Tom Ruegger – Creator of Animaniacs! Tiny Toon Adventures! Pinky and the Brain!
Today we have the immense pleasure or speaking to the creator of some of our favorite 90’s cartoons, Tom Ruegger! Sit back and relax and listen to Jeff chat with him about his career, His time writing on Batman, and so much more!
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Interview scheduled by Jeffery Haas
Theme music by Good Co Music:
Tom Ruegger – Interview
Jeff: [00:00:00] Hello listeners. A spoiler country today on the show.
We had the fantastic Tom Ruger. How are you doing Mr. ? I’m good. How about you? I’m doing very well. I, before the interview, I was looking up some of your history in animation. You’ve been part of so many fantastic shows over without agent YouTube too, about 40 years.
But I mean, it’s just such an extraordinary, extraordinary career. And as you go into some of the shows that you’ve been a part of,
Tom Ruegger: how,
Jeff: how, when did your love for animation start and did you, what were your early inspirations for it?
Tom Ruegger: Well, I, I loved the magic of animation. From the first time I saw.
Cartoons on TV. I really, I didn’t understand how they were making the drawings move around and how they would, you know, how could they possibly figure out how to draw it over the background. And anyway, I loved I loved watching huckleberry hound and Yogi bear shows, which [00:01:00] were very early, you know, We’re talking about 1959, 1960 quick drama garage, you know, so they were on in the early evening when my mom was making dinner.
So we’d be busy watching the cartoons and she’d be busy making dinner and it was like a perfect setup. And I would sit there on the floor with Pad of paper and crayons. And I would draw the characters as I saw them on the, on the TV. And my parents encouraged me to continue with that. And so I love cartoons and I love drawing.
And I, I would make stories up in my room different, you know, adventures with the cartoon character. So I, I loved it and I wanted to do cartoons from the very, very beginning. So, so later on
Jeff: when you attended Dartmouth college, did, did you was animation or art, your focus, or what did you have a separate focus when you attended
[00:02:00] Tom Ruegger: Dartmouth?
At that point, didn’t really have a film study, a film program, a major, you couldn’t have a film major, but there was a film study program led by Maury rap and Ray Florey and some other great teachers, professors, and So they, you know, if you wanted to pursue, smell or video or make stories them, them animate them.
They, they were very encouraging. The Arthur and Lily mayor foundation gave a small grant each year to a student that wanted to make a film. And I was fortunate enough to get the grant one year and with that money I, it helped, it helped to make a cartoon. I made called the premier of Platypus duck and which took me about two years of my college life, which was a really, really put a crimp and lifestyle.
It’s a lot of work. But that’s what I wanted to do. And [00:03:00] I, after college, I, I took that film and came out to Los Angeles and got a job at Hanna-Barbera.
Jeff: So were your parents supportive of your goal of entering animation or do they want you to do something more? I don’t know. Sensible is the right word for more, maybe safe.
Tom Ruegger: they wanted me to stay East. My, my family, I grew up in New Jersey and my brother worked. My, one of my brothers worked in New York and the other one was in New Jersey. I think my parents wanted me to stay East. So. They were encouraging me to go into advertising where, which was, you know, the most comparable thing to animation that was back there.
There wasn’t a lot of animation being done. And I, I interviewed at a bunch of different advertising agencies. And, you know, they were all kind of jerking me around. So at some point, and I was also roofing, I was working for my other brother, Jim, and a construction company, and I was doing a lot of, you know, I was roofing.
That was, and I, I get falling off the roofs [00:04:00] because, because I kept thinking about cart ideas. I’d walk up the roof and I made it, I crashed a few times into people’s homes. So at one time I really just kind of hurt, just screwed my neck up on the during the crash. So within a month of that, I drove out to Los Angeles.
Jeff: So, so that was so you’re almost where like a cartoon character, the way you were doing, like Pratt
Tom Ruegger: falls off. There were some I definitely had my head elsewhere. I did not plan on making a career of of that particular roofing job. Right.
Jeff: So as you, as you said, your first cartoon was the premiere palpates duck where did the idea come from and what was the cartoon about?
And is it available? Yeah,
Tom Ruegger: you can go to The YouTube channel Tom Ruger, cartoon ticks pretty easy to find and you can see the premiere Platypus duck, a kind [00:05:00] of a, not a great print of it, but that’s that’s the current video state that it’s in.
I can probably get it fixed up in the future.
Jeff: So, so when you made plastic duck, I assume you were doing the animation where you also was there also voice and sound. Did you have help doing it bit? Did you handle all aspects of production? You
Tom Ruegger: know, I wrote the little story, which such as it is, and it’s sort of Sort of a history of planet earth through the point of view of the ductal Platypus.
