think you want to air it as much.”

It was also clear that the network weren’t even sure who would actually watch Clerks. As Smith described at News Askew in March 2000:
“I should clear up the test screening thing. ABC had two sets of test screenings in Ohio and San Diego, for which they recruited audiences for a completely different show, and instead showed them Clerks. Our big complaint was that because they recruited for a different show, our key demographic was not represented (18 – 25). And I never said they screen edit for 55 – 80 year olds. I likened these test screenings to test screening Dogma to an audience of 55 – 80 year old priests.

“But we held test screenings of our own in LA at the Miramax screening room. Two sets of audiences: one comprised of View Askew fans, the other made up of mainstream TV views not necessarily familiar with the stuff View Askew has done. Most importantly – both audiences contained our crucial 18 – 25 year olds, and both screenings scored substantially higher than the ABC recruited test screenings.”

The other fly in the ointment was that (as is often the case with US series) the shows would not be shown in production or “right” order. Although the pilot had been produced as an introduction to the concept and the characters for general viewers at the studio’s request, the eventual episode wasn’t considered funny enough. Forced to make a choice the producers selected episode four as the strongest, which would offer its own problems in the end.

There had been, however, enough faith in the show to run a promotion for the programme during The Superbowl, the largest American sporting event of the year; but these had not been produced by the programme makers and completely failed to capture the essence of Clerks. Suddenly this was the story of a slacker and his slacker friends; the only scene to appear being the moment from the pilot episode (which wasn’t being shown) where Jay hit a firecracker in the air with a baseball bat. It also hadn’t helped that the advert had promoted the March premiere, not the summer slot it now languished in. They would also be showing in a 9.30pm timeslot after one of their more popular sitcoms Drew Carey (shown in the UK on E4 now and then) following the season finale of Spin City (Michael J Fox’s final episode) a week before. Although the audience figures weren’t great there it attracted many teens and twentysomethings, the target audience.

Unfortunately, the hype which was needed to get this demographic to tune in didn’t materialize. USA Today had covered the series months ahead of time; but this had doubtless been forgotten. Other than a full page in advert TV Guide (drawn by Chris Bailey), the programme makers had to do their own publicity. Scott Mosier paid $400 of his own money for a two week advert on the internet magazine Zentertainment. On the day the first show aired Kevin Smith did the usual round of publicity. He appeared on The Howard Stern Radio Show (and believes that a large proportion of the audience who watched that night had first heard about it that morning). But despite their efforts he was already pessimistic about their chances as he revealed during a webchat for CNN.com:

“I’d be happy if three people watched and found it hilarious. Those three people would be Michael Eisner, Stu Bloomberg and Lloyd Braun, co-heads of ABC. If only those three cats tuned in and found the show funny, we might have a shot at life beyond our meager six episodes. No one else in the entire world has to watch, just those three guys. Failing that, if more people tuned in to watch the show than had tuned in to watch the final episode of M*A*S*H, then we might get renewed as well.”

In that same interview he expressed regrets that he hadn’t gone with UPN after all:

“As for regrets, the only real regret is that we didn’t opt to go with UPN instead of ABC. The UPN pitch meeting was classic. We didn’t have to pitch. They said, ‘Look, we don’t care what the show’s about. Just bring it here. We need programmes.’ We could’ve xeroxed our asses for a half hour and they would’ve let it run for at least two seasons. ABC wouldn’t let us xerox our asses, so I regret going with that particular network.”
From this evidence it’s clear that by this time Smith (and everyone else with an interest) had resigned himself to the fact that it had been an adventure, that they had a cartoon series they felt they could be proud of but that it was time to move on. They would be lucky if all six of the episodes made were shown. Yes, there was the slim possibility that it would be a massive success with great word of mouth, but it was unlikely. Already the realisation had dawned that the ongoing project was dead.

