A: Oh, my child. My sweet, innocent child! Yes, in 2011 I wrote sixteen hundred or so words about Max Rebo, his band, and their deleted-from-history hit “Lapti Nek” for Crawdaddy!, and they even paid me for it! Can you fucking believe it? Dig in:
Yes, you should read them in order. Yes, if you have some special acetate of an unreleased “Lapti Nek” dance mix featuring Harrison Ford on vocals I want you to send me the MP3. No, I have no idea where Max Rebo’s magic space keyboard is today.
Couldn’t you just stare at this photo of Coppola all day? His beard looks like the goddamn black hole at the center of the universe. Seems like Frank can somehow sense it as well. It ain’t no concern, though. He’s got bigger fish to fry (i.e. gettin’ Hackman to act good). “There’s a black hole on my chin? Whatever. Magic hour’s almost over.”
Something to ponder: If Return of the Jedi had never been made, the highest grossing film of 1983 would have been Terms of Endearment. Terms was the only other film that year to hit the nine figure mark, whalloping Flashdance, Trading Places, and even Tom Cruise’s breakout hooker comedy Risky Business. People in ’83 really wanted to watch Debra Winger die (SPOILER ALERT).
Of course, the concept of Return of the Jedi never being made is ludicrous. I recently read an interview where George Lucas was asked what he would have done if Mark Hamill had died in that famous car accident just before Star Wars came out, and King George said something to the effect of, “Oh, I would have introduced another young mystical Jedi person and centered Empire and Jedi around them.” Piss off with your dying, Luke Skywalker. You think you can stop this fucking Star Wars juggernaut? You think being the “main character” means anything? Try again.
I’m sure not even the combined deaths of Mark Hamill, George Lucas, the rest of the cast, and every unnamed talent at Skywalker Ranch would have prevented a franchise. The original SW made too much money—”fuck you” money, as my father would call it. 20th Century Fox would have given us something, even if it was pure z-level schlock that followed Doug McClure around Tunisia as he searched for C-3PO’s evil clone with Chewbacca’s “force sensitive” second cousin at his side. Star Wars was a license to print money. Hell, it still is. How else do you explain those prequels?
Still, I’m fascinated by an alternate universe where, for whatever ungodly reason, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back exist yet Return of the Jedi doesn’t, leaving fantasy film’s greatest cliffhangers forever unresolved. It would have to be the result of some complicated legal thing, right? Some Day The Clown Cried situation? Imagine if our rigid American copyright laws prevented anyone from ever seeing Darth Vader without his mask, from ever meeting and/or complaining about an Ewok, from ever hearing Admiral Ackbar bellow, “It’s a trap!” If you think Star Wars nerds are fussy now…
An even crazier scenario: George Lucas, burnt out from Empire, vows to never complete the trilogy and has it written into his contract somehow that no one else can ever make Star Wars III. I mean, he’d be assassinated like two days later, right? None of Boba Fett’s helmet polishers would put up with that.
The real question is: in a world without Jedi, does Kenner switch their focus to produce Terms of Endearment action figures? I’d buy a Debra Winger toy in a heartbeat. Like a twelve inch doll of her smiling like she is on the poster? Oh, that’s going right next to my Gremlins bubble gum machine.
Return of the Jedi’s thirtieth anniversary is just one week away. I hope you’ve got your shopping done. I’m just kidding—we’ve all poured enough money into the Lucasfilm merchandising juggernaut already. If we melted down all the Chewbacca figures sold between 1977 and today there’d probably be enough plastic to make prosthetic limbs for every single person who’s stepped on a forgotten land mine since Star Wars first came out. Not to depress you or anything.
That reminds me of a hilarious story: I was four when Jedi came out and even though I was already amped on America’s number one space opera I didn’t want to see this final installment because Jabba the Hutt looked really scary in the tv commercials. My grandparents bought us all tickets to see the thing anyway, and I was just beside myself that entire morning. Kid logic told me I’d die of shock the moment Jabba came onscreen. Shortly before the movie’s showtime Grandma and I were wandering around K-Mart when I became instantly enamored of an Admiral Ackbar action figure on one of the toy racks. For whatever reason (he looked like a fish person and I liked fish?) this Ackbar toy was shifting the tectonic plates of my Jedi stance. I stood there in a weird daze.
