Interview by Dave Newman - April 2003
How did you become involved with writingfor He-Man and theMasters of the Universe?
My agent phoned me and said Filmation was looking forwriters for Fat Albert. I said "No way."First, I had never written a cartoon before (actually I had written a shortcartoon once, but it was a long time before that and didn't really count). AndI was certain I could never write the so-called black "dialect" thatthe Fat Albert gangspoke. My background was situation comedy and variety shows. But I ended upmeeting with Arthur Nadel at Filmation and I wrote a freelance FatAlbert episode -which they liked and hired me for staff. I wrote 13 FatAlbert's and then the series was finished. Arthur came into myoffice and told me that next week we would start writing He-Man.I freaked because as much as I thought I could never write a FatAlbert script, I wasPOSITIVE I could never write He-Man. For one thing, the show was onfor a couple of seasons and there was a history of the show that I had no ideaabout. I had never seen an episode of He-Man and the character descriptions seemedrather odd. I mean they had such weird names like "Man-At-Arms," etc.Well, nevertheless I started writing He-Man and ended up writing 4 of them, beforeI left Filmation and started writing for DIC Entertainment, which was in itsbeginning years.
Do you have any memories of ideas youhad that inspired the stories you wrote?
Overall my memories are vague about what inspired my He-Man episodes. However I know that yearsbefore that I was staff writer for one of the versions of the Sid and MartyKrofft series Pufnstuf. I wrote an episode for Pufnstuf that had a story with an energycreature or (or some internal energy force, I don't remember exactly) that Pufnstuf and his friends (Witchiepoo, etc.) hadto deal with (using cheap chroma key). So I thought it would be fun to reprisethat element. The stories were completely different - just the Energy elementwas incorporated into "The Energy Beast." Also I liked volcanoes. Sothat's why I wrote "Monster on the Mountain." (In the future when Iwould work with Larry DiTillio on similar series, he always knew I would submitone storyline featuring a volcano!). Larry, I'm sure all will agree was a great He-Manwriterand still sends me Christmas cards every year. Hi Larry!
I have no idea what inspired that rather odd plot of"The Shadow of Skeletor." "The Greatest Show on Eternia"was my last script for He Man, and I thought it would be funto have a circus show arrive at Eternia, especially since the Orko characterwas a kid and could relate. So that's why I wrote that one.
Your first episode was "The EnergyBeast." Was there a monster movie influence behind this episode?
Wellit wasn't a monster movie but my episode of Pufnstuf that inspired that. I'm not sure whatinspired myPufnstuf episode. Probably some 1950's hokeymonster movie I assume. But I'm not sure.
In this episode, the King proclaims theday "He-Man Day." Did you know that Tom Bradley the former mayor of Los Angeles declared April 28th 1987 as 'Masters of the Universe Day'? Does this surprise you, and do youthink He-Man was that big back in the day?
Ididn't know that Mayor Bradley declared a "He-Man Day" - but that isno big deal. Just about anyone can get a Mayoral Proclamation declared in Los Angeles. I think all you need to be is reasonablyworthy and give a "donation" to the City Treasury to basically payfor the Proclamation. But yes, He-Man was very big - it was the only cartoonof its kind at the beginning. Then came the other toy-based (and financed)cartoon series.
There's a lot of the history of Eterniadiscovered in this episode such as the origin of the Energy Beast, the creationof Mount Eternia, and the appearance of the Spirit of the Ancients. Do you like to addto the mythology of a show when you write?
Well I remember that there was a problem with creatingthis Mount Eternia. I wanted the volcano, but when I looked at the series backgrounddrawings there was no volcano-like mountain near the palace. So I asked thebackground artists if there was any window in the throne room that wasn't seenon camera before. They found one for me and I wrote in the script to use thatspecific window to reveal the volcano. I remember the storyboard department wasa bit dismayed that I'd stick a mountain into the Eternian landscape that wasnever there before. But Bob Forward and the (very talented) storyboard teamwere used to me being weird, so they went ahead and stuck it in. I have no ideahow the Spirit of the Ancients came about, or if it was ever used again. If itwas used in future episodes, that's nice!
Was Skeletor's Raven influenced by EdgarAllen Poe and his famous poem 'The Raven'?
Yes,the Raven was certainly influenced by (or should I say stolen from) Poe's 'TheRaven.' I think Poe would have made a good writer at Filmation if he couldfigure out how to fill out a time card. (More about the infamous Filmation timecards later!)
Man-E-Faces played a prominent role in"The Shadow of Skeletor." Was the episode intended as a vehicle forthis character?
