Copyright Acknowledgment: All images of WEENIES and other
Products and Images, created by Mel Birnkrant and Mike Strouth are Copyright (c) KISCOM/ The OBB
THE TV SPECIAL
The Early 1980’s were a unique time in the history of licensed merchandising. For the first few years of of that amazing decade a magic window opened, a golden opportunity, through which one could introduce a brand new property. And the chances were good that it would actually succeed. The formula was simple and a little diabolical. One of the first successful examples of this scheme was perpetrated by American Greetings in the form of Strawberry Shortcake.
The ingredients were simple: First of all, there had to be a property. Then, it had to be licensed to several companies at once. In Strawberry’s case, a toy company, Kenner, a card company, American Greetings, and gifts, and books, and clothing, all appearing on the market at the same time. And the catalyst that made the formula work was one more thing, a single TV Special. This was actually a half-hour ad thinly disguised as entertainment!
In that half-hour, all Strawberry had to do was introduce the viewer to herself, her friends, and her related products, one after another. “Hi! I’m Strawberry Shortcake! Oh, there’s my friend Blueberry Muffin! Oh, there’s my Play House!” etc. After a dozen products were displayed, a short plot was tacked on, and that was that!
A few years later, just a single special would no longer suffice in order to sell a new licensed property. By then, there had to be 65 half-hours of TV “in the can.” But, for now, just one half-hour was all it took. Therefore, the Weenies had to have a TV Special!
Coleco hired what was then reputed to be the best TV animation studio in the business, DIC Enterprises, Inc. A few weeks later, DIC submitted a story outline. The plot was awful: Willie Weenie is working at a circus, and some masked crooks rob the box office! The story treated the characters incidentally, as if we knew them already. And, in an attempt to convey the fact that Willie was an idealist, the title and several lines of dialogue made reference to Don Quixote! When I read that, I went Berserk! What the Hell kind of an origin story is this? Thank God, the contract that Kiscom crafted with Coleco gave us final creative say. Everything, at some point in time, had to be submitted for our approval.
Andy, in his reserved and understated manner, wrote this letter to Cheryl:
When I finally calmed down enough to control myself, I wrote a letter to Cheryl too. The tape that I
make reference to in the letter was a brief and absolutely charming audio tape that Harvey Zelman made. It
was a delightful musical introduction to the Weenies, in which a young boy narrates his experience of
discovering Bunville, just as the “bun” is rising to herald in a bright new day.
Several days later, DIC came back to us with another attempt at a story. In this one, a devastating flood of mustard wipes out the entire town of Bunville.
And so, I wrote another letter. This one was addressed to Bernard Deyires, an executive at DIC. Reading it now, I am amazed. It seems that in offering my suggestions for the TV special, I was actually writing the whole damned thing! When I suggested the scenario below, just as an example, I never dreamed that, blow-by -blow, it would become the TV special!
As a result of this correspondence, DIC hired a new writer, a bright charming young man, named, Roby Goren. Roby had authored many a half-hour episode for TV. Now, he was assigned to work directly with me. And so it came to be that Roby and I wrote the final script together. Every day, we spoke on the telephone for several hours. We were having so much fun. I even bought a tape recorder, and, somewhere around this house, there are many hours of recordings, preserving everything we said and sang. Yes, we even composed the songs, and melodies. On the tapes, we can be heard singing them. They were a cross between George Kleinsinger’s “Archy and Mehitable,” and “My Fair Lady.”
So, here it is, the final animation script, complete, except for the final music, which had yet to be composed. It is a little bit of history that never actually took place, now, rescued from oblivion, for no particular reason, other than its own sake. I thought it came out great!
When the script was finished, DIC created storyboards. I treasure a vivid, almost hallucinatory memory of being shown them, briefly. And I recall being amazed at the degree to which the storyboard artists had incorporated my animation drawings. l saw poses that I had visualized, duplicated exactly, in scene after scene. What a thrill this was for me! I held the original artwork in my hands for a few minutes, and then Coleco took it back again. I wonder what became of it, and if those storyboards might still exist.