Paul Rugg has had a hand in many popular animated television
series. He’s written for and/or done voice work for “Animaniacs,” “Pinky and the Brain,” “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command,” “Dave the Barbarian” and “Histeria!”
to name just a few.
But were you to ask this three-time Emmy Award-winner what
his favorite TV show was, that would probably be “Freakazoid!” The short lived Warner
Brothers Television Animation production that Rugg not only wrote for, but also
voiced the title character on.
“I have a real soft spot in my heart for ‘Freakazoid!’,”
Rugg remembered. “We had so much freedom back then. We didn’t have to worry about any corporate
interference. Our only concern was with making a really funny show.”
When I spoke with Paul at last year’s Comic-Con
International, he recalled that one of the main reasons the “Freakazoid!” production
team enjoyed so much freedom was that this particular WBTA project was a Steven
“Steven was the one who initially came up with this concept for
a jokey super hero show,” Paul explained. “Bruce Timm & Paul Dini then did
the first pass on the project. Tom Ruegger came in next and wrote lots of short
comedy bits for the show. Then John McCann and I came in and fleshed the concept
out into … Well, whatever it was that ‘Freakazoid!’ eventually became.”
When this new animated series premiered on the Kids’ WB in
September of 1995, no one really knew what to make of “Freakazoid!” Which
supposedly followed the adventures of Dexter Douglas, nerd computer ace. Who
(according to the show’s theme song)...
Copyright Warner Bros. Television Animation. All Rights Reserved
… went surfing on the internet
And was zapped to cyberspace
He turned into the Freakazoid
He's strong and super-quick
He drives the villains crazy
'Cause he's a lunatic
But as goofy as this show’s backstory may have been, that
was nothing compared to how crazy the “Freakazoid!” show itself would
eventually become. There’d be episodes where the program’s plot would stop dead in its tracks just so Cosgrove the cop (voiced by Edward Asner) & Freakazoid could then go watch a bear ride a motorcycle.
Copyright Warner Brs. Television Animation. All Rights Reserved
So was “Freakazoid!” random? Absolutely. But this Kids’ WB
show could also be riotously funny. Like that episode where Freakazoid suddenly
stopped tormenting Dexter’s bully of an older brother, Duncan, so that this
blue-faced freak could then streak halfway ‘round the globe. To Tibet, to be
exact. Where Freakazoid could then confront this priest who was working in his monastery’s
tranquility rock garden. Begging him to “ … stop with that infernal racking!?
You’re driving me crazy! Jeeze!”
And then when you factor in “Freakazoid!” ‘s spectacular
vocal cast (which included Ricardo Montalban, Mark Hamill,
Jonathan Harris, Bebe Neuwirth, Stan Freberg and Tim Curry) plus those great
production values that Warner Brothers Television Animation brought to the
table (i.e. a full orchestra was used to record the score of every episode) …
This was clearly a series that Kids’ WB & Steven Spielberg expected a lot
And yet – given everything that was riding on “Freakazoid!” –
Rugg & McCann never felt any pressure from above to produce a hit. All that
Jean McCurdy – the then-head of Warners Bros. Television Animation -- asked was
a funny show that could maybe win a few Emmys. And that’s what Paul & John
tried to deliver.
Copyright Warner Bros. Television Animation. All Rights Reserved
“That was the only rule on ‘Freakazoid!,’ “ Rugg continued.
“ ‘Is it funny?’ Because if something was funny, then it stayed in the show.
The whole ethos of ‘Freakazoid!’ was that this series wasn’t about the story,
but – rather -- about the telling. And how many silly things you could add in along
So with all this talent behind it, why was “Freakazoid!” then
such a short-lived show? Paul thinks that there were a couple of factors that
ultimately contributed to this Daytime Emmy Award-winning animated series getting
canceled. First & foremost, the
Kids’ WB kept changing “Freakazoid!” ‘s timeslot. Then this show missed its target
audience and wound up becoming a cult favorite with older viewers.
“Sure, there were kids who got ‘Freakazoid’ back then, who got
what we were trying to do,” Rugg said. “But the show was so new and so
different, it never really caught on with the audience that Kids’ WB was actually
aiming for. Which is why it’s so great now
to come to shows like Comic-Con and talk with people who say that ‘Freakazoid!’
was their favorite show when they were a kid. Finally see these characters embraced.”
Copyright The Jim Henson Company. All Rights Reserved
Ever since “Freakazoid” wrapped production back in 1996, Paul
has become a highly sought-after writer & performer in the industry. Most recently, he’s written pilots for Aardman
& Nickelodeon as well as doing improv with that talented troop of
puppeteers that appears in the Jim Henson Company’s “Puppet Up!” Which is
presented monthly at Hollywood’s Avalon Theater.
But if Paul had his druthers, he’d get back into the
“Freakazoid!” business. Which – in this age of “Family Guy” & “Futurama” actually going
back into production after the DVDs for these cancelled animated series sold
so many units – is not nearly as
far-fetched as you might think. Especially when you consider that the first "Freakazoid!" DVD set
– which was released late last July – remained in
Amazon’s top ten for family-friendly releases, boxed sets and TV animation for
weeks at a time.
“John McCann and I actually have some fun ideas for
‘Freakazoid!’ direct-to-videos,” Rugg said. “Which is why we’re hoping that the
DVDs sell well enough so that we can then pitch these ideas to Warners.”
Copyright 2009 Warner Home Video. All Rights Reserved
So if you’d like to make
Paul Rugg and Dexter Douglas’ dream come true (“Why Dexter Douglas?,” you ask.
Let’s remember that the “Freakazoid!” theme song did include that “ … hopes to
make a movie deal” line), you may want to go out and buy a couple of copies of
the “Freakazoid!: Season 2” DVD set. Which just hit store shelves yesterday.
Family Guy and Futurama? There is another model WBA should consider- their comics-based DVD premieres.
Thanks so much for posting this article. Paul Rugg is amazing (one of my writing and voice acting idols). I got the chance to talk w/ him and everyone at the Comic Con panel briefly and it was just a great experience.
I bought my Season 2 dvd last night so *fingers crossed for DTVs*
Now if they'd just release the final volume of Animaniacs on DVD ^_~
I'm all for a revival of Freakazoid. If such a happy occurrence is greenlit, I would suggest that Mr. Rugg contact the cartoon company behind the Flintstones commercials; their flowing, lively animation and excellent, expressive character art would be a perfect fit for the Freak. Here's hoping we'll see more of his antics, and SOON.
FREAKAZOID! Good god I love that show, even more than Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. I was in junior high when it first aired, but I'm still obsessed - I taped episodes off of adult swim when they were showing it and was super excited when it finally came out on DVD. I also quote it a lot in real life - my signature on my email is from Caveguy. I missed that the second season was out tho - serves me right for being away from this blog for so long. I'm so excited, and I would be thrilled if they were to make more, just as I was happy about Family Guy and Futurama getting new lives as well.