Warner Bros.’ Histeria! creator and executive producer Tom Ruegger at Warner Bros. Television Animation took an unexpected approach when he decided to create an FCC-friendly animated series based on history. The fruit of his labor, Histeria!, is a fast-paced comedy show, along the lines of a kid-targeted, history-based Saturday Night Live, according to Ruegger. Kids’ WB! has ordered 65 episodes and will launch Histeria! both at 11 a.m. Saturday mornings and as an afternoon strip, Monday through Friday at 3:30 p.m. The series will kick off on September 19.
‘It’s a comedy sketch series, taking the various events and people of the last 2,000 years-plus, and working them into sketch comedy,’ notes Jean MacCurdy, president of television animation and programming at Kids’ WB!. Situations like George Washington trying to cross the Delaware River are narrated by recurring host characters, many of whom are kids, who interact with historical figures.
The show was a massive undertaking, not only in terms of the historical research required, but also in terms of its ambitious launch.
According to MacCurdy, the show was chosen for its creative merit-and because the timing was right. ‘When Tom [Ruegger] first approached us with this idea, shortly after the new FCC guidelines were completed, Tom put together an incredible presentation. We felt it was a corporate responsibility not only to meet the guidelines, but for this to be a competitive program,’ she notes.
The network’s strategy to make Histeria! a hit centers around the product itself-the high quality of the production and its unique focus. According to Ruegger, it’s one of Warner Bros.’ most expensive shows to date, due to the brand-new background construction and costuming that had to be undertaken for the changing historical contexts in each episode. Extensive research and music from each period also contributed to the high production values.
MacCurdy says the series will attract a broader demographic than its stated target of kids age six to 11. ‘We believe this will appeal very much to the older part of the [audience] scale,’ says MacCurdy, noting that the historical content of the shows will be familiar to kids in the third grade and up. ‘A lot of the physical comedy appeals to the younger demographic as well,’ she says. As for the time slot chosen, MacCurdy was reluctant to discuss Kids’ WB!’s specific strategy vis-à-vis the competition. ‘We’re always aware of what the competition is doing and where they’re headed,’ she says.
Ruegger notes that the creative objectives behind the program were twofold: to produce a great, entertaining show and to impart information. Ruegger’s resume for creating entertaining shows is impressive-he is senior producer on Tiny Toon Adventures, Pinky & The Brain and Animaniacs under Steven Spielberg.
During the year and a half spent developing Histeria!, Ruegger’s original idea was honed via interactions with co-creators, cast members and other viewers, including kids. ‘It most definitely evolved,’ he notes. ‘I think we had less dependence on kid characters in the beginning and more [emphasis on the] famous historical figures. The supporting cast in the very beginning had a lot of adults.’ By boosting the involvement of kid characters, the creator hopes to draw in younger children. ‘They’re touchstones for kids to relate to. They bring a lot of energy,’ says Ruegger.
Efforts have been made to ensure that the series will travel well internationally, including the exploration of history in far-reaching regions of the world. Warner Bros. Television Animation is planning to sell the show to various territories, including Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, says Ruegger.
The kid host characters who lead viewers through history are individualistic, such as Miss Information, a ditsy tour guide who rarely has the facts completely straight. In keeping with the strong comedy sketch flavor of the series, several Saturday Night Live cast members were used as voice talent, including Laraine Newman and Nora Dunn, as well as renowned voice-over pros Rob Paulsen, Frank Welker and Billy West.
On-air promos for the show airing on Kids’ WB! prior to and during the launch and throughout the season will spotlight these quirky host characters. While no licensing programs are yet announced, these characters are likely to be a focus for merchandising as well. Efforts between Warner Bros. Television Animation and Warner Bros. Studio Stores will be supported in print, broadcast and cable media.