So it starts like billions of years ago and it takes us to modern day and the threat of nuclear explosions at the very end, which is well, I drew all of it and colored most of it and did the backgrounds and the animation. I did certainly have help. Well, Parker McDonald a good friend of mine did all the music and he went on to become a singer songwriter among other things.
And Brian folded the voice of the announcer and [00:06:00] Barry Braverman was crucial in the editing. And so many people helped. And they saw that they saw that my life, my life was going to go down the tubes that they didn’t help me. I know my, my mom and my girlfriend painted cells and anyway, a lot of people helped a lot.
Jeff: So it must’ve been fantastic for your resume. And you went from Platypus duck. Do you have any bros, any broken to a writer for Gilligan’s plan? Well, yeah,
Tom Ruegger: I started at Hanna-Barbera and I animated there. I was assistant animator and animator for two years at Hanna-Barbera worked on Godzilla and new Fred and Barney show and Scooby, and then Then I shifted over to Filmation where I I worked I became a writer at Filmation and wrote a bunch of different shows flash, Gordon, and Tarzan, and a black star.
What was the one that you, you, you mentioned.
Jeff: The, the one
Tom Ruegger: that’s the last show I [00:07:00] worked on when I was at Filmation, I was sort of hurrying out the door at that point. And but I did get the actors to sign my script. I think I went journey to the center of Gilligan’s planet was one of the ones I wrote and I got Jim Bacchus and you know, Bob Denver and Alan Hale and all the actors to sign that script.
Jeff: So. For anyone who wants to get into animation,
Tom Ruegger: I’m looking at it right now. I’m going to read it to you. It can have a picture, but it’s it’s a peasant is walking toward a barn where it says help wanted, and there are a bunch of horses, horses, like looking out of the barn and he goes into the barn. And there are horses in the background says I’ve liked the job it says help wanted.
And so Rodney is there. And so Rodney asked the peasant, do you have any [00:08:00] experience in cleaning out stables? And the peasant says, no, I’ve been in animation for the past three years. And so Rodney hands, the Pittsburgh says that’s close enough, get to work.
Tom Ruegger: awesome.
Jeff: I mean, I would imagine it’s an incredibly difficult field to break into. I mean, it sounds like though you kind of entered almost immediately into and you and you were X and you’ve
Tom Ruegger: always had success. I was very lucky. I was definitely in the right place at the right time when I got the job at Hanna-Barbera Joe Barbera had literally, it was June and he had just sold, like, you know, twenty-five different series to the various networks that were playing kids animation and bill Hannah was beside himself.
So we didn’t, we didn’t have it. Didn’t have the. Personnel to make all these shows. So I was very fortunate to arrive at that time and they immediately put me to work. [00:09:00] I was given a one month trial period because there was absolutely no proof that I could cut, cut the mustard and do the job. But basically I worked for 24 hours a day for a month and managed to keep the job.
Jeff: mean, I mean, you’ve been so successful. You’ve won 14 Emmy awards at the very, at least 14 Emmy awards since throughout your career. Are there some awards that have maybe more value to you? We do at some point after winning 14, like I dunno, they’re like paperweights now to you. I mean, you still have the equal value each one that you’re winning or do you just get like, eh, there’s another award for myself, whatever.
Tom Ruegger: on. The, the first night that we won an award That was for tiny Toons. And I want, I think I won like two the first night. So it was sort of like the excitement of winning one. I didn’t have a lot of time with, with that moment because you know, shortly thereafter I want another one.
So it was very [00:10:00] fortunate. And you know, when I say I won, I mean, the first one was th the, the song tiny to dementia theme song, which I wrote the lyrics with Wayne cats and the music was by Bruce Brown. So we shared that, but then tiny Toons also won The series that year. So I got the producer a credit for that anyway, over the course of the, you know, a decade or so where we’re winning a lot of Emmys.
They were for the awards were we’re producing the show or for writing the show and almost I mean, they’re all shared with the other writers and you know, the music ones were shared with the composer Richard Stone. We both won Is for like the, the Animaniacs theme song and for the freakazoid theme song.
Yeah, so, I mean, it’s, it’s great to have when the Emmy’s, they, they don’t buy a cup of coffee in this town. I mean, a lot of them are being distributed, but you know, it is, [00:11:00] it’s a nice recognition, I think probably The, the Peabody award I’m told is more prestigious and we won that for Animaniacs.
Jeff: I mean, that is just so awesome. Just to have the run of that running success and only that though, but it’s also, you may to incorporate your family and as well, you have two of your sons also do voice work in your car, too.
Tom Ruegger: Three Oh three. Did voice work on my on the cartoons.
Jeff: That’s fantastic. I mean, how was it to know that.