When it came to transmission it has to be said that the show aired on time but that an audience who hadn’t seen the film would be particularly confused by exactly who everyone was and how the series might turn out. The plot of the episode was that Jay slips on the floor of the Quick Stop, and after some convincing from Randal hires a high-powered lawyer to sue Dante for $10 million. It led to a classic courtroom scenario laced with dream sequences as a jury made up of All American Basketball All-Stars and the aforementioned Judge Reinhold presiding over all. The end of the episode went on to poke gentle fun at the animators (a concept which had been mentioned and liked in some of the original pitch meetings) as it was explained that due to circumstances beyond their control, the script for the rest of the episode was lost on its way overseas, but that luckily it was completed by the Koreans. Cue an elaborate trip into anime as all of the characters are re-imagined in a Pokémon style and the plot strands are drawn together in a nightmare which includes Sailor Moon, Pikachu, a Transformer (which turns from car to robot killing its passengers in the process) and Judge Reinhold partnering Axel Foley whilst they battle a giant rat.

Although entertaining, without the layers of knowledge acquired from watching Smith’s films and the proceeding three episodes it’s an entirely bewildering experience. Unlike the first episodes of The Simpsons or South Park it lacks the satisfying ending which is needed to make people actually want to watch again or even build a cult following.

The best reviews appeared on the internet in magazines focused upon the show’s target audience, and by fans on the News Askew discussion boards (which Smith and crew followed that night, presumably to see if they had at least pleased their core audience). Elsewhere, viewpoints were mixed.

Ironically, it was Variety (which had legendarily slammed Star Trek on its first night) which liked it the most. The others were very unkind although more often than not they respected the look of the show and the animation. The worst review appeared in Entertainment Weekly:
“Kevin Smith’s 1994 movie and current comic book have become a minimally animated cartoon series featuring New Jersey convenience-store drudge Dante, video-store drudge Randal, and freelance drudges Jay and Silent Bob, plus Smith’s trademark style of humour: endless cult-movie and not-gettin’-any sex jokes. Add a tired parody of The People’s Court, a disgusting Sally Ride astronaut joke, and an insidious strain of homophobia disguised as aren’t-we-cool-to-make-fun-of-gays jokes, and I say, after seeing five episodes, these creeps can’t disappear fast enough.”

The second episode to air was the actual second episode to be made, a parody of the clip shows which appear now and then in US series as a cost-saving exercise. The joke here being that they would only be able to flashback to clips from the first episode (although later in the show we see sections of episodes which hadn’t even been made, like the time Randall became the internet bride of a Chinese businessman). Obviously for the premise of the show and most of the jokes to work the audience had to be aware of what happened in that pilot episode – which at this stage hadn’t been aired (had the series continued the actual pilot would have appeared fifth). With this in mind the audience was once again unable to follow the show.

The plotlines for the other four episodes had a blatant disregard for the conventions of much television animation in that although the stories certainly come from the characters, their actions are taken to extremes. In the pilot, Dante and Randal found their livelihoods in question when the maniacal multi-millionaire Leonardo Leonardo opens the massive rival Quicker Stop across the street. Episode three was the parody of the film Outbreak, with terror brought about by Randal’s paranoia of a pet shop monkey and in episode five, Dante coached a team of misfit Little Leaguers as Randal became an unwitting pawn in a governmental secret program which resembles the Temple of Doom from the Indiana Jones movie.

That the series was nothing like the original film that spawned it was addressed in the final episode. Called “The Final Episode” it opened with Dante and Randal being harangued at a Comics Convention because they have ignored what has gone before. They therefore promise that this episode would be just like the film and on cue the caption cards from the movie return, and Dante and Randal don’t leave the counter area. The joke develops that increasingly amazing events happen outside the store, but because the clerks can’t leave, the viewer doesn’t get to see more. It’s a premise that mostly works as the viewers tries to piece together what they are missing from the evidence being brought in by Silent Bob, Jay and the other customers.

In the final analysis, “mostly works” is a term that could describe the series as whole. Watching it in the intended order (thanks to the DVD) as the running jokes and confidence build the overall impression is of something born of a genuine attempt at something fresh being nurtured onto the screen. If these were the first six episodes of a new cartoon series, there is certainly enough here to make someone who is interested in animation and a fan of similar shows continue to watch. That said, it does also feel throughout like a compromise. For a show such as this to succeed there needed to be some trust on the part of the network to allow the programme-makers to put their vision on screen. The reason The Simpsons works is that Fox notoriously backs away from it and allows Matt Groening to get on with putting the show he wants up on the screen.