“I’ll make you a deal,” my grandmother said as I clutched the Admiral’s blister pack like it was my only food for the day. “I’ll buy this man for you if you go see the movie with us. Okay?”
There was a brief pause.
“Oh-kay!” I shouted like one of the Little Rascals.
Nothing quells fear quite like spontaneous consumerism. The only memory I have from the actual presentation of Jedi that day is having to pee really badly during the speeder bike chase. Grandpa sensed this, trotting me out to the bathroom so as to prevent me from ruining the fine upholstery at the Sanford, Florida megaplex. I hated giving in, though, because the speeder bikes were so super cool. The theater bathroom was far less enthralling. Once you’ve seen Mark Hamill racing through the Redwood Forest on a space motorcycle self-flushing toilets seem less than outré.
I feel like I’ve told this story before elsewhere, but this version is really the best. Ewok image courtesy of Merchandising Is Forever. Stay tuned for more baloney like this in the coming days.
Wednesday night I recorded a guest appearance on “Schlock Treatment,” a podcast about bad movies hosted in part by my friend Kirk H. The cinematic selection this week was The Prophecy II and since I wrote a book about the Misfits these guys figured I could offer some interesting insights into Glenn Danzig’s small role in the film as this renegade hell angel. Did I do a good job? That’s for you to decide:
Big thanks to the “Schlock” crew for having me on their show. I had a blast, even when I was reading that viewer mail about the weird dinosaur movie. Apologies to Park Overall, whose name I mispronounce in the episode as “Pork” (assuming they left that gaffe in).
I don’t know, I can’t even comprehend it, but that’s where I found it and it’s mine now. I think this safely seals 2013 as a great year.
A few years ago I almost married someone whose only true flaw was a distaste for Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. She thought BTEA was incredibly dumb (I believe her exact words were “This movie, ugh…it’s soooooooooooooo dumb!”). Look, you can accuse director Stephen Herek’s sophomore effort of many crimes and be correct—it’s very dated in pockets, Ted’s brother doesn’t get enough screen time, Napoleon Bonaparte was not actually that short—but you can’t call the movie dumb. Not in my book. The concept is incredible.
What if the spiritual deity who could bring peace and balance to our world materialized as a pair of D+ suburban metalheads, and what if the key to their success involved time travel? It makes Wayne’s World look like the shallow ego party it actually is. What does Wayne stand to lose in his movie? A girl? A tv show? The fate of our universe is in Bill & Ted’s hands, and they’re not even smart enough to get on public access. I guess my point is Mike Myers kinda sucks and I’m glad I’m not raising children right now in a divided household.
News broke today that Disney has shuttered LucasArts, a.k.a. the part of the Star Wars business galaxy what’s been makin’ all the vidjuh games. I never really got down on that Monkey Island tip, but you better believe I spent what felt like feckin’ years in high school playing the living hell out of X-Wing Simulator and its follow up, TIE Fighter. Of course, back then PC games were spread across five or six floppies and you’d be lucky if the damn things ever loaded completely without any errors, but even when X-Wing was messed up it was still one of the greatest computer combat dealy-bobs ever made. I weep for the people who’ve lost their jobs and also for the dissipation of something that was once intensely relevant to me, but I also feel plenty of warm gooeys from all the joy LucasArts gave me in that stoned age before XBoxes and Playstations and even N64s. Thanx for the memories, LA. See you in the (death star) trenches.
Between 1994 and 1997 basic cable was haunted by an irritable, potty-mouthed water fowl who really only got away with neglecting/abusing his family, friends, and co-workers because he was animated. Yet “Duckman” wasn’t just another zany post-”Ren & Stimpy” squiggle fest—razor sharp wit and touching pathos were expertly sewn into this outlandish world for nearly every one of the show’s half hour installments (and it was all brought to life by the amazing voice talents of Jason Alexander, Nancy Travis, and Gregg Berger, et al). Today “Duckman” is firmly enshrined in tv’s cult canon, a forbearer to the “Family Guys” and “American Dads” of the world, albeit far smarter and more roundly satisfying.
