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Butch Hartman Drew My Childhood

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
November 29, 2022 3:03 am

Butch Hartman Drew My Childhood

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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November 29, 2022 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, while many know the shows created by one of the 2000s most influential artists, not many people know the man behind the drawing board. Meet Butch Hartman, creator of Fairly Odd Parents, Danny Phantom, and so much more and hear how he went from the snowy shores of Michigan to the sunny coast of SoCal.

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To learn more, visit Bose.com. As far as animators and visionaries go, Walt Disney is probably the most recognizable name in that space. But to kids who grew up in the late 90s or early 2000s, some of the members of this staff, another name brings back a flood of memories. Butch Hartman created two of the most well-known cartoons of the last two decades, Fairly Odd Parents and Danny Phantom.

Here's Butch to tell us his story and how he went from the snowy shores of Michigan to the sunny coast of Southern California. One of my very first memories, I remember I was in kindergarten and our teacher, I'll never forget her name, was Mrs. Shelley. And Mrs. Shelley asked all the students to draw a picture of her. And I thought, okay, well, I saw this like a kid, I drew a picture of her. And just forgot about it. And then she started making a huge deal out of my picture.

Oh my gosh, this is the best picture I've ever seen. And, you know, she was raving about it and basically humiliated all the other kids, I think. But she's like, I'm putting this up on the wall, this is just amazing.

And she put my picture up on the wall and I'll never forget. And I thought, wow, drawing is a real great way to get attention from adults. And so I thought, if I could just keep drawing and get attention from adults, because you're a kid, right, you want all the attention. So I thought, I just thought, I'm just going to keep drawing stuff. So I just started drawing and drawing. Before I knew it, I really liked it and I really realized that I had kind of a, maybe a little bit of a skill for it.

And just started training myself and growing up. And I loved Saturday morning cartoons. A lot of us today, maybe some of the older folks remember Saturday morning cartoons. But when I was a kid, the only place you could get cartoons was on Saturday morning for the most part.

And so I would get up and have my big bowl of Trix or whatever sugary cereal I could get. And watch cartoons from six in the morning till 11 in the morning and then go outside and play. And I watched some of my favorites back then were the Wacky Races by Hanna-Barbera, Scooby-Doo, again by Hanna-Barbera. Hanna-Barbera pretty much owned Saturday morning. The Jetsons and the Flintstones and Johnny Quest.

Johnny Quest was one of my favorites. Never realizing later on in life I'd end up working for Hanna-Barbera years later. But yeah, those cartoons really influenced me. Then of course Disney.

I'd watch The Wonderful World at Disney on Sunday nights and loved movies like Star Wars and things like that. And just really got a real fantasy mindset and a drawing mindset. And then I kept drawing the whole time too. I wanted to draw superheroes and animate. I did that up until all through high school, all through school.

I drew the cover of the school yearbook and things like that. And I ended up meeting a couple guys that didn't go to my school. I met them through another friend. So these other two guys I met, they were a little older than me and they were animation nerds like me, but they were better than I was. And one guy was, the oldest guy was particularly great. He was a senior. I was a sophomore. And this older guy was going to a school out in California. Now I'm in Michigan, remember.

I'm snowed in. He's going to this magical school in California. It was called California Institute of the Arts and it was founded by Walt Disney. And it was one of the only schools in America at the time that taught character animation. And so I thought, wow, that's pretty cool.

How can I get there? He goes, well, you got to practice. So for the next two years, my older friend went to CalArts first. Then my second oldest friend went to CalArts after him. By the time I was a senior in high school, I was actually sending these guys drawings through the mail. And they would kind of grade my drawings and send them back to me through the mail again. I go, this is what we're looking for here. Here's what the school really wants to see. I'd go to the Detroit Zoo in the dead of winter because it was free to get in the zoo and I would life draw. I'd draw the animals with my sketch pad and stand there, you know, freezing cold in my coat, drawing the tigers and the gorillas and stuff.

It's interesting. When I applied to CalArts, again, I'm a kid in Michigan and no one in my family had ever even been to California, let alone lived there. And I wanted to go to California and not just live there, but make a living there and, you know, work in the animation industry. And my dad was an auto worker. My dad was a Detroit auto worker.

