How did you sell your show? Do you have any advice on how to sell a show? What is it like to pitch a show? All of these questions are ones that I'm often asked. There's no pat answer (although I do have one). What I can do, is share my experiences and hopefully help people understand that it's all about being at the right place, at the right time, and being prepared.
So. Let's step into the wayback machine, shall we? It was the summer of 1993. I was fresh out of college, working afterschool daycare at Westchester Lutheran School and living on my friend's couch when I heard the news. My old teacher, Dan McLaughlin had just gotten a call from his friend, Buzz Potamkin, at Hanna-Barbera. Like the original ad below says, they were looking for directors to produce a new crop of seven minute animated shorts for the Cartoon Network.
Since Dan was the head of the UCLA Animation Workshop, he was asked to present his best students' films to them. From there, they hoped to cherry pick through them to find the next Tom and Jerry. Dan asked if I wanted to include my student film in the mix.
The next thing I knew, I was asked to meet with Ellen Cockrill, one of the heads of development at Hanna-Barbera. She asked if I were interested in pitching the idea of my student film as a short for their new 7-minute shorts program. Since my student film was basically an amped-up version of Elvis Presley, they wanted to make sure that my character was anything but. Thus, Johnny Bravo was born. A James Dean looking guy that moved like Michael Jackson, talked like Elvis, and had a name from the Brady Bunch. I felt as though I created quite the pop culture fusion.
FUN FACT: As you can see from the original presentation cel above, he was conceived with arms like Popeye. We also changed his shirt from white to black because, at the time, white cel paint was too transparent to shoot under the camera (especially when used in large flat areas).
Before I pitched to Hanna-Barbera, Dan thought it would be a good idea to gather the group of students that Ellen Cockrill had chosen to pitch to the network, and practice pitching our shows to each other. We met a few times and developed our pitching skills (not to mention our nerves) so by the time we got to Hanna Barbera, we were prepared. After going through the experience and talking with people about it, I learned that practice is key.
I was fortunate enough to pitch Johnny Bravo at the very first pitch session for Cartoon Network's initial shorts program. My project was the last in line after projects from Bill Hanna, Tony Craig and Roberts Gannaway, Will Panganiban, and Pat Ventura. I have random flashes that I remember about my pitch. For instance, I remember wearing a white shirt and tie and feeling really out of place amongst all the other working professionals who were dressed in everyday jeans and button up shirts. I also remember showing my student film and having Fred Seibert walk out of the room in the middle of it. I'm sure it was for a good reason, but I was hypersensitive! And to make things more awkward, I brought my portfolio along with me and nobody looked at it!
The bottom line after my pitch was that it wasn't "cartoony" enough. Fortunately, they liked it enough to have me redraw a new sequence to show how cartoony it could be. I later learned that they were going to pass on the show until three women, Ellen Cockrill, Janet Mazotti, and Julie Kane-Ritsch fought for my project to be made. I emphasize "women" because the gentler sex have always been champions of Johnny Bravo. I think it's because they know Johnny Bravos in their lives and can relate. They also enjoy watching him get his comeuppance.
I got the green light on November 5th, 1993. I heard the news from a development executive at HB, Dan Smith, who informed me of their decision at the Annie Awards that evening. When I got home, there was a note from my roommate informing me of my new "step deal." That meant, I was going to be under careful watch and evaluated after every step of production to see if they wanted to continue to go forward.
That's a whole other story.
When I arrived at Hanna-Barbera on my first day of work, Ellen gave me a big hug and said "Finally!" My new producer, Larry Huber, told me that this was going to be a type of graduate school where I was going to learn how to make cartoons from the ground up in the studio system.
And it was.
I was there for the next four years, much like any university, and learned how to make cartoons the old fashioned way. I was fortunate because, I don't think that my presentation was polished enough to have sold in today's climate. At the time, the Cartoon Network was in a place where they could afford to take a chance on a college graduate with no experience. Nobody was really paying attention to what they were doing. There's a lot more risk involved today.
Like I said before: Right place. Right time. Prepared.