Duckman and his brood were all the creation of artist Everett Peck, a Californian if not by birth than at least by heart (he called me from a beach-side bar for this interview). Here now for JG2Land Peck looks back at his CableACE Award-winning series, the struggles within, and what if any shadow Howard the Duck cast on his beloved Erick Duckman.
JG2: Was there concern on your end with transforming Duckman from a comic book to a television series? Were you afraid of your vision becoming corrupted?
EVERETT PECK: Well, the funny thing is the comic and the show were developed simultaneously. The comic wasn’t published yet, and I was doing some unrelated freelance work for [the production company] Klasky Csupo. Gábor Csupo asked me, “Hey, do you have any ideas for shows?” And I said, “Well, I’ve been working on this comic…” They saw Duckman and liked it, so we entered into agreement to develop it. But yeah, there’s always a concern like that, though I kinda set the tone with the comic—all the basic relationships were already there, and all the characters, like Cornfeld and King Chicken, Bernice, et cetera. And I felt confident in Gábor. So we started pitching it to networks.
JG2: Whom besides USA did you pitch?
EP: We went to FOX—well, first we went to Paramount, and they really got on board with it. So with Paramount we went to USA, who were looking for an animated adult series, and we went to FOX, and at that time “The Simpsons”…was in like its second season. Everything was kinda up in the air in terms of prime time animation on television. No one was sure it would work. So we pitched to FOX and USA simultaneously. FOX offered us a two script deal; USA offered thirteen episodes on air, basically a full season. So we went for the sure thing. And I have to say, USA were very open to what we were doing or trying to do. We always intended “Duckman” to be an adult show. Y’know, “The Simpsons” has something for adults and it had something for kids, but we strictly wanted to be for adults. I’m not sure FOX would have let us do that.
JG2: Did you have any issues with Jason Alexander, the voice of Duckman, being on “Seinfeld” at the same time, or did the scheduling just always work out?
EP: Well, at that time even “Seinfeld” had only been going for a couple seasons. It wasn’t the mega hit it would become. So Jason Alexander was still basically an unknown guy. As “Seinfeld” became so popular, yeah, it got a little weird [laughs], but the thing about Jason is he has such great comic timing, he can land all your jokes, he can talk a mile a minute if that’s what you need—he worked out perfectly even when things were weird.
JG2: Were there any other “names” in the running for Duckman? I know you auditioned seventy-ish people.
EP: We did, but I intentionally sort of went for obscure people, like Matt [Groening] did for “The Simpsons.” I don’t think there were any other standouts.
JG2: Earlier you said USA didn’t really note your show very much, but I have to wonder, were they behind that bit in the third season where you had the cast of “Weird Science,” the show “Duckman” immediately followed or preceded, appear as King Chicken’s hostages?
EP: [Laughs] Yeah, that was a USA thing. That was one of the instances were they did meddle. We really—we being myself, Jeff Reno, and Ron Osborne, the two main “Duckman” writers—we were really resistant to that, although I should say we weren’t opposed to doing topical things. I didn’t want to make the show too topical. [That can] really date the show. I wanted to deal with more universal issues, like love, sex, competition.
JG2: What would you say was the hardest aspect of the entire “Duckman” production?
EP: I think one thing was, there was just a constant struggle keep the scripts short enough. We tried to do forty pages or under. Doing that made the animation production much easier. Sometimes we’d have finished animation we had to cut—the show had to be 22 minutes, and to accommodate that we’d have to cut out ten minutes sometimes. Most of the scenes cut dealt with visuals—dialogue always had priority above visuals. That said, I wanted “Duckman” to maintain a quality in terms of the look of the thing. And the animators, they did an awesome job, some of the visuals were fantastic.
JG2: Can you remember any specific tussles about cutting a visual?