He was very supportive, but had no idea how to support me in this other than, hey, I'll support you and I'll help you get financial aid and we'll go to the school and all that stuff. So I was able to do that. I wanted to go to California ever since I was a kid. I remember watching the show Adam 12.

This really dates me. But watching the show Adam 12, I'd be sitting in Michigan in the snow watching these cops in California in the sun with palm trees going, how do I get there? How do I get to that place? And I think I was dreaming of California as a kid. So I get to CalArts and I was probably one of the best artists in my little town in Michigan. I ended up moving to a town in Michigan called New Baltimore. So I was in New Baltimore.

I was probably the best artist in town that I knew of anyway. I get to CalArts. It was almost like going to the major leagues of baseball. Everybody was amazing. I got there thinking I could draw that I was hot stuff. And the people surrounding me were just amazing. And I had a decision to make. Either I up my game and get better and compete with these people or I go home. I was like, OK, I'm going to keep going and I realize I'm not going to be as good as these people doing what they do, but I'm going to get good at what I do.

You know, I just started enhancing my skills, just started practicing more and getting better. And I was surrounded. The cool thing was I was surrounded by a bunch of amazingly talented artists and creative people. And this is back in the 80s. I got to CalArts in 1983. So all the people I went to college with ended up going into the animation industry and the entertainment industry and actually running the industry.

We all ended up getting shows and movies and things that that started to influence the way the culture was going. Little did we know at the time. Don Bluth was pretty big back in the 80s. He had he was an animator who had left Disney and started his own animation company. He did a movie called The Secret of Nim. He did one of the very first animated video games called Dragon's Lair. And he did Space Ace.

It was another video game. And he did a bunch of other great animated stuff and they thought he was going to be the next Walt Disney. He was hired to produce American Tail, which was produced by Steven Spielberg. And one of my very first animation jobs ever, I was at school up in Valencia, California. And a friend of mine says, hey, you know, I hear they're looking for in-betweeners on this movie called American Tail and an in-betweener.

Real quick lesson. In animation, you have someone who does the first pose and the last pose. That's the animator. And the in-betweener puts all the poses in between those poses.

That's how it was traditionally done for many, many years. Basically, the in-betweener is kind of the lower level animator in training. And so we're like, OK, basically, let's go take an animation test. And you're listening to Butch Hartman tell his story, learning early that the gift of drawing drew attention from the adults. And pretty soon, well, a childhood dream was about to happen.

He also learned he was walking straight into the major leagues and needed to step up his game, which he was more than willing to do. When we come back, more of Butch Hartman's story here on Our American Story. 76 cents is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to our American stories dot com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming.

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To learn more, visit Bose dot com. And we're back with Butch Hartman story here on Our American Stories and his journey to fulfilling his dream of being an animator in Hollywood. When we last left off, Hartman was studying animation at the California Institute of the Arts. He and some friends were headed to the studio of animation giant Don Bluth who auditioned to be in betweeners or low level animators for Bluth and Steven Spielberg's 1986 classic American Tale.

Back to Butch. And so we all drove down to Don Bluth Studios in Van Nuys, California. And this lady said, uh, you guys here for the test? We're like, yep. She gives us a folder and there's two drawings in my folder.

There's the first pose and the last pose. All right, just put the inbetweens in. We'll see you tomorrow. And my friends and I all got folders and we all went back to school and worked our butts off all night. We got up early in the morning and said, OK, let's go back down there.

So we drove down there and we handed our tests in. And then we wait for like 10 minutes. She comes out. OK, here's a scene for you. Here's a scene.

She basically comes out with animation scenes for us. They hired us to be in betweeners on American Tale. And so I got that was my first real animation job. And I didn't get credit on the film because I didn't do enough footage to get credit. I did like I think you to do like 100 feet to get credit. I did like 90 feet of film to get. That's all I did. I did like five scenes in American Tale, but it was a great experience.

I really enjoyed it. I never graduated CalArts, actually. I went three years and it was a very expensive school. And I couldn't afford my fourth year.

I could barely afford my first three years. Got out of school, left after my third year and began looking for a job in the industry. And my first job I landed was at Marvel Productions in Van Nuys. Marvel had just opened an animation studio here in the 80s and it was in Van Nuys. And I got a job at Marvel Productions and I thought, boy, this is going to be great. I'm going to get to draw Spider-Man and Captain America and the Hulk.