You’re that you can incorporate your family into what you’re into your work and are they now. In animation fully or do they, is it more
Tom Ruegger: like Luke? The middle son who he, he did the voice of the flame and Animaniacs, and he was also the voice in hysteria of Billy, the kid and big fat baby. And he did he did the little trailer and out of maniacs, he is pursuing animation and You know, design and that sort of stuff.
And I [00:12:00] work with him frequently, Nathan my oldest who played Skippy and he played Fraga in hysteria and he played baby plucky, the voice of baby plucky in the tiny Toon series. He is a filmmaker writer director, and also works In promos on a series called the reel and a Cody who did the voice of loud Killington and on hysteria and the little Bluebird in and Animaniacs and was the inspiration of the stories behind baby plucky for tiny Tims.
He’s an attorney in New York city and at one of the recent Animaniacs I’ve concerts. He, he joined Rob Paulson and Randy Rogel on stage and sang the 12 days of Christmas as well. The little blue bird you know, 20 years later.
Jeff: That’s awesome. I
Tom Ruegger: mean, you must be extremely proud. [00:13:00] My kitchen, tremendous.
I, I admire them. I love them. And you know, and they were, they were good sports to go along with making the cartoons. I mean, you know, they could have been doing other things. I think on some occasions they would have rather been, you know, doing their extracurricular activities after school at school rather than off with me.
But I thought they did a great job and I’m really glad that we have that common bond that we share
Jeff: now. Now, do they grow up watching the cartoons?
Tom Ruegger: Yeah. Oh, they were consulted. They were there in my audience. I would bring home scripts and storyboards and animatics. When we made those, we didn’t make many of those, but we made the rough cuts of the, of the cartoons.
I would bring them home and You know, they would give me, they’re very, very you know, blunt comments, you know, that’s funny, not funny.
Jeff: Now, now are you [00:14:00] as someone who’s the producer of a lot of the cartoons that you’re making, you’re the writer and everything else. Are you able to enjoy the shows the way your audience can, or do you find yourself when you’re watching them? I’m very critical or I’m too busy and maybe analyzing too kinda like getting grossed
Tom Ruegger: in it.
Well no, I can enjoy them, but I mean, just. Yeah, and not correct you, but just to point out the fact that I had the funniest writers on it earth on these shows on Animaniacs in particular, we had just brilliant and brilliant writers. Nick Hollander, Sherri stoner, Paul Rob, Peter Hastings, Deanna Oliver John McCann, Charlie Howe, Gordon breasts.
I know I’m forgetting us not Randy wrote gal. We had. Just very brilliant, clever, funny writers. And yes, I certainly wrote my sheriff cartoons for the show and I had my, I put my 2 cents in most of the, most of the other scripts, but these people the, these were among the funniest. [00:15:00] Well, they’re the funniest people I’ve met in my life.
And my job at on Animaniacs in particular was to just Go to the recording session. Read the scripts, laugh at the scripts. Go the recording session, laugh of the recording session. Look at the storyboard, left the storyboard. Then when the cartoons came back, laughed at the cartoons I had, I had truly for about three, four years.
They’re the most joyous job where I was around the funniest people I’ve ever met. And they were doing extremely funny, brilliant work and made my job very easy and very enjoyable.
Jeff: Well, I mean, like I said, we’re never going to talk about an enemy. If we get to enemy next, I did want to ask about that maybe the animated series, which you produce and is become.
Many ways, the absolute gold standard for animated series in, in TV history almost. I mean, when people list the best animated cartoons, usually Batman animated series is either at the top or near the top. It’s it basically has transcended [00:16:00] kids audience too. And also me made it to, it was one of only primetime cartoons as well, but before the cable became a major deal how did you get involved with that many of the animated series?
Tom Ruegger: I’d say, you know, as far as. Actual drama, animated series. Yeah, I, I I’d put it right at the top of the list. Brilliantly executed beautifully rendered. And you know, you gotta give a lot of credit to Bruce, Tim and Eric Radomski who just had the, the vision and the energy to And combine their talents with Eric making the beautiful backgrounds on dark paper, where he brought the colors out by adding the light and the color with the pens and ink, but all the backgrounds done on black paper Bruce, Tim with his brilliant vision and designed for the characters.
And then you had Story editors like Alan Burnett and Paul Dini and, and great writers [00:17:00] who really loved Batman and cared about making great stories. And so I was involved in the stories early on. I wrote some scripts and did some story editing and helped with the Bible. Fox was giving us a little bit of a hard time at early on, because we were making a show that they had never seen before.
It was you know, kind of violent kind of dark. And it was the afternoon block and they were scared to death of it. And they thought we were out of our minds. And they, they thought Bruce and Eric or asking or pushing the envelope too far. And they were even lobbying too. You know, we need a new producer in there.
We need someone else in charge of the stories and that sort of thing. And my fellow executive producer, I was an executive producer on that show Jean McCurdy and I Tried to we calmed down Fox was said, don’t, don’t worry. It’s going to be great. This is going to be a very unique and successful show.