I can't be specific about if this episode was to be aMan-E-Faces (SPEAKING OF A WEIRD CHARACTER NAME) vehicle. But we were occasionally"suggested" to use certain toy characters so I guess I may have beentold to feature him in this one. I do know that I was at one or two meetings atMattel where their future and new characters (and props/vehicles) were shown tous writers (under great security) with the obvious hope that we would beinspired to find stories to feature these new toys.
Was there any particular reason to takethe episode into outer space?
Probably because like volcanoes I was interested inspace travel. And another planet seemed like a good place to do something alittle different with the He-Man characters.
The episode has a very good act breakwhere it looks like Adam might have to turn into He-Man in front of everybody. Veryrarely did anyone use this plot point to as great effect as that, did you seeit as a challenge to come up with something as exciting as that?
To tell the truth I don't recall much about thecreation or writing of this episode at all. But writing every episode of He-Man was a challenge for me. For one thing,I was really not a He-Man type of writer. My background wascomedy - not the kind of fantastic adventures of He-Man.Also there was one big challenge about writing for Filmation. And thatchallenge was Arthur Nadel (he was in charge of the writers) who I have manyfond memories of. Arthur Nadel would approve the stories but always wouldsuggest adding something to the plot that would baffle me. But I'd go ahead andstick it in and find a way to make it work. Then I'd give Arthur the firstdraft and he'd want something else added so I'd add that. Finally by the finaldraft the script was totally too long so I'd have to take things out. To makethe plot make any sense at all I had to remove things that were very much mineand leave things in that were very much Arthur. Or vice versa; I'd take thingsout that Arthur wanted in and keep my things in - whatever was necessary tomake the story work while letting me take out those 10-15 extra pages. Thenafter I'd finally get the script back to the correct page length, Arthur mightwant just a "tiny" portion of his plot point put back in - whichwould make the script too long again. And then after Storyboard got finishedwith it, the script was once again too long so I'd have to butcher another 10pages out of it. But the challenge was even with all these changes, I alwaysliked the idea that I was still able to find a way to give the even the mostconvoluted (and outrageous/ridiculous) plots some sense of storyline. Iactually looked forward when Arthur would tell me to add something that I feltwas completely out of place - but find a way to make it "work." Didthat answer the question?
Certainly did! What inspired you to mixthe somewhat diverse worlds of Eternia and the circus in "The GreatestShow on Eternia" episode?
Arthurwanted me to write an episode that featured Orko - since I liked thatcharacter. Well I thought since Orko was really a kid (or kid-like) what wouldbe more perfect than a circus coming to Eternia. I kept pushing the limits ofwhat I hoped to get away with - and never thought I would get away withshooting Skeletor out of a cannon. The storyboard artists were once again"bemused" with me that I had the nerve to do that! As it turned out,instead of shooting Skeletor out of the cannon I think they had him riding abig firecracker. How humiliating for Skeletor and me!
I know there are some He-Man fans who think that bringing a circusto Eternia was awful and on one He-Manfan site at least one"fan" has said some pretty bad things about me because of that. Hecalled me the worst writer on the series and he hated what I did to his belovedSkeletor. But I figured that basically, at least to me, the whole He-Man concept made little sense anyway. (Imean characters with names like "Man-At-Arms" seemed so outrageousthat I never took the series seriously.) Even that one fan admitted that evenwithin what he called my miserable writing for the circus episode he admittedit "really has me laughing at a couple of points, I must admit!" (Iassume this same fan hated my episode of that sophisticated comedy"Three's Company.")
Also, if I may ramble on, the writer's assistants Pamand Joyce loved my scripts. I would always hear them laughing as they wouldretype my material into their humungous Radio Shack computers. To this day when I see Pam(who now works at DIC) she brings up the line that really broke her up. I don'trecall the exact line, but it featured the word "traif" which means"non-kosher." Not sure which He-Man episode I stuck that word into but ifyou ever do an interview with Pam she has that line embedded in her brainmatter.
Writers like Larry DiTillio were really into the He-Man concept and the whole world offantastic adventure. All I know is I made Pam and Joyce laugh and Arthur Nadelsmile - and that was good enough for me.
Whatfans need to know is that they are watching the results of a complicated behindthe scenes process that leads to the resulting cartoon. Especially for He-Man there were budget restraints whichlimited the number of sets, characters and even actions we could use in anepisode. (The Storyboard department put together a notebook of standardcharacter movements that were already created for past He-Man episodes, and we were stronglyencouraged to re-use those movements whenever possible in order to keep theepisodes on budget. The cel department actually kept those previouslyinked-and-painted cells on shelves and would and turn them over to the cameraoperators to re-use them.) Then there were storylines which don't always comefrom the writers, but come from the results of Mattel's "subliminalsuggestions" to include certain toy characters, vehicles etc. There weresevere time restraints in writing the scripts, and finally notes from theproduction company which the writer may or may not agree with but must includesomehow. In my case, I was a writer brought on Filmation's staff to write FatAlbert, who suddenly found myself writing He-Man,so I wrote my episodes in my own style. There was no way I could write likeLarry DiTillio, one of the great He-Man writers. I did it my way. I suppose ifI stayed with the series I would have turned it into a total comedy and itwould have ended up being re-titled Hee Hee Man.