It's going to be so cool. And my first job was on the original production of My Little Pony. So I'm working on My Little Pony. And this was the really bad My Little Pony that came out in the 80s. It was based on the toys and I couldn't draw the ponies well enough. And what they did, they hired me to be a character designer. And that's basically like you're drawing the actors in the cartoon. But then they put me on storyboards, which I'd never done for anyone else but myself before.

And I'm like, OK, I can do this. But it was a much harder, much more involved job. I ended up getting fired off that job, off of My Little Pony. It stuck with me for years that I would never allow myself to get fired again.

I would be able to do any job that anybody threw at me. I found another job at a company called Ruby Spears Productions. And they're the guys who created Scooby-Doo for Hanna-Barbera. They opened up their own animation studio and they were doing shows in the 70s. And I got hired there in 1986 to work on a show called Punky Brewster.

It was the animated version of Punky Brewster and then the animated Police Academy series and all this stuff. So I started working there. And during that time I started practicing storyboards and background design and painting and all this other stuff. Just to make myself a better artist, a more valuable artist. And the one thing I really started practicing more was writing. I wanted to be a writer as well.

And a lot of artists, they start off as people who draw, but they don't realize that they can write as well. I started writing. I would write on my own. I would write scripts on my own. I would write little things on my own. Nobody would ever read them.

Because that was just for me. But eventually I started walking by the writer's room and they would say, Hey, you got any ideas for this joke? And I'd say, what's going on? They would tell me the story.

I'd say, okay, you can do this. It would be funny if the dog did this or the cat did this. And then it was funny and they would put that in. So I kind of became like a gag writer at Ruby Spears Productions. And then I started working at Hanna-Barbera, which became Cartoon Network.

Because Ted Turner bought it and turned it into Cartoon Network. I started working there as an artist. But then I was also doing storyboards and I began writing on some other shows. And I was just drawing on those shows. But then an opportunity came up. A guy named Fred Seibert was hired to run Hanna-Barbera, which was now Cartoon Network. And he offered everybody in the studio the chance to pitch their own show. And I thought, wow, this is cool. But I'm not going to do it.

I was terrified. But a friend of mine said, nah, come on, let's do it. So I helped him pitch his show and it got sold. And then I thought, this is kind of fun. So let's come up with another idea. I'd always been a guy who worked on other people's ideas but never really worked on my own idea. And I'm like, I've really got to start coming up with ideas. So I really started applying myself to working on my own ideas.

You know, characters and stories and that type of stuff. And that was in the 90s at Hanna-Barbera. And so I worked on that. I ended up becoming a director and a writer on the Johnny Bravo show. Dexter's Laboratory as a writer and a storyboard artist. Cow and Chicken was another show as a writer and an artist. I did a lot of stuff at Hanna-Barbera and I worked with a guy named Seth MacFarlane who was a young kid out of Rhode Island. He came to Hanna-Barbera and he and I worked together as writers on Johnny Bravo. He ended up selling a show called Family Guy to Fox. It was called Larry and Steve at first. And then he sold it to Fox and he wanted me to come over there and work with him. But right as he sold his show, I ended up selling a little show called The Fairly Oddparents to Nickelodeon. And that's kind of where my Nickelodeon journey began.

Great opportunities are very rare. They're like comets. I always say it's like Halley's Comet. Like, you know, it's really beautiful. It's really awesome.

But you're not going to see it again for a while. So you better seize it while it's here. And I realized this is an opportunity. I've got to try this.

You know, sink or swim, I've got to try this. And so seizing those opportunities. You know, my first cartoons that I sold weren't that great. They were fine.

Certain aspects of them were okay. Maybe the characters are really good in this because I was a character designer, but the timing was bad. So I'm going to time this myself. I'm going to do the animation timing. I'm going to write this dialogue myself.

It's like I'm going to start doing this stuff myself so I know it'll be what I want it to be at the end. When I pitched Fairly Oddparents, I was about to get fired from, again, another firing that's coming up. I wouldn't say it was a firing, though. I was getting laid off because Johnny Bravo was ending. I was working on Johnny Bravo and it was ending. And at this point, this is 1997, at this point I already had one daughter.

