Betty White is not only the hardest working woman in show business today, she's also the nicest and most professional.
That's at least what Dorothy McKim (the producer of Disney's "Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa") and Stevie Wermers-Skelton & Kevin Deters (the writers / directors of this 7-minute-long follow-up to last year's No. 1 holiday special) were saying when I spoke with them earlier this week about this all-new "stocking stuffer." Which makes its debut next Tuesday night, December 7th (8 - 9 p.m. ET) during ABC's annual airing of "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
"We were already working on the 'Prep & Landing' sequel, 'Naughty versus Nice' -- which will premiere on ABC in 2011 -- when word came down from the network that they wanted something for this holiday season too," McKim remembered. "So we decided to create a stand-alone short. Something that - even if you'd never seen the original 'Prep & Landing' - would still be entertaining as well as serve as a great introduction to these characters and this setting."
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
So what did Dorothy, Stevie & Kevin decide to do with Wayne & Lanny, Santa's stealthiest elves? Truth be told, it was Michael LaBash, longtime Walt Disney Animation Studios story artist, who actually came up with the idea for this all-new short.
"Michael suggested that we have Mrs. Claus recruit Wayne & Lanny to sneak in Santa's secret workshop to retrieve some item," Deters recalled. "We took that idea to John Lasseter. He loved it and immediately okayed the premise. So we got right to work."
Now please keep in mind that ABC executives made this request in February. Which meant that the "Prep & Landing" team really had to hit the ground running - especially when it came to casting -- if "Operation Secret Santa" was actually going to air in December.
Betty White in this year's Super Bowl Commercial for Snickers. Copyright 2010 Mars Incorporated and its affliates. All rights reserved
"So now we had this new character, Mrs. Claus, that we had to cast. And this was right after Betty White had done that Super Bowl ad and 'The Proposal' had come out on DVD. So we were thinking 'Well, wouldn't it be great if we could get her?," Stevie said. "So we took that casting suggestion to John - along with another couple of names - and he said 'Oh, you gotta get Betty White.' "
So McKim got in touch with White's people, sent Betty a copy of the first "Prep & Landing" and from there ...
"This was probably the easiest negotiation I've ever been involved in," Dorothy laughed. "Betty loved the original special. More to the point, she was extremely flattered that we were asking her to become the voice of this iconic character. So she immediately said 'Yes.' "
That said, McKim, Wermers-Skelton & Deters still didn't know what to expect when this television legend finally came in to record the voice of Mrs. Claus this past April. After all, this seven-time Emmy Award winner is getting up there in years (Ms. White will turn 89 next month). So figuring that they might be dealing with someone who would possibly need some extra time or help to get all of her lines recorded, they actually set up this three-hour-long recording session for Betty. And should her energy start to flag during this session ... Well, they laid out a special lunch for Ms. White.
So what happens on recording day? As it turns out, Dorothy, Stevie & Kevin didn't have to worry about Betty at all.
"She was just amazing. Betty came into the booth totally prepared. She took the sides that we had given her in advance and - in just over an hour - gave us exactly what we were looking for,' McKim said.
"Betty was perfect. She brings such warmth to this role," Wermers-Skelton added. "This is the voice that you hear in your head when you think Mrs. Claus."
"More to the point, Betty was a total pro during this recording session. Telling Stevie, Kevin and I to really push her if she wasn't giving exactly what we needed for this short," Dorothy continued. "And after that was done ... Well, after thanking us for going to all the trouble of laying out a special lunch for her, Betty was out the door, headed to her next gig."
Mind you, given the way things are in animation (where you'll typically have to tweak a line or two of dialogue as you move through production), there were other "Operation Secret Santa" recording sessions with Ms. White. But in each case, Betty was a complete delight to work with. Always on time, always prepared and with zero attitude.
Betty White during her Emmy Award-winning appearance on "Saturday Night Live." Copyright NBC Universal, Inc. All rights reserved
"There's a reason that this lady is a legend in the industry," Deters said. "I'm just glad that we were able to grab Betty between that Snickers commercial and her hosting 'Saturday Night Live.' "
So if you'd like to hear the spin that Betty White puts on this iconic holiday role (More importantly, discover just what it is that Mrs. Claus sends Lanny & Wayne into Santa's secret workshop to recover), be sure to tune in to ABC this coming Tuesday between 8 - 9 p.m. ET. Which is when "Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa" will make its debut during that network's annual airing of "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
Because after you see this charming new 7-minute-long short from Walt Disney Animation Studios, you'll definitely be dreaming of a Betty White Christmas.
Betty White during her 2009 appearance on CBS's "TheLate Late Show with Craig Ferguson." CopyrightWorldwide Pants, Inc. All rights reserved
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Any word on a DVD release of the original special?
A whole 7 minutes? Could they spare the personnel?