In 1969, two dope-smoking hippies hopped on their Harleys and set out in search of America.
In 2000, two hapless puppets will hop into a convertible and set out in search of the same place.
One thing you can say about the difference between "Easy Rider" and the upcoming animated comedy "Gary & Mike": The more things change, the smaller they get.
You won't hear Steppenwolf's thundering "Born to Be Wild" in the opening credits of the new comedy, which will premiere on Fox at midseason. And there are no weird LSD sequences. Gary and Mike are basically two guys out to have a good time and score babes.
But the two would probably bond easily with the '60s antiheroes. They are on the road, on the run, in the sack and in trouble.
"Gary & Mike" is one of the latest in the onslaught of animated projects hitting prime-time networks in the hopes of becoming the next "Simpsons." The comedy is continuing the tradition of "South Park," "The PJs" "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist" and other 'toons that have a pointed adult flavor combined with a visual form that appeals to young people. Viewers hoping for a series that shows puppets in bed--and not just sleeping--will finally get their wish.
But even though there is no shortage of subversive and edgy humor in "Gary & Mike," the series is being designed as a good-natured and humorous romp revolving around two best friends traveling around the country at "the dawn of the new millennium." Of course, weekly catastrophes occur.
Fox, which has not had the best luck so far this season with its new fall shows, is hoping that audiences discover "Gary & Mike," even though insiders wonder if the crowded prime time animation field may have lost its novelty.
Also scheduled for midseason are NBC's "God, the Devil & Bob" and David Spade's "Sammy," which will join current animated series "Futurama," "King of the Hill," "The Simpsons," "Family Guy" (on hiatus) and the return of "The PJs."
However, Mike Darnell, Fox executive vice president for specials and alternative programming, said he didn't feel the inability of some animation series to catch fire was a result of the genre reaching a saturation level with its audience.
"I really don't believe that you can reach a saturation level on a certain form," said Darnell. "People aren't burned out yet. They're just looking for a show that's funny and pointed. This comedy fits the bill."
The series, which is being produced by Will Vinton Studios in association with Big Ticket Television, features the voices of Harland Williams as Mike Bonner and Christopher Moynihan as Gary Newton. The series was created by Fax Bahr and Adam Small, who developed Fox's "Mad TV."
"We really at heart wanted to do a road show," Bahr said. "We can go to a different city every week. We don't have to worry about setting up the wacky neighbors. And we're dealing with two characters who are not really equipped to be on the road at all. They are naive and optimistic to a fault, and they're excited about what lies around the next bend."
The series has another distinction from other animated shows: It was originally designed as a live-action series.
"We put in all the locations and scenes that we wanted to do in the first episode, and it would have cost around $5 million," said Small. "There were 52 locations in the first episode. That was a bit much, to say the least. So then we started [wondering] if we could go a Claymation route."
Enter Will Vinton Studios, the Portland-based studio house that put together last season's "The PJs," the controversial animated series set in an inner-city housing project. As was "The PJs," "Gary & Mike" is being animated in Foamation, a more realistic variation of the Claymation process that was pioneered by Vinton, creator of "The California Raisins."
"Now it's being done the way it should be, like a little movie each week," said Small. In addition to Foamation, digital animation is used in some background sequences, giving the show a slick look that meshes nicely with some of the more intentionally rough animation.
Tom Turpin, president of Will Vinton Studios, said the look of the show is crucial to conveying the mood, as it was with "The PJs."
"With 'The PJs,' we wanted a grittiness to the animation, but we didn't want it to be a downer," he said. "We didn't want it to look raw. We needed to show 'This is just a joke.' but with 'Gary & Mike,' we can be a lot more raw."
"Gary & Mike" has taken on greater significance at Fox this season, considering the struggle the network has experienced with the lackluster performance of much of its new fall lineup.
One Fox animated series, "Family Guy" is already spending time on the bench after its new episodes turned in low ratings. Meanwhile, "The PJs," which was moderately successful last season, is expected to return in midseason.