Likewise, South Park would never have worked if the Comedy Channel had said that they couldn’t have made fun of David Coruso’s career in the pilot when Kyle was trying to get his brother to jump out of the UFO. Classic animation is never created when its creators are overruled at every turn. Essentially what happened with Clerks: The Animated Series is that the network told the programme makers what they wanted and then didn’t like it when the programme wasn’t everything they hoped. It’s impossible to have it both ways.

In many ways it’s difficult to see why Clerks: The Animated Series was ever commissioned as a going concern at all. It isn’t a show for a wide audience. The humour isn’t broad enough, and in places, as has already been discussed, the viewer needs all kinds of weird knowledge of film, TV, cartoon and Kevin Smith trivia to appreciate it. The Outbreak parody is hilarious if you’ve seen the virus thriller and the final episode is laced with material for fans of the original film, but looking at the series dispassionately there simply isn’t enough here for a second series on a major network. There’s not enough to build on. But The Simpsons is filled with film parody isn’t it? And isn’t that the most popular show on the planet? Well, yes, but you don’t actually have to have the knowledge to find it funny because the characters are familiar for a family audience. There the references are elaborate, but they’re worked in. With Clerks the writers are winking at the audience to such an extent that it looks like some kind of chronic condition. There needs to be broader humour otherwise the viewer will switch off because they feel stupid.

The other problem is that the main characters are Dante and Randal and the show is called Clerks. That needs some qualification. In the film, the reason the audience sympathises with Dante and Randal is because they’re either just like them or know someone like them. Dante is the talker, Randal the doer – but things begin to go wrong when the roles are switched. In the cartoon, the characters undergo a change which blands them out slightly, so that the audience can’t build an expectant picture of what they’re like – some of the time they’re undoubtedly funny dialogue is interchangeable. Dante could be the eternal loser, Randal always coming up gold. A general audience likes something simpler to hold onto. The characterisations here (possibly by design) don’t seem as clear as they are in something like Friends (Pheobe is the kooky one, Joey’s a bit thick, Rachel is prissy etc).

But – the screen lights up when Jay and Silent Bob arrive. They’re such archetypes, the loudmouth and the mute, so carefully drawn, that you know magic will occur. A large proportion of the funnier moments are in their hands – for example in the unseen pilot when they defect and begin to stand in front of the Quick-er Stop, or in the little league scenes where both of them round the bases together. They’re an odd couple, and they worked well enough to carry a feature film. However it’s almost like watching The Simpsons and the focus is on Marge every episode, or tuning in for the adventures of Leela on Futurama. There is a reason it’s all Homer (or Bart) and Fry (or Bender).

Having said all of that, as a cult show, Clerks: The Animated Series is just perfect. Perhaps if the network had enough faith to sell it as such, advertised it enough in the right place to the right demographic with some savvy, and made sure that anyone who might be interested would be watching, it might have had a big enough audience to have been a success. Sadly there are still some people (especially in this country) who loved the Kevin Smith films but don't even know the cartoon exists. That’s a shame because it’s certainly as funny in places as any of the film work.

For all these reasons outlined, Clerks: The Animated Series just didn’t take off as everyone had hoped and ABC canned it after airing just two out of the six episodes. Kevin Smith again returned to film with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, a $15 million in-joke to wrap up the story of the stoners which went on to become his biggest hit yet, garnering an even larger fan base. Like the cartoon this was filled with references and characters from all of his previous films, but the studio stayed away from the production process with only the US movie ratings board keeping him at bay.

In the internet trailer for that film Smith makes his final comment about the whole cartoon affair. The live action clerks sit and stand in their familiar positions behind the counter. Dante makes some remark about his friend hanging about the store all day. Randal turns to him: “If you had been funnier than that ABC would never have cancelled us.”