EP: I remember a shot in one episode where Ajax is picking a flower on a hill, and it’s a complete 360 rotation where he screams, “NO!!” at the end; that was gonna be cut, but we fought and fought and they kept it in. That was early on in the show, though. By the last season everything went smoother, we really got the feel of it.
JG2: That’s interesting, because it seems like the later “Duckman” seasons would have been harder to handle, what with [Duckman's long lost sister-in-law] Beverly showing up and other secondary characters like Ben Stein being fleshed out a little more. Doing those kinds of things didn’t upset the balance?
EP: No, I mean, what we always wanted to do was have kind of a world, a neighborhood where there were several characters that were reoccurring. The harder thing was a lot of times we’d have Duckman and his family go on locations, to Vietnam or whatever, so the animators would have to draw all new background scenes. I was in favor of the location stuff because it made for interesting shows, but the animators were angry, like, “We have to design 108 more backgrounds?” [laughs]
JG2: Weren’t there also some budgetary issues with USA?
EP: Sure, and that’s ultimately that’s why we were canceled. “Duckman” never got really high ratings. We got maybe a two share—that’s two million people. That was a good audience, but we were always sort of an underground show, and we were on an odd network. FOX, a lot of their programming supported “The Simpsons.” We didn’t really have that, and there wasn’t a culture at USA at the executive level that supported “Duckman” beyond three of four seasons.
JG2: Also, if I recall, “Duckman” was on at a weird time, like late Saturday nights.
EP: Yeah, and our lead in was, uh, wrestling or something, a sporting event, and sometimes the show didn’t start at the exact time. You know, all that stuff. USA did hire a publicity firm at one time who made some pretty cool posters and ads for us, but “Duckman” was just never was a show that had huge ratings, and our budgets reflected that. Our budgets were around $600,000 an episode. At that same time, “The Simpsons” were doing $1 million an episode. So we were already stretching to make “Duckman” look good. That was what I cared about—I wanted to make the show look as good as possible. And this was back when we were still doing animation on cells! That technology goes back to the 1920s!
JG2: So say “Duckman” doesn’t get canceled after season four. How much further could you have gone?
EP: I don’t know. I think when we were cancelled we were hitting our stride. Would we have had legs like “The Simpsons?” I don’t know that anyone else could go like that. I think we could have done another hundred episodes and kept it fresh. At its heart, “Duckman” was about a private detective, and you can go anywhere with that. And there was also his family, the family portion is pretty rich as well.
JG2: Well, you have to be proud as it stands—the show remains one of the best thing to come out of the 1990s.
EP: Oh yes, I am. I thought we did an amazing job with the thing. I still think it was the only story-oriented adult animated show ever. I mean, you see kinda weird things on Adult Swim, but we were really character driven.
JG2: That’s true. “Duckman” never relied on the fact it was a cartoon to find an out. The characters all dealt with their problems like real people, in between the zany jokes and sight gags.
EP: Yeah, I think we had a realistic emotional base for the characters. They had ups and downs, we would play them against themselves sometimes. I’m very proud of all that.
JG2: So how do you feel about Duckman’s forefather Howard the Duck? He’s really the only competition or measuring stuck that’s ever been in your field.
EP: You know, I don’t know that much about him. I never really followed him closely. I know the movie, and, uh, the technology at the time, there was more than what they could get across. [laughs] If they could have done it digitally…I don’t know. I thnk he’s an interesting character.
JG2: So Howard was never an albatross around Duckman’s neck?
EP: No. Duckman, you know, he’s a duck, but he’s really just a guy, a guy with a bill. Sure, he doesn’t wear clothes, but that’s just the cartoon convention. Daffy Duck never wore clothes.
JG2: I always thought Duckman didn’t wear clothes because he represented the show’s raw nerve, the “naked” emotion.
EP: Yes, exactly. [laughs]
Here we see the heavily-rumored conga sequence from J.J. Abrams’ forthcoming Star Wars movie wherein Luke dances with himself, Lando Calrissian, and a bunch of dead people.