So let them do what they’re doing because [00:18:00] they have a vision that is, eh, that we can afford to do, which was rare because it’s really, it was an expensive show, but we had the money because Batman in the movies was a big hit. So Warner brothers was cash rich at the moment. And so we convinced Fox took this.
Hands-off, let’s get this done. And Alan Burnett of course showed up to help with the stories and, and Paul Dini. So anyway, that was my involvement early on. And we had, you know, great directors like Kevin LT, Aerie and Dan Reba and, you know, well, Bruce and Eric had a great team and And the show just premiered in prime time, it ran on a Saturday morning and ran on the weekdays and it kicked ass.
Jeff: I mean, it’s definitely one of my, or maybe be a favorite cartoon of mine growing up as extremely important to me. And I, I read that you co-wrote the much beloved [00:19:00] episode, the gray ghost, is that
Tom Ruegger: correct? My episode and yup. And I, and I Pushed for insisted upon Adam West playing the gray ghost because he was, he was the Batman of my youth.
And so we were playing Bruce Wayne as a kid and his, his show when he was a kid was the gray ghost. And so I thought it was appropriate that Adam West play. The hero that Bruce Wayne had as a child, just the way Adam West was the hero that Bruce, Tim and I had as a child watching the Batman series.
Yeah, I think it’s, it’s, it’s a very successful an episode. I think story-wise, it’s successful. I think visually it’s maybe not as strong as a bunch of the stories. I mean, There are a lot of just spectacular looking at facades. But anyway, Greg ghost is a great story.
Jeff: I mean, I really did love that episode.
And interestingly [00:20:00] enough, I think it was announced two or three weeks ago that the Greg goes officially had been added to the Batman cannon, the comic books as someone who I guess he watched growing up. Because, I mean, when you think about the character, the sh the show premiere 30 years ago, and it’s still so well remembered.
And Greg goes is so well loved that it’s still in the writer’s minds to incorporate into the current comic books now. And like I said, it was such a well done show. And and that’s interesting about the show as well, is that. In some ways, I mean it, with the remote control cars and stuff, it’s definitely entertaining to children, but there’s so many adult themes in that episode as well.
Was there ever a concern that some of the themes in that episode where it was going to go over the heads of the kids watching it?
Tom Ruegger: Wow. I think almost all of my episodes are and I think almost all the episodes of the, the series are. Are not just for kids. I mean, I think they work on levels for adults and thirteens and, and for [00:21:00] kids.
So there are, there are subtle things that the kids aren’t gonna really care about even that won’t even register. But I mean, the gray ghost is, is, you know, it, it, it tells a story of of a kid who. Idolized a hero, but now when you’re older and you’re an adult and you still have this hero from your childhood, and now you’re meeting him as an adult.
I mean, a lot of us have gotten through that experience at like for instance, at comic con. So I think it hits the fans and, and some of the older fans where they live. So I think that works very nicely. I did an episode called it’s never too late. And that, that has a lot of adult themes in it, too. It’s about Friends from childhood who have grown up in ones one’s gone sort of. Toward criminal element and the other, one’s a priest it’s sort of Batman update version of angels with dirty faces Jimmy Cagney movie.
So [00:22:00] and we really were making these little movies. I mean, the poison Ivy script that I had first, my first script that I wrote for the series, and, and this particular episode starts with a dinner between the character would come poison Ivy and, and Harvey dent, and it’s sort of a romantic dinner and Bruce Wang was supposed to join them, but I’ll Bruce, you know, Harvey dent talks about his friend, Bruce Wayne, and you know, he’s, he’s such a stick in the mud.
He’s probably just hanging out at home and. And then we slammed, cut to footage of Batman, where he really is right now. Bruce Wayne is Batman right now and he’s beaten the hell out of some convict or some criminal on a rooftop. And. And we go back to the romantic dinner, then we go back to the action.
So it really has a feel of a cinematic experience. I, I do think that the Batman show had that going for it.
[00:23:00] Jeff: Yeah. And another story that you worked on, as you mentioned, was never too late, which again was another very brilliant episode. It’s another story that has a redemption arc sort of like the great ghost.
Does are the ideas of redemption important theme to you and important to you in your work?
Tom Ruegger: It probably is. I mean I believe in redemption, I believe in giving people a second chance, third chance I’ve made enough mistakes in my life to, to know that I’ve appreciated when people have given me a second chance in that I’m all for everyone having the opportunity to make adjustments so that their lives and other people’s lives are improved.
So, yes. I, I see that as a theme.
Jeff: So, and, and another great part about it’s never too late is that strong-willed visit a drug rehab center where his son is. Was it difficult to get past the censors, the, the idea of drug rehab and the consequences?