Spam I recently posted this spam email from fictional amore Nicola Bradley. It seems she gets about a bit and I'm not the first to 'fall' for her 'charms'. Web searches have abounded and led here. From the comments box on that post ...
"I just got this email too.. After seeing it on your site, my first thought was 'Yep, it's spam.. probably spam for a porn site'.. guess someone could write back and find out what they send you.. but, im guessing its spam that they get you to write them, so its considered only voluntary." -- Ryan

"Very creative! I got it too. I had to search and I ended up here. Thank goodness I didn't reply. :)" -- Anon

"Yeah, Nicole sure does get around...I got it too. I thought it looked a bit odd, so I decided to do a search. Consider your site as a pubic service!" -- Steve
Interesting Freudian typo Steve. Perhaps you should both ask Sebastian about it ...
"Well, not for me I'm Kinda late for search, I thought she was for really, well I got to get a life."
Don't be too hard on yourself Seb I'm sure any virile man glancing over that email would think their luck had changed even for a split second. Would be interested to hear from anyone who has answered the email ...
That Day The turnout at the local council election, must, I think, have reached an all-time low. As we sat in out depressing little portacabin, with the sounds and sights of school children chattering about and watching the one pensioner a quarter hour toddle up the rain soaked disabled access ramp, all I could think was -- and the people of Iraq have been clammering for this? Or actually the people of Iraq are clammering for this and we take it so much for granted that some of us don't even bother? Embarassment and guilt are just beginning to set in.
TV My new article for Off The Telly about Clerks: The Animated Series has just been published with a nice creamy background this time. You can read it here. Still embracing DVD technology, I offer the following deleted scene, cut for time and relevance:
"But it was enough to get Smith a reputation of sorts and as is the way in these stories Hollywood was calling. It’s important to talk about his next project because it would be the first time he worked for a major studio, and the curbing of his artistic control, something which would happen again with the cartoon series. Mallrats was Clerks writ large – his attempt to essentially remake that film in a much larger setting. Instead of Dante and Randal, this time Brodie and TS. Jay and Silent Bob returned but their role was more cartooney, more comic book characterish (Silent Bob became obsessed with trying to use The Force from the Star Wars films and had a Batmanesque utility belt). It gave Smith the chance to work with professional and name actors (this was were he would meet long time pals Ben Affleck and Jason Lee, whose careers he would jump start, and fell out with Shannon Doherty). But this came at a price. The studio clearly wanted a mainstream film, so much of the verbal humour of the first becomes gross out visual humour ala Animal House. As the production began, Jay was almost recast (Jason Mewes was almost the only non-professional actor on the set and the executives weren’t sure if he could carry the film). Throughout production he felt that the piece was being compromised and that ultimately the studio didn’t really understand what he wanted to do. The film was barely released in the end but found an audience on video, which is were it premiered in the UK having missed out on a theatrical release here as well. It was during the making of this film certain cynicism of the studio system undoubtedly crept in; his next film Chasing Amy was a no budget indie production again."
I'll record an audio commentary when I can round up the boys. In an odd twist I talked up Mike 'Friar Tuck' McShane's work on Clerks. In his excellent piece on Whose Line Is It Anyway? Matthew Rudd shares the love:
"McShane never failed to find a rhyme, never failed to find a plot to the story, never resorted to "oh yeah"-esque fillers to account for syntactical or structural deficiencies and - most crucially - never failed to be funny. His vocal work was enormously impressive, veering worryingly towards perfection, something which improvisation never sought, expected or needed. However, McShane's lack of roughness around the edges never gave rise to any nudge-nudge grumbles about rehearsal - his integrity was always way ahead of that in the race. His skill was also useful as the last verse of the collective song (a march or gospel, generally), as at least two of the previous three contributions regularly were delivered on a rhyme-at-all-costs basis, with humour treated merely as a bonus. On top of all that, McShane could sing."
He also goes on to remind us of all the things we were saying at the time, (ie) John Sessons wasn't funny, Josie Lawrence couldn't sing, Tony Slattery needed a good kicking etc.
Font I've gone back to Verdana. Georgia was hurting my eyes ... and the tag board's gone. So you'll have to use those lovely commenting tags ...
Theatre Here is something I never thought I would hear myself say. Last night, I walked out on Shakespeare. Or rather I walked out on a performance of Shakespeare. I won’t embarrass anyone with the details of who (after all I did leave in the intermission and for I know the second half might have been dynamite) although I should say our local paper gave the same performance 8/10 tonight (but that review spent 80% on Shakespeares words and 20% on what he saw – yes we know it’s very well written, that’s why people perform it so often). It was a production of Henry V. Now it won’t replace Hamlet in my heart but I do like the play – I once almost had to do ‘Once More Unto The Breach…’ at school and I always get a tear when I here the king say ‘On St. Crispin’s Day….’

