Emru Townsend: I just finished reading Batman Animated, where you refer to getting notes back from Broadcast Standards & Practices and what you can't put into a show. Did you find that to be a problem, or did you find it a challenge, or did you not even think about it twice and just write around it?
It was more of a problem on Fox than it is on Kids WB
. Because we do get notes from Broadcast Standards at Kids' WB, but for the most part--and this is [also] true for the folks at Fox--they really did understand the nature of the show we were going to do, and allowed us to proceed without terrible restrictions. I mean, we did have fights with the folks at Fox, and we did occasionally have little skirmishes with BS&P here, but for the most part, everybody's been on board with the idea that we're doing an action/adventure show, that we take chances, that we bend and break the rules of what can be done on Saturday morning and daytime television. So it hasn't been that big of a problem, especially not on Batman
and Batman Beyond
for Kids' WB.
There are things that rear their heads occasionally, like we'll write a story and suddenly we'll [hear], Well, can you make this child older, because we don't want to endanger a little child. Or, Can you downplay the intensity of gunfire in this scene, something like that. Those are pretty simple things to change, and in many ways they're cosmetic things. What's more insidious and more disheartening at some of the other networks that I've written for over the years is that the Broadcast Standards & Practices will object to the intent of the episode. If it's something goofy like the Joker flooding the streets with ice cream they're okay with that. On the other hand, if the Joker means to blackmail somebody, or kill somebody, or kidnap somebody, based on notes I've seen from other networks, they would never even allow you to attempt a story like that, much less show the consequences of it.
So essentially, you could have an action/adventure cartoon, but you couldn't even have the idea of a real threat anywhere.
Right. It just gets to the point of rampant paranoia and worry at the other networks, and people are constantly worrying over little things. A friend of mine who works on a show on another network said that the Broadcast Standards person there objected to the word "astronaut" in an episode. They were not allowed to refer to a character as an astronaut. I said, That's a career choice, that's like a cowboy or fireman. And then he said that the Broadcast Standards person said that it was so closely aligned with NASA, that they didn't want to be promoting a government agency. I said, did you mention that NASA is a private agency? and he said, She just wouldn't listen, she just demanded that we take the word "astronaut" out of the script.
Do you ever get any letters from anybody complaining about anything in
Batman at all? I had a similar discussion with Greg Weisman about Gargoyles about two or three years ago, and he mentioned that they did occasionally get letters here and there about the magic in Gargoyles, and how that upset certain people.
We haven't received that many letters. We do receive them from time to time about things that upset people, but that's been so few and far between I can't really remember anything. Usually, if someone is upset by something it's an isolated incident and their point of view is so far afield that it really is that one voice yelling in the wilderness. We understand and we're sensitive to the fact that people may see things on the show that they may not like. On the other hand, we don't go out of our way to present situations that are going to deliberately offend a certain person or group of people. But occasionally people will see things and they'll interpret it the wrong way, and they'll complain about it. I'm trying to remember an incident like that and nothing is popping to mind. Even if someone did complain, when the situation is warranted we tend to write a letter back and just say, Your point is well taken, we're sorry you saw something that was offensive, and we'll just continue on. We're not a crew that really runs scared from the occasional letter-writer and go back and change things just because somebody had a problem with something.
Actually, I take that back. We did it once. We felt the person had a legitimate point, and we did go back and make a little cut of something in an episode.
You made a cut for future airings.
It was in the series when we were doing it on Fox. It was in the first episode with the Ventriloquist character. There was a scene where the Ventriloquist's henchman, Rhino, who is committing a robbery--this is near the top of the show, and he's wearing a mask--the sleeve of his sweater is torn open, revealing a rhinoceros-shaped tattoo. Batman sees this and does a match on the computer, and we had a quick group of images flash by, which were tattoos. One of the images which went by at lightning speed was a sun image, a pointed sun image, and we got a letter from a rabbi who had interpreted that as a Star of David. That was not in the model sheet, and that was nothing that we'd planned, it was a design that was thrown in by the overseas animation studio. We stop-framed it, and saw that it was a sun design and not a Star of David, and we thought, well...
It's only one frame
Yeah, we just cut it out. We either edited it out or re-animated it. Anyway, it was something that wasn't exactly going to cause controversy, but the person who had seen it was upset by it, and we thought, well, it's a fair cop.
Do you expect to see more of this kind of show on television? I mean, aside from
Superman, about the only thing animated that's action/adventure in the last few years has been
Invasion: America. There's been other action/adventure, but none that have really taken it seriously [except for
Gargoyles]. I don't think
Invasion: America did all that well compared to
Superman. Do you really see this as something that's going to catch on at any point? Do you think the tenacity of
Superman--I think it's been six years now--means anything?
I think there are several reasons for the success of the Batman/Superman
show. First off, we've got a really good crew that works really well together. More importantly, we have a crew that can make creative decisions that really affect the outcome of the show, that really determine the nature of the show: the look the show is going to have, and the direction that the stories are going to take. There's an open-door policy here that does not really exist on any other animated adventure show. Bruce Timm and Glen Murakami are the artistic producers; Alan Burnett and myself are the writer-producers, and we talk every day with Bruce and Glen, and we go over designs together, they'll go over stories together, we go over storyboards all together, and make notes. We know where the stories are going long before they're written. Alan and I will sit down with Bruce and Glen, and we'll say, We're thinking of a new Inque story, we want to bring back Inque, or, Here's another level we can take the relationship between Terry and Ten of the Royal Flush Gang, a villain that he's starting to have a relationship with. You know, I'll have an idea, and I'll write up a villain profile, and I'll give it to the artists and say, What do you think of this?, and they'll come up with some design.
On virtually every other show, the writers sit in a room and write, and the scripts are handed over to the artists who draw it. And maybe at some point they'll watch the stuff together on a screen, but that's the only contact they have with each other. Here, we're always jamming on stuff together, and I think that makes the show a creative event. And we're encouraged by Warner Bros. to do the show that way. I would not be working in animation now if I had to work in a studio where you never dealt with the artists, they had no input into the show, and everything was run according to the whims of Broadcast Standards & Practices along the lines of their fear and paranoia, with constant input from middle-management people, be they people at the studio submitting mounds and mounds of notes, or at the network, or wherever.
This was something that struck me in
Batman Animated as well as in the
Cinefantastique article from a couple of years back. It seems that Warner has a very hands-off approach, that they let you do what you're good at.
Yeah. We get input from the lot occasionally, we get input from other people who have opinions in other parts of the Batman empire, but ultimately it comes down to the folks sitting here producing the show to do the show, and to infuse it with whatever it is that makes the show popular and has given it a life these six or seven years it's been on the air. It's a very unique situation, and I would not do this if this was not the situation. I'd be sitting at home writing another book or something.
I don't see those same conditions existing anyplace else in animation as far as action/adventure goes. In fact, I know that they don't exist. It's not for a lack of good creative people out there. I think that there are people who work on action/adventure shows, who've seen Batman
, who like things about it, and would love to give their show the sort of resonance that I feel that Superman
, and Batman Beyond
have as far as a distinctive look and distinctive storytelling feel. But for whatever reason, for whatever conditions they have to produce the show under, they're not allowed to do it. It some cases it's too many cooks spoiling the broth, in other cases the show is just middle-managed to death. It's not for sake of love that the individual creators may have for the show, it's what they're allowed to do. We're pretty free to create as we like.
You're pretty lucky in that regard.