[00:24:00] Tom Ruegger: Yeah, I think we would always rub against the network people.
I mean, what we were. We were very confident in what we were doing. We, we had success with tiny Tims. I mean, we w we were the leaders of TV animation at that moment, certainly in the kid area. And so it was tough for them to get us to. Change our ways. We, we kind of stuck with our stories. There was one thing in, in that particular episode that they, they wouldn’t let me get away with.
This is it’s. It’s never too late. Batman goes to meet the priest. And the original script had him in the church, in the cathedral. And he goes into the confessional and the door slides open and, and there’s the priest. And he’s staring into the face of [00:25:00] Batman. That one says, forgive me, father for, I have sinned.
And. Batman and the priest go on to have this conversation about the criminal. Who’s the friend of the priest and Batman is asking for the priests involvement, but putting the convict on a road to salvation.
So the conversation ends and Batman leaves the confessional. And at this point we cut to two alter boys who are at the alter and they’re lighting candles. And there they see Batman leave the confessional head of the church and, and one ultra boy says to the other. That’s funny. I always thought he was a Pisco.
let’s do that. Yeah. I wrote a Batman script called a one and only gun story. False false script, [00:26:00] you know, half hour story and it, and that’s maybe my biggest disappointment about the Batman series in that the network ultimately didn’t let us make it. And it was literally the story of the gun from its.
From the raw materials being dug out of the ground that ultimately were used and smelted, and that were used in making manufacturing the gun, you know, the purchase of the gun. We just follow the gun through the hands of, of people at stolen and criminals. It goes into a drawer for like three years and it comes up and ultimately it’s the gun that slays Bruce Wayne’s parents.
And how this gun ultimately through, as we follow it, it ultimately is melted down again at the end of the story and becomes the, the materials become the plaque on the grave of Bruce Wayne’s parents. And so it was a [00:27:00] really I thought it was a beautiful script and kind of, you know, definitely unique, different network.
They want to do it. That’s okay.
Jeff: Yeah. I mean the, the, that episode it’s never too late. I think just really was brilliant. I kind of almost felt that it was almost sort of like a gangster Batman version of the Christmas, Carol, where instead of the ghost, you have Batman taking him through his life a little bit.
And, and also I thought it was interesting that you gave it aloud. It’s unusual for show a superheroes to show the superhero, doing things that are good and helpful, that don’t involve beating someone up. And I think, you know, and I, and I think the fact that it shows Batman. Making a difference, an impactful difference in a way that’s non-violent I think was very, not only unusual, but fantastic.
Especially for the time that it came back. Yeah.
Tom Ruegger: I, I think it holds up I think I got a little grief that it didn’t have enough action in that story is a lot of, you know, a lot of talk and It’s a legitimate beef [00:28:00] probably would figure it out. Some other action stuff in that one, if I were to redo it, but it definitely works.
Jeff: I don’t know. I think it was perfect the way it is. I think it worked because there was little actually, because it was one of the most character driven cartoons I think I’ve ever seen. I think it was brilliant. Yeah. So after you finished it, that man, some years two years later about, I think two year, maybe a little longer than that you create two of my other favorite shows, the Animaniacs and pinky and the brain.
So where did the idea of the enemy enemy next come from and why were the Warners left as undefined creatures?
Tom Ruegger: Well animated, this came from a discussion I had with Jean McKinney and Steven Spielberg. We had had the success with tiny Toons and think a year after tiny Toons premiere, that it was, you know, killing everybody in the ratings.
And Steven and McCurdy came to me and they said, so what’s next? And I said, A vacation now. So Steven wanted to do a [00:29:00] spinoff of a tiny Toons, like plucky duck as the star. And I, and I basically argued that we were, we were burned out on tiny Toons. We’d done enough. And I wanted to do something new.
I had some new characters in mind and so. Basically well on tiny tens, you know, it was our first experience together with Mr. Spielberg. And, you know, he didn’t necessarily trust me to do a great job, but now with the success of tiny towns, he did trust me. And basically he said, you know, go for it with Animaniacs and He wanted a marquee name and bottle.
That’s where I came up with the Warner brothers water tower. And at that point yeah, go wacko and smack go or, or ducks. And I said, Oh, I can have him living in the water tower. And then we thought, well, that’s had been over done. [00:30:00] And so that’s when I realized that the water tower used the water tower as the, the, the the Mark Key for the show, with the WB on it.
And the characters inside it will be the Warner brothers and their sister died. And we turned them into these generic cartoon characters from the early thirties. And if you ever look at some of those old cartoons and we all seen them there, you know, the Paul Terry cartoons, they’re, they’re often silent.
They’re like Felix, the cat Warner brothers made some with Foxy and Roxanne and made them with a buddy and anyway, Basco. So we, we basically, I took the idea of those sort of You know, very basic cartoon characters from the early thirties, we put like little antenna ears on them and came up with what weren’t really.