I was married for five years and had another daughter on the way. And it's like, well, I need a job. But I really got tired of looking for jobs. I think everybody out there gets tired of looking for jobs.

I was just tired of, you know, always having a job end and go to another one. That's how it kind of works in animation. So I thought, you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to make my own show. And Fred Seibert, who had left Hanna-Barbera, had gone to Nickelodeon. And he was starting up a show called the Oh Yeah! Cartoon Show.

And the Oh Yeah! Cartoon Show was basically a show, if you watched it, you'd watch a half-hour show. And you'd see three seven-minute cartoons during that half an hour.

And each cartoon was made by a different person. He said, I have one slot left. Do you have any ideas? And I said, yep, I got an idea. I'll see you Friday. And I hung up the phone. I had nothing.

This was like Tuesday. And I was like, I need a job. So I sat down and said, I'm going to come up with an idea that I love, that I could work on for 20 years.

Just kind of said that in my head. And I drew a little boy named Timmy. I drew this little boy, because you always write what you know.

I was a little boy once, so I thought, okay, a little boy. He can go anywhere he wants. And I thought, maybe he can do that with science.

That'd be fun. He's a science kid. But then Dexter's Laboratory was already a show. I knew I couldn't do a science kid. And I always tell people, make sure you do your homework. Don't come into a company with a show idea that they already have. Come up with a different idea. So I thought, how about magic?

That's kind of fun. Maybe he's a magic kid. And maybe he's got magic friends. And so I came up with these two fairy godparents, Cosmo and Wanda. Venus was her name originally, but I changed it to Wanda. And Seinfeld had just revealed Kramer's name as Cosmo on the Seinfeld show. Cosmo's a funny name, so I named him Cosmo and Wanda.

And they're his fairy godparents. And so I was under contract to pitch that to Hanna-Barbera. So I pitched it, and they turned it down.

Cartoon Network turned it down. And so I ended up going to Nickelodeon with Fred Cyrus. And I said, hey, I got this idea called the Fairly Oddparents.

He goes, great, let's do it. So that became part of the Oh Yeah! cartoon show. It was one pilot episode.

It was seven minutes long. And we did it. And Nickelodeon liked it so much, they gave me like four more. And I did four more. Then they liked it so much, they gave me six more. I did six more.

Pretty much by myself. I had like maybe two or three people helping me. And then they focus tested those several episodes I did. And they did really well.

It wasn't a hit at first. I mean, they only gave me six half hours at the beginning. That took us about a year and a half.

And then Nickelodeon wasn't picking it up. They were like, OK, cool, thanks. We'll start airing these. You know, good luck. We'll see what happens. And I'm like, all right.

So I was actually formulating in my head. I've got to go get another job. I've got to go get another gig. And they picked up the show in 2000. And I love Nickelodeon, don't get me wrong. But they had not picked up the show. So they're like, oh, we need more episodes of Fairly Oddparents.

I'm like, great, I'm happy to do them. We premiered the show March 30th of 2001. And the show really took off like a rocket ship.

It did fantastic. And we're like, whoa, this is so cool. And you're listening to Butch Hartman. And he's walking us through, well, what life is like when you just go out and you try something and you give it your best. But Butch Hartman's story, well, it continues.

And when we come back, we'll hear the rest of his story here on Our American Story. Grab a specially marked bag of Lay's, Cheetos, or Doritos, scan the QR code, and look for the Golden World Soccer Ball. You can explore the ever-growing Golden Ball community and even find friends on the ball.

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Our iHeartRadio Jingle Ball coming live from New York to the CW app at CWTV.com on December 9th. When the world gets in the way of your music, try the new Bose QuietComfort earbuds too. Next-gen earbuds uniquely tuned to the shape of your ears. They use exclusive Bose technology that personalizes the audio performance to fit you, delivering the world's best noise cancellation and powerfully immersive sound so you can hear and feel every detail of the music you love. Bose QuietComfort earbuds too. Sound shape to you.

