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YBMW Interview: The Creators of Cartoon Network’s New ‘MAD’ Series

Posted by Hoob on September 15th, 2010
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mad_poster.jpgWhen we were just little wookies, one of the magazines that we would always read (even if it was just in the magazine aisle at Stop & Shop) was MAD. From the movie parodies to the back-cover fold-in, it was always funny. Mad wasn’t just a magazine either. For several years it served as the Fox Network’s counterpoint to Saturday Night Live. Well, now it is returning again, via the Cartoon Network. This time, There will be no Bobby Lee or Andy McDonald, instead there will be new animated sketches in the style of the magazine that helped shaped a generation. Recently, we had a chance to sit down and talk to MAD producer and former “Robot Chicken” writer/producer/performer/creative director, Kevin Shinick and MAD producer/cartoonist/artist Mark Marek about the new show and why it is worth fifteen minutes of our weekly TV time.

YBMW: We saw the promo reel for the shot and it looks like you are definitely gonna bring something new to Cartoon Network.

K/S: That’s for sure, that’s an understatement.

YBMW: I grew up reading MAD. I mean I even had like the “Snappy Comebacks to Stupid Questions” books and stuff. How far back are you guys reaching with the new series? Are you guys looking mainly at entirely new stuff, or are you looking to pull some classic material, also?

K/S: I think the core is current, but we are, for someday like a Don Martin, we’re reaching back as far as humor will allow us. Today’s, you know, current humor. But for the most part, it’s extremely topical. Right Kevin?

K/S: It’s extremely topical, but like Mark said: If you remember it from MAD, chances are that we’re translating it to television. So snappy answers will be there, uh, Spy vs Spy, like to see, MAD looked at, all those things that you loved, all are gonna be represented on the show, but with a more current content.
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YBMW: Have you found a way to animate the back covers of the magazines?

K/S: Funny, sort of, everybody always asks, and that’s the first thing we said we wanted to do when we got here. Now, as we talked about before, you know, translating this to television has been a challenge also. Cuz a lot of the times, what we loved about MAD was being able to sit and read those blocks of texts, you know, that were in the movie parodies, or do the fold-in when we had time to fold it all together.

So what we’ve done is, for now we paid a little homage to the fold-in, and we try and do that with the end credits, we try and put that through transitions of folding the TV screen in on itself.

You know, first we were looking at it to try and have it be something, but like I said, those things were also fun and interesting, but I wouldn’t say they were ever hilarious, so we thought, “Well, let’s pay homage as opposed to just staring at something and trying to piece together what it is,” you know? We used the physical technique, and I think that’s probably what we want at this point.

YBMW: What sort of age range are you guys looking to hit with this show?

K/S: I’m looking for 60 to 70, myself, but…

Well the thing is, we all talked about how, I think we all discovered MAD somewhere between the ages of 8 and 15. And so that was the target audience we wanted to shoot for in, in introducing ourselves to that audience, but we also want the show to be fun for everybody. We want people who have the nostalgic, you know, flavor of MAD come back and watch it for that reason, and yet be brand new for a younger generation.

YBMW: On Cartoon network, the closest your closest parallel would probably be, you know – especially for Mark – Robot Chicken. That show definitely leans pretty edgy at times. Are you guys gonna stick in the Cartoon Network sandbox or are you diving into the Adult swim back alley?
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K/S: Well here’s the thing: keep in mind, that show, you know, I write on Robot Chicken. And we can get away with a lot, because a) we’re Adult Swim, and we’re on at midnight. This show, I think the objective was to kind of give another option in addition to Robot Chicken, which would be kind of a more family-oriented one. So that’s why we’re premiering on at 8:30 on Mondays. And that’s a big family time, so yeah, we are gonna have bigger hoops to jump through, but that doesn’t mean we’re not gonna try and push the envelope. And as I said earlier, Mark and I are constantly trying, if it’s funny to us, we’re putting it on the air.

Yeah, we’re constantly pushing that envelope.

Yeah, exactly. I mean, I’m literally writing stuff that makes me laugh. And that’s my barometer. And I’m a huge fan of MAD, so the objective, I think the biggest critic we’re gonna have are the people who we work with. You know, because Mark wants it to be as good as the MAD he remembers, I want it to be as good as the MAD I remember. So we’re doing what we can, within that time slot, but the same token, I think the good thing is it can be watched by everybody. It’s not something that someone’s gonna be like, “Uh-oh, I don’t want my kids watching that, either.” You can sit and watch it with your kids.

YBMW: You guys are seeing this stuff already, and you’re writing this stuff, and it’s making you laugh, what are, for each of you the sketches that are already your favorites?

K/S: As far as the genre, it’s certainly the movie and, the movies parodies. Just because, my personal taste, well first of all I loved those in the magazine, with Mort Drucker, I loved his art. But I also loved the lengthy story telling and the inclusiveness of little tiny jokes that referred to other movies. It was so detailed, that was my favorite part of the magazine. And it’s my favorite part of this project we’re on now, because it does involve a direct parody of usually a couple movies. Kevin will write up some mash-ups, and it involves story telling and pacing, and music and sound effects in ways that you don’t always get with the smaller bits. Even though smaller bits are funny, I sort of lean towards longer bits as far as being enjoyable to work on.