They weren’t dogs. They weren’t cats, they weren’t monkeys. They weren’t anything particular. They were sort of a [00:31:00] generic combined version of those rubber hose characters from the earliest 30. So we called them I think something like Cartoonist characteristics or something to that effect, like the Latin species of what they were anyway, you know, I think it’s funny that they don’t have a specific species of breed they’re their own unique creation.
Jeff: Yeah. So then the thing that has kind of interest that is called Steven Spielberg presents in a maniacs, how involved was Steven Spielberg and. You know, is it, was it there mostly just to kind of cash in on the name of Steven Spielberg or is he, cause I don’t, I don’t think he’s listed as the producer
Tom Ruegger: of the show on tiny Animaniacs pinky the brain freakazoid pink Elmira in the brain.
And so Steven was, I would say very involved in tiny Toons because again, he didn’t really trust us. So it was like, Oh my gosh, you know, you’re [00:32:00] going to screw it up where I have to fix it. So Steven was giving us a lot of notes on stories when we get footage back from overseas and it, the line quality, wasn’t what he wanted.
And he absolutely just had a meltdown. He He actually wrote a note that the line quality is unconscionable. I re re I vividly remember them and being the Kurdi and I were on an airplane to Taiwan. I literally like within a week to explain to them how important that thin line quality is just in.
So so tiny Tim’s definitely he, he. Got involved in and certainly the final product, Steven never wrote anything for any of the shows. He, he, he didn’t even come up with the stories we all, we came up with a story as we, and He would, he would kill a script now, and then he didn’t like it, but it wasn’t, he wasn’t into the minutiae of [00:33:00] production.
He was, you probably visited the studio in the 10 years we were working together maybe four or five times. But we got a lot of phone calls. We’ve got a lot of notes. Especially on tiny Tims. By the time we had we’re making Animaniacs, Steven was very comfortable with all of us and had great faith in everything we could do.
And he basically wanted us to make. A brand new cartoon that was funny and irreverent and so very encouraging. And he also, at that moment was embarking on both Jurassic park and Schindler’s list. So those movies were. His main concern. So Animaniacs you know, took a back seat to those productions while we Animaniacs was our number one focus.
And like I said, we had these brilliant writers. We had brilliant artists, rich errands leading all the directors. Yeah,
[00:34:00] Jeff: I mean, the other thing in a mania, it’s not only are the lead characters. Fantastic, but it had a hell of a crew of side characters, you know, chicken. Boo. Can you Kaboom sloppy squirrel?
I mean, we did all these other characters or did you create them all as well? Was it like a writer’s room where everyone just started pitching. No, I did
Tom Ruegger: not. Some of those Slappy squirrel is from Sherry Stoner’s crazy mind. The, the, the goods feathers were from Deanna Oliver pinky and the brain and the Warners.
You know, I feel like I’m the father of those in that, you know, They, they were my focus and, and the characters that I was really pushing, I was, I was the head of the creative team. So, you know, I had my say on everything and I, I would encourage certain certain teams to, to work on specific characters.
I mean you know, there’s many in buttons. Deanna had a lot to do with them. [00:35:00] There’s a Rita and Renee Sherry and all of a sudden, a lot to do with them. Deanna was pushing chicken boo. Nick Hollander was doing a lot of Warners, but he was also pushing Katie Kaboom John McCann was really good at Slappy cartoons and the pigeons.
Anyway, everybody had sort of their specialty and And my job was to sort of keep it all going juggling a bunch of the, the different elements I had to kind of know what was going on with all the different franchises. And I had cards on my wall that Each card represented one of the cartoons.
And so I was the one guy that was like reading everything and, and giving my input on everything. And for instance, Paul rug would be writing a lot of Warner cartoons and he didn’t know what the heck was going on with Slappy squirrel. He, you know, Slappy squirrel was just not in his rear view mirror while Sherry you know, she was doing a lot of Slappy and Deanna was doing a lot of pigeons, so they [00:36:00] all had their specialties and I was the guy that had to like, keep an eye on all of it.
Jeff: And the other thing that’s kind of interesting as well is The yeah, like little short bits, like good idea, bad idea on the wheel of morality, where did those, where were those ideas come from? Were they important? Because they were quick jokes that you guys just want to throw out there, or did they serve a purpose in this show for like transitioning that you wanted
Tom Ruegger: to use?
Well, we wanted the show to be nuts. We wanted to just be really a smorgasbord of funny cartoons. And we want it to hold it together too. So we wanted to have the Warners have some additional segments that sort of glued the show together. Maybe there’d be a half-hour the Warners didn’t have a major cartoon in it.