To learn more, visit Bose.com. And we're back with our American stories and with the story of fairly odd parents creator Butch Hartman. When we last left off, Nickelodeon had just picked up the first season of Fairly Odd Parents, a show that would go on to run for 10 seasons. 172 episodes inspire numerous movies and video games and include voice talent such as Jay Leno, Adam West, Jackie Mason, Gene Simmons, and even Olympic figure skater and gold medalist Scott Hamilton. Back to Butch on creating the show. You know, it says in the Bible, to whom much is given, much is required.

It's in the book of Luke. And I'm like, all right, to whom much is given, much is required. I got to be the first one in and the last one out every day. I got to set an example. Because again, like I said, this is an opportunity.

I am not going to let this slip by without giving it 1,000%. Because I was at Nickelodeon, I was watching people, and they'd get a show. They'd have a show picked up. The network believes in them.

They're getting paid to make their show. And they would never work hard on it. They would maybe take a long lunch every day.

It was almost like the tortoise and the hare. They would wait till the end of the race to finally try and catch up. And by the end, their show wasn't that good because they didn't pay a lot of attention to it. And I would see opportunities get missed. Like these guys, they would think it was easy. Well, I sold one show. I'll just sell another one. And it really isn't that easy.

It's not that tricky in Hollywood to sell anything. So I would watch these guys like kind of not pay attention. And I'd be going, well, I'm going to do the exact opposite of what they're doing. I'm going to make sure I spend every waking moment on this show. And my wife understood.

I said, look, this is our big opportunity. I've got to be there during the day as much as I can. And at night, I would come home. I'd play with my daughters. I'd come home about 7 o'clock at night. And I'd play with them for two hours. They'd go to bed. And I'd go back up to my office at home.

And I would work again till like 2 in the morning and then get up at like 6 and repeat the process all over again every day. I sold Fairly Oddparents. And I was in pretty good with the people at Nickelodeon who'd picked it up because the show was a hit. So I knew they liked me. I'm like, wow, I could probably get them to maybe do another show if I play my cards right. But I just got to come up with the right idea.

I thought, you know what, I just need a boy. I knew they were looking for a boys' action show. And I thought, man, this is awesome because I love comic books. And one of my favorite shows was Johnny Quest back in the day. What a great name, Johnny Quest. If I can come up with a cool name, I mean, just the coolest name of all time, like Billy Dynamite or whatever.

I was trying to think of cool words that were cool, like dynamite, power, thunder, lightning. And somehow I ended up on the word phantom. I thought Danny Phantom, that's a cool name, man.

What could that kid do? So I was going to actually make him like a Scooby-Doo type thing where he's got a bunch of friends and he's got a pet owl and they fight ghosts with weapons, you know. And then I thought, no, let's make him a superhero. Let's make him like he's a half ghost kid.

He can like go through walls and disappear. And then the exact same Nickelodeon about six months later took me out to dinner because Fairly Oddparents was doing really well. And this is one of those Hollywood stories everybody dreams about and it's kind of cool that it happened.

But we're sitting there at dinner and these guys are like, hey, man, we love Fairly Oddparents. We'd love to pick up more. I thought, great, that's awesome. And so I was like, hey, here's two more episodes. Great. And then it's like, do you have anything else?

And I thought, wow, again, there's another opportunity. What do you do when a Hollywood executive says, do you have anything else? Even if you have nothing else, you say yes. Like, yes, I do. So I do have this one thing. It's different than Fairly Oddparents, but it's a boy's action show. It's called Danny Phantom. He goes, oh, my gosh, that's great.

Can you have it done in three months? And I went, whoa. And of course, I said, sure, why not? So when I left that dinner, I had more Fairly Oddparents and a brand new show called Danny Phantom.

And I really hadn't really thought much about it. I came to work the next day. I announced to my crew we got more Fairly Oddparents.

Everybody's cheering because they can get more employment. And then I said, then we have a brand new show called Danny Phantom. I'm like, what? And I'm going to pull some of you off of Fairly Oddparents on Danny Phantom 2. My work has been doubled. I have two recording sessions a week. I have two writing meetings, two editing sessions, two storyboard pitches. Everything doubled suddenly, but I was so down for it and so into it.

It didn't even seem like work to me. It was so much fun. I mainly just said this to myself, and I pray a lot. And I said, God, you know what? You gave me this opportunity. I know you're going to make time for me to do this. You know that I'm diligent. You know I'm not going to shirk my duty here. I'm not going to let this slide.