But this just felt wrong. To my mind Henry V is no tyrant. Yes he tramples into France but for his men to respect him they way they do in the play he has to rule with an even hand. The man I saw last night just seemed to like SHOUTING. A LOT. AT EVERYBODY! Even the tenderer scenes became a chance for him to annunciate loudly. And it wasn’t just him. Everyone was giving it some. But it didn’t feel like acting. It felt like an exercise in remembering the lines. Which they mostly did very well. Except I didn’t feel a sense of character. The king was a king because he was wearing a crown. But as the rest of the cast glided through it was difficult to get a handle on any of them.

Before the show I listened to a couple behind me criticizing the Macbeth I loved so much in the same venue a few weeks ago. At least he had a table. It was also a period perfect no scenery approach here (except for the ‘wooden’ O), and I appreciate the idea of giving the audience the chance to use their imagination. This is after all what this play is about (as the Chorus reminds us all the time). But in places the playing of the people in spaces scewed this somewhat as the characters stepped over and crashed about on the O. No real sense of place. And no one seemed to be just listening. They were mostly waiting for the next line.

So by about three quarters of an hour in I know I really didn’t want to stick around. So I left at the halfway point and [what happened next censored due to blogging rules – let’s just say I got my money’s worth afterall].

It is unusual how inconsistent I am about leaving some piece of art in the middle. Everyone had obviously worked hard on the production, and it was touring so this wasn’t the first time it had been performed for an audience. Being on the road is tough too. And anyone still putting on the words of my favourite four hundred year old poet is to be congratulated. But I feel OK about it because most of the stuff I objected to was down to artistic choices which I didn’t agree with. And yet I sat through Scooby Doo, Showgirls and (bless me) Spiceworld, all even more inexplicable pieces of art. And the production of ‘The Crucible’ in Edinburgh were one of the parts was essayed by the director because the original actor was sick, and he was reading nervously from the text through out. And he had all of the lines. But I think for that last one there was a Dunkirk spirit at play. They were an amateur production and not getting paid really. Henry V was a professional production and I just felt I wanted something more for my fiver.
Food Ever wondered why pigs make the best truffle detectors?
"The pig is not content to wag his tail and point when he has discovered a truffle," wrote Mayle. "He wants to eat it. In fact, he is desperate to eat it. And you cannot reason with a pig on the brink of gastronomic ecstasy. He is not easily distracted, nor is he of a size you can fend off with one hand while you rescue the truffle. There he is, as big as a small tractor, rigid with porcine determination and refusing to be budged."
Feels a bit sinister to me ...
Alanis I know this news is a fortnight old, but Rolling Stone reports she's back in the studio recording a new album. Still bonkers:
Although the songs are not yet written, Morissette knows that they will reflect the world's current upheaval, however indirectly. "I will always write about the microcosm that can be extrapolated into the macro," she says. "Something that's going on between myself and another person can be extrapolated between what's going on between Saddam Hussein and Bush. It's the same schoolyard, sandbox issue. So my preference isn't to stand on a soapbox and say what I think they should do when I possess the same qualities that they may be showing on a grander scale. I much prefer to write about my own relationships rather than pointing fingers."
'Under Rug Swept' really grew on me after a while so this may be a good thing. Keep the ideas small though ...