This episode is obviously very comicaland appealing to children. I've seen episodes that you've written ofTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Beast Wars that had gags that the parents of children in the audience might getbefore their children do (movie references for instance). Do you have that goalin mind when you write to appeal to both children and their parents watchingthe show?
When writing comedy for kids shows, I would write whatkids could understand - but wouldn't hesitate to put things in for theirparents - so long as it didn't confuse the kids. Those "parents"lines were always secondary and if they went over the heads of the kids thatwas okay as long as it didn't confuse them or interfere with the storyline. Also,I always feel that it doesn't hurt for kids to see their parents laughing at akid's favorite cartoon. But I never wrote in a way which ignores a child'sworld. I've seen too many scripts for kids where the writer puts in things thatbaffle a kid and interfere with their enjoyment of a story.
Was "Monster on the Mountain"based on old folk tales and local legends as well as the rumors andsuperstitions that arise out of them?
Nope. I read very little fiction, and my knowledge ofmyths and legends is pretty much nil. It was based on me liking volcanoes, andfinding a way to fit the He-Man characters into it.
At the end of the episode, the Tinglerreveals that his name is Herman. Is this a reference to Herman's Hermits?
Yes,that is why I chose that name. That is a perfect example of how I would use ajoke that would appeal to adults and not confuse the kid. It didn't hurt to usethe name Herman, and if the kids didn't get it, their parents would.
The villains in your episodes always hadvery good lines. Are villains easier to write for than heroes?
Yes, villains are always more fun to write for. When Iwas writing for Pufnstuf it was more fun to write for Voodooand Witchiepoo and the other villains than the usually bland heroes.
Who were your favorite characters fromthe show?
Orko.I could do some comedy with him.
Did you get a chance to see the episodesyou wrote? If so, did the end results match what you planned on paper andimagined in your mind?
I saw a few. Of course I was prepared for the limitedanimation so I didn't expect much so far as the execution. So I never expectedgreat animation. But I was really shocked and disappointed on the really cheapway the circus tent collapsed in "The Greatest Show on Eternia." Ifyou recall, it was done with a wide shot of the tent. The collapse was handledwith dissolves of the tent collapsing. Really looked awful especially becauseof the importance to the plot of the tent collapse. But I couldn't blame anyone- they were probably WAY over budget already on that episode because of all thenew backgrounds, props etc.
Were there any characters that youcreated or any mark that you were proud of making on the show?
I liked the circus episode because it ran counter towhat the whole series was about.
Was there any episodes planned thatdidn't get past the drawing board?
Well, we would turn in many story ideas and not allwere approved. But once they were written they were shot. There was no room inthe Filmation budget for trashing a script that was paid for. We had someoutside writers that Arthur would take a chance on and if their script was nogood, then a staff writer would re-write it.
Have you had chance to see the new He-Man show? If so, whatare your thoughts on it? Do you have any interest in being involved in it?
Is there a new He-Man show? I knew about the secondnon-Filmation one, which I didn't watch. But had no idea there is a new one.And no, I have no interest in writing for it. I am in a totally different andexciting part of media now - streaming video on the Internet. But hey, if theywant to stream it on the net I'll do that!
Before I forget, everyone at Filmation had to fill outtime cards. I was a writer who came from major television shows and the idea offilling out a time card was so bizarre. But it was a union house and they hadto keep track of hours (especially the ink and paint department). Even ArthurNadel would fill out a time card. Arthur was also a director and he woulddirect the live action segments of Fat Albert - and he filled in a time card andwrote "Directing" in the appropriate line on the card, to myamusement.
What are you working on at the moment? Wherecan people find out more about your work?
I am President of a company that is involved withstreaming video on the net. It is a very exciting business because of what itcan do for the creative community. No more network video presidents that mustapprove your stories. We feature all types of streaming media but focus onWindowsMedia9 because it offers the most incredible video on the net. Go to www.123streamingplanet.com or www.rowby.comand become a member of the Rowby Fan Club of which I am President. New streamingvideos will be added soon including a live puppet show.
Many thanks to Rowby for taking the time out toanswer all these questions - make sure to visit his site soon!