I had to be a good steward over this. Danny Phantom premiered as a series in 2004. And Fairly Oddparents ran all the way from 2001 to 2018.

It ran for 17 years. And so during the Fairly Oddparents train, other shows would kind of hop on and hop off. Danny Phantom hopped on from 2004 to 2007. And then from 2010 to 2013, my third show, Tough Puppy, hopped on. And I always wanted to do a comedy, kind of a crime-fighting show, and that's where Tough Puppy came from. I wanted to do Get Smart with a Dog, and so Tough Puppy came around. And that was one of the funniest shows I ever got to work on. I went in and pitched four shows that day. Tough Puppy was kind of off to the side.

I didn't even think it had a chance. I kind of put it off to the back of the room. I had these other great ideas.

I'm up there pitching these four ideas, and these execs were looking at me like American Idol, like three people sitting there, just deadpan faces, weren't into anything I was selling. But then they were like, what's that one over there? And I said, oh, that one's about Get Smart with a Dog. And they were like, oh, that's great. I love it.

Do you have any more on that? I, of course, said, yes, I do. And I ran up to my office and made up the whole Tough Puppy show in about two hours. And I said, here's what it is, and it's about a gang of good animals, a fight a gang of bad animals in a whole city called Patropolis where only animals live. I pitched Tough Puppy.

They loved it. We made it into a series that lasted for three seasons. My last show I did at Nickelodeon.

Tough Puppy was over, still doing Fairly Oddparents. And I pitched one more show, and it was called Bunsen is a Beast. And I don't know where I came up with that name.

I just thought it was a fun name, because I'm always sitting there with a sketch pad, always writing down ideas. And for some reason, Bunsen, I wrote it down. Bunsen is a beast.

That's really funny. So that show is about a kid named Mikey who's trying to get through school without getting murdered. And then Bunsen is this little beast. He's the first beast to ever go to a human school. And he doesn't want to scare anybody. You know, it's beasts.

Can beasts interact with humans? And he goes to school. He's this cutest little beast, cute as can be. And him and Mikey form a friendship. And there's this evil girl in the school named Amanda Killman who hates Bunsen and wants to destroy him.

And so it's always Mikey and Bunsen against Amanda. But around 2018, I said, you know what, it's time to go. I think it's time to get out. I was 20 years at that time. In 98, I got there. In 97, I sold Fairly Odd Parents in December of 97 and then started working there in 98.

So in 2018, I've been there for 20 years. And I still loved my job. I still love Nickelodeon. I was always treated well there. They were just great to me.

I have nothing ever bad to say about that place. But Fairly Odd Parents was done. And so I thought, you know what, I think it's time to go for now.

Maybe we'll come back or something. I just kind of started doing my own stuff. I started going into YouTube and doing some streaming stuff. I look at it in terms of who have I been able to influence. I go like, were my shows an influence to people in a positive way? Did I make them laugh? Did I maybe help them through a hard day?

Did I get them through a hard test at school? And did I give them maybe a line to quote later on to their own kids? I used to love to quote movie lines all the time. I would drive people insane. I would just quote movies from beginning to end.

And I thought, is there any kid out there like me that wants to quote movie lines or cartoon lines? And I'm hoping I'm giving them a little bit of that. And listen, I look at it as a huge responsibility because we all influence somebody. Every one of us out there has a circle of influence around us that we probably don't even realize. So your attitude, your projects, the things you're putting out there will influence somebody in some way, whether positive or negative. So it's up to you to realize, to figure out which way you want to go.

So hopefully I've gone the good way. And a great job on that piece, as always, by Robbie. And a special thanks to Butch Hartman for just bearing his life story to us. And what a story of creativity matching and meeting commerce. And from all that, artists can do whatever they want.

And they can take something to somebody, and if that somebody says no, they take it to somebody else. Butch Hartman's story, and my goodness, fairly odd parents, Danny Phantom, tough puppy. And I just love the story of that pitch.

He made it up on the spot. And sometimes we do that in our lives. We just have to improvise.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-29 10:52:50 / 2022-11-29 11:08:52 / 16

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