So we’d want to have a wheel of morality and that, so the Warner’s at least show up, or we have wrap arounds where the Warners would come out of this water, turn a balloon or something. Yeah. And also we were building the shows each half [00:37:00] hours, like 22 minutes, but we weren’t making the shows in 22 minute blocks.
We were making a cartoon, each cartoon, you know Sherry would come up with a Slappy squirrel cartoon idea. Maybe a McCann would too. And they would both go off and write a couple of Slappy squirrel cartoons. A rug would maybe be working on a couple different Warner cartoons. Peter Hastings would be working on Warner’s half hour.
And so anyway, everybody was doing a different cartoon. And then, so. We would script them and then record them and storyboard them and, and get them animated. And, you know, eight months later we’d have this cartoon and then we’d get the, the music people involved and do the final ADR on the recording and get the sound effects and we’d mix it together and get the final shot cut in.
And. We would have maybe a seven minute cartoon and [00:38:00] we’d have, you know, a five minute Slappy in a nine minute pinky the brand and you’d have all these different cartoons about Peter would do a lot of the pinky and the brains, Peter Hastings. That was his thing for sure. And so all these cards were on my wall and I had to make 22 minutes.
Episodes of the series. And so I take a nine minute pinking the brain and maybe a seven minute Warners and then maybe, you know, a three minute chicken boo. And if I had extra time, I’d throw in a wheel morality or a mind time or a, you know, good idea, bad idea. So that’s how we would build.
The shows and quite honestly, it, it, it really works well because those different cartoons, maybe, maybe one was made in March and the other one was made in October. And. By putting them [00:39:00] together. You’re really getting different points of view and from different times. And, and, and it made it a real variety show.
They weren’t all just made like in one week in April, they were really from different minds from different times. And so each half hour had a real, a bunch of different things going on.
Jeff: Now, when, when you were making it, did, did you know. That pinky and brain. When, when you made the characters were, were going to be the characters from Animaniacs that other than the, the main going back when dot that would emerge as the loved characters that would go off and be the ones people really caught onto.
Tom Ruegger: Well, we, we knew, we, we felt that the learners were working pink and the brain was working Slappy and skipping. We’re working. And we, we felt very confident about all those. So we tended to give them a pretty big dose of attention. Then, then there were the pigeons and [00:40:00] million buttons and Rita and Ron, and those were sort of like our, our second tier.
They were doing fine, but you know, they weren’t getting as much attention. And then after that came the, the shorter segments, like chicken boo and Katie Kaboom. And good idea, bad idea and mime type. So then there’s Colin, you know, Randy Beeman. So yeah, so I think that’s pretty much where we were.
Jeff: So w with picking the brain when you conceptualize the idea of those two characters, did you.
The way you viewed it. Did you feel that pinky was Brittany was with pinky out of convenience or did you make, did you think to yourself that brain really did want a need to have pinky around
Tom Ruegger: for some time? Right. You’re going to have to ask me that question again, cause I’m not quite sure I understand it.
Jeff: All right. So when, when you thought about the relationship
Tom Ruegger: between pinky and the brain, let’s start there. [00:41:00] So this is a classic duo. This is like Laurel and Hardy Abbott and Costello. It’s it’s two. You know, unique bipolar character. I mean, the brain is very serious, very smart and he’s got ideas plans.
Pinky is has the mind of a three-year-old He he’s just, he he’s distracted by a piece of dust in the air. I mean, he’s has no real focus. Yes. And, but he loves everything and he likes everything he’s not serious. And they were based. And what made them sort of easy to write for me and for Peter and for others is that they were based on two.
Artists writers that worked at the studio, Tom mitten, who wrote a lot tiny Toons and a lot of Animaniacs was the inspiration for the brain. And Pinky’s inspiration was a fellow named Eddie Fitzgerald and Tom [00:42:00] and Eddie would work together and they were in the next office next to mine.
And I would hear them in there and. Tom was soft-spoken and he would very quietly say anything. And he was very funny and he said something very funny and Eddie would be with him. And Eddie would, when Tom said something funny, it would just explode into laughter. And so. But what were they doing in there?
I was, I was, I was very curious as like, what are they, you know, it’s like, they’re gonna take over the world. What are we doing? What are they planning? And so that’s, that’s where the inspiration for pink in the brand came from. Now does brain Tom and. And he got together really well. So we have brain and pinky getting together very well, but I mean, literally they were lab mates the, the two mice and you know, who knows what horrific experiments or perpetrated on those two, [00:43:00] but a wound up extra smart and pinky wound up, extra goofy.
And I think. I think they’ve been through things that we don’t know about and they are, they are, they bonded and they’re, they’re never going to part, they are they’re friends for life.
Jeff: They really are such great characters. And I mean, I know it’s probably reading into the cartoon a lot, but I did feel like.
