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Q & A : ROY DISNEY: The Networks Just Said 'Yes'

April 15, 1990|Sharon Bernstein

Cartoon characters and the TV networks have put aside their differences for "Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue," an anti-drug program airing Saturday on NBC, CBS and ABC at 9:30 a.m.; Nickelodeon and USA at 10:30 a.m., and Disney at noon. It will also air oo KCOP Sunday at 7:30 a.m. and KTTV April 23 at 4:30 p.m.

Typically, the creators of cartoon characters are archrivals and are so protective of their creatures that Disney, for example, has been known to sue nursery schools for the unauthorized depictions of Mickey Mouse on their walls. Roy Disney, vice chairman of the board of directors at the Walt Disney Co. and executive producer of the program, talked with Sharon Bernstein about how "Cartoon All-Stars" came together and what the companies involved hope to achieve.

Tell me about this project.

It started with (former Academy of Television Arts and Sciences President) Rich Frank coming to me, representing the academy substance abuse committee. They had somehow come up with this notion of doing something on Saturday morning, because a lot of research had shown that the younger you can get to people with this message about drugs, the better you can do. And so somehow or another, they had come up with this notion of an all-star Saturday morning kind of show that would get to that 5 to 10 or 11 age group.

He came to me and said, "Would you like to be executive producer, with the basic theory that maybe your name might smooth out some of the differences between all of the constituents?" You don't say, "no" to something like that.

How did you go about getting the cooperation of the networks and producers?

First of all, we got the three networks together, the women who buy Saturday morning (programs). They said, "Great, we'll clear the time."

The networks agreed to cooperate and put their differences aside, which was wonderful. We went then to the producers of the various shows, who pretty much said exactly the same thing with the proviso, "We don't want our characters to be users, we want them to be helpers," which is obvious. From then on, it's been trying to write a script and get everybody's approval, including getting approval from people who were in the business of dealing with kids.

To whom did you go for advice about kids?

We didn't go to Nancy Reagan or someone and say, "We want your point of view."

We wanted a lot of points of view, and we wanted a generality of approach, (so we went to a number of sources, including psychologists).

The terrible thing is you have 500 groups that all want to have something to say about the script.

How did you find the writers for the script?

Tom (Swale) and Duane (Poole) are two guys who have an enormous background and a tremendously good reputation in Saturday morning-type shows. They had broken away from that and were trying to establish themselves in more of the mainstream, but they sort of came back and said, "We know every character in this show, and we know how to write their dialogue."

What is the show about?

There's a kid who's got a problem and his little sister, who is really sort of your voice in the thing, who senses the changing in her brother. She has the imagination of a child, who can deal with these cartoon characters coming to life and who is (the viewer's) surrogate in the story. In addition, there is the third character, Smoke, who is George C. Scott's voice. It was just dear of George to come in and do it. I think he had fun. It's just evil as heck too.

Did Scott donate his time?

He did it for scale. Everybody worked for scale.

Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (who won this year's Oscar for best song for "Under the Sea" from the film, "The Little Mermaid,") wrote two songs.

So it's really aimed more at the younger brothers and sisters?

I think so. You say 5 to 11 when you say Saturday morning, and probably the younger half of that is really more the ones that you're going to be capturing.

What does the program try to say?

The message is real simple. It's, "Don't start." It's based on the don't get started idea, learn to say, "no."

The middle song, where the whole cast joins in, it's kind of an English tavern song. All the characters come in and give the kids their own version of how to say, "no." And the climax of it is Miss Piggy, who has throughout the whole thing been saying, "I've got a better way," and finally comes shooting in and lands on Smoke and shouts, "NO!".

To me that is almost the point of the film, because in my own growing up, when Snow White was being made, my only two memories are either scary or funny. And if all (a child) ever remembers is Miss Piggy landing on (Smoke) and saying, "no," then he's got a weapon later on and he isn't afraid. He understands that it's OK to say, "no."

But for the older kids, the message isn't as simple.

There's sort of a subtext in there for the older kids, where Smoke sort of goes away, but he says, "I'll be back." And I think it's a very important message, because you cannot just kick a habit and it's gone forever.

What about the parents? Did you deliberately decide to keep the parents' role minimal?

Yes, that was fairly deliberate. Because kids operate on those frequencies. They really think of themselves as being separate.

Will there be regular commercials in it?

No. It's 26 1/2 minutes of program. There are no breaks at all.

The networks are donating their time. McDonald's is paying a significant portion of the production costs. Eastman Kodak donated all of the raw videotape for the video copies of this that are going to be made available through McDonald's outlets and through video stores to parents, along with the educational material.

How much can you really achieve in a program like this?

We felt it was important (to realize) that we are not all things to all people, and we are not going to solve the drug problem with a 30-minute TV show. And we've got to be very, very careful in thinking about it. You've just got to think, "Maybe I'll make a dent."

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