Yeah, I mean, I’m the same way, I love those movie parodies. One of the things I love most about MAD was the crazy titles they would do to MADify whatever movie you were reading. So I’ve had a lot of fun with that, but the same token, I’ve really had a good time coming up with our fake commercials. You know, whether it be the Beiber Bowl, or, you know, there’s just so many that we’ve come up with now, that those, I always look forward to those in the episode. Although so far, specific sketch, I think Grey’s In Anime has really made me laugh. We’ve taken the cast of Grey’s Anatomy and put them through a filter of anime, and it’s been crazy, but it really is one of my favorites now.

It’s a great thing though, when I get these scripts from Kevin, and I read the title, and I start laughing, I go, “This thing can’t fail. This title is hilarious.”
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YBMW: So, how involved are the legends from the magazine gonna be? Like Mort Drucker and Sergio and guys like that? Are they involved, or is it, or is stylistically just gonna be sort of an homage to them?

K/S: Well Sergio’s very involved. Mort Drucker is probably not at that age and energy level where he can be involved. I would like to think that if this gets out there and gets to the eyes of Jack Davis that he would call and want to be involved. But, uh, and of course Don Martin has passed on, but Sergio is our big link right now, and he’s very active, and…

Right. Sergio’s a huge contributor to the show, and, you know Tom Richmond kind of followed Mort Drucker in the magazine, and he’s been a part of the show. And I think as Mark put it, you know, if they were younger and wanted to be part of it, but I think right now a lot of them are happy to see what’s become of their MAD, you know, but like I said, if they have the energy for it, then by all means we are so welcoming to have them And Sergio has stepped and really blessed us. Both with his talent, and with just his blessing of getting us off the air. I mean, off the ground, and on air.

YBMW: This isn’t the first time that some of MAD’s been animated. When MAD TV first started, they had the Spy vs. Spy sketches in there. What are you doing to – I know Spy vs. Spy is part of this series as well – what are you doing to make it new?

K/S: Well, you know, tune in. Well you know, and I’ve said this before, but we’ve done two things. We try to do two things. One is to continue the tradition of MAD. And by that I mean taking all the bits and things that you remember, and giving them a life on television, and translating them into the medium of television. But the way MAD Magazine worked was, it took a bunch of artists who at one tie were not known, and put them together and made them really famous for their work. And we’re utilizing those same talents for this, but also adding to it. We’ve got a whole slew of new animators as well, we’re working alongside, you know, a Spy vs. Spy will air, and then we’ll have a Wortela, or we’ll have a Bunko. So you’ve got a lot of different animators, a lot of different writers, all working on this to keep the flavor of MAD, but also make it seem very current.

YBMW: I noticed in the reel that you guys sent over, it’s not just an animated show. It’s animation, mixed in with some collage, some stop-motion. What sort of production challenges did you guys have? like I know Robot Chicken for example, takes forever to produce an episode.

K/S: Well the obvious hurdle is trying to accommodate so many styles. Each style has it’s own ball and chain that has to be tackled, and because this 11 minutes has probably 15, 16, 17 bits, the big struggle is coordinating all that.

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely, you know? And but, as we said, whereas other shows have one style – and like they send their stuff out, or at Robot Chicken we do it all in-house right there, it’s all stop-motion – because we’ve got so many moving parts, and so many different styles that we’re trying to represent, um, it is kind of a catch-up game to write as much as we can, to send it all out, and to see what comes back to create a show out of the bits that are coming back.

Yeah, and a lot of times when I get these scripts from Kevin, I look at them and I go, “Well now, let’s do a Robert Crumb here, or let’s…” you know, and I’ve got a whole board here full of artists I’d like to use, that probably have never had visibility. So it’s like, “What does this piece want?” as an artist, is the way I sort of approach it. So, there’s a lot of little bitty, little bits of thinking that go into each bit that Kevin writes.
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YBMW: So do you even look at the shows as individual episodes, or when you put it together do you just put together the entire season and see how you sort of park bits together as you go along?

K/S: No, no, no. We definitely, I mean, we’re definitely working with episode. It’s just that we want every episode to contain as many different styles of humor and as many different styles of animation as it can. You know, we look at each episode as like a little mini animated film festival. And you want at least one, you know, stop-motion representative. You want photo collage, you want flash, you want all sorts of different things. All different color palettes. So when we get all that stuff back, we try very hard to make sure each episode represents that, and doesn’t doubly represent it. You know, like the magazine, every episode of ours will start with a movie parody, will end with a TV parody. We’ll have in it commercial parodies, and fake promos, and magazine segments, and crazy stuff that we’ve come up with just here in the office.

Now, Check out the very first episode for yourself right here.


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