Brain needed pinky cause he not is like optimistic, but someone that does look up to him a little bit. I mean, I’m just reading too much into
Tom Ruegger: the cartoon. It’d be without pinky, he’d be a horrible, lonely nasty, grumpy funerals. Monster mouse. He does need someone to bounce those ideas off of probably need someone beyond pinky to bounce ideas of it, but he’s got pinky and that’s what’s going on.
[00:44:00] Jeff: And I said it was great. And I do think it, wasn’t reading into the story a little bit that think he does keep him from probably going too far in his impulses of domination, you know, kind of I don’t want to say sanitize him a little bit, but probably keeps him at least from being evil.
Tom Ruegger: I never, I honestly don’t.
And I, I can’t speak for any of the new cartoons, but. I, I never thought Brian was evil. I don’t think he has any real, genuine evil in him. I think he has ego and I think he has drive and, and Ambition, but I would keep all those I would keep all those items in as qualities rather than as a detrimental.
I, I don’t think he’s taken them into a dark place.
Jeff: Yeah, it makes, I, I really do love those characters. And so, as you mentioned, so obviously Animaniacs has been brought back to Hulu. How involved
Tom Ruegger: are you? Sure I am zero involved. I am not, I have not been involved [00:45:00] whatsoever.
Jeff: That’s. I mean, do you still get credit as the creator of the show though?
Tom Ruegger: creator of the show? I haven’t seen it. I don’t, I know that they, they have me listed cause I wrote the songs for picking the brain. I wrote the, you know, the lyrics with Richard Richard Stone wrote the music. I wrote the lyrics for. The Animaniacs theme song and the pick of the brand theme song.
So that credit is there, but what’s missing in the credits. From what I can tell is, is that the entire series was created by me and a bunch of really brilliant people. And that, that so many people that deserve credit aren’t getting credit is, is. That’s the CR is a criminal. I don’t know what it is.
It’s it’s wrong though.
Jeff: Well, it’s definitely an appropriate I mean, did, did you not want to be involved or
Tom Ruegger: were you approached not approach my, my agent and I went my agent [00:46:00] insisted that they meet with me. Because they were planning on making the show without, without any of the original team, except for the, some of the voice actors.
And so my agent and I went over there and talked to them and said, you know, I’d like to be involved in some meaningful way. And they said, no, thanks. We got this. So that’s what, that’s what happened there.
Jeff: Well, I mean, that’s unfortunate cause I’m the original Animaniacs and pinky and the brain. Is so timeless.
I mean, those episodes work just as well in the nine today as they did in the nineties. I mean, I think if you took the original show, thinking the brain and Animaniacs and you aired it now, no one who already knew that they existed would have felt that they were old shows. I think they hold up that well and
Tom Ruegger: in my brain.
Well, thanks. I, I think they’re, they’re timeless in that they’re genuinely funny and You know, there, there are probably some references that are dated, but [00:47:00] in general, I think they work really well.
Jeff: Did you, did you attempt to avoid references that would date the show when you first made it, or did you make it of the moment?
Tom Ruegger: Well, we, we had I mean, we had bill Clinton in the main title, bill Clinton plays this acts where please certainly, you know, we had our occasional Regis Philbin citing back then. We certainly there, there were references that were specific to that time. But that wasn’t a goal. I see. In all the Animaniacs cartoons are characters basically exist and existed anywhere in the history of time.
So they would go back, you know, there was Mesozoic Mindy, there was the, the Warner’s helping to paint the Sistine chapel. Basically a pinky and the brain. They, they, they were, could exist anywhere in time. So.
[00:48:00] I don’t think it really is dated as it is. It is. It’s a time travel show almost. I mean, it’s, it’s a variety show, but it can take place anywhere.
Jeff: Like I said, those shows, I think were brilliant. What are you working on
Tom Ruegger: now? I have several different projects that if I tell you then, then when I go and pitch them, they won’t be fresh.
So I, I, I can’t really say what they are, the titles are, but you know, I I’m working with some great. People, some of the people that we all know from the shows that we’re talking about, but and some new people anyway I’m very excited
Jeff: now, are these, are these going to be animated?
Tom Ruegger: I am. I’m sticking with the animation.
Jeff: Very cool. Like I said, well, when you are ready to announce them, I definitely hope to come back on the
Tom Ruegger: show and talk to you about them. And yeah, that’d be great.
Jeff: Well, like I said, I, I really [00:49:00] well, a couple of things, I, I thank you for making the shows I grew up. I grew up on that were important to me.
Like even to get to mention that you did a massive universe, an episode of it, and that was fantastic. Thank you for all the work you’ve done in making the shows that I grew up on and thank you for spending your time with me. It was,
Tom Ruegger: it’s been a pleasure, Jeff, and I hope we get to speak again soon.
Jeff: Same here. Thank you. Have a fantastic night, sir.