Friday, May 29, 2020

Animator Bruce W. Smith Reveals How 'The Proud Family' Almost Ended Up at Nickelodeon

Disney animator Bruce W. Smith, creator of the popular Disney Channel series, The Proud Family, recently joined the Walt Disney Family Museum for their virtual Happily Ever After Hours event to talk about his past and his newest project, the Disney+ revival The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder. Among the many subjects Smith discussed during the Q&A was how The Proud Family almost ended up at Nickelodeon instead of Disney Channel!

“I remember pitching it around town and initially we pitched it to Disney first, an earlier version of Disney Television,” Bruce shared. “This was 1997, 98. At the time, they weren’t really vibing the idea.” At the time, diversity was just starting to expand the landscape of live-action TV with shows like Kenan & Kel, My Brother & Me, Sister Sister, Moesha, and Smart Guy, but the wave hadn’t touched animation yet and the industry was cautious. That’s when Bruce pitched it to Nickelodeon, who was very interested at first.

“We made the pilot with Nickelodeon and it was great..” But after the production was handed to Nick, they tested it with a lot of focus groups in non-Black areas and it didn’t get a great response. “Everything was sort of geared towards our culture so if you’re not embraced in the culture, you might not understand it.” It turned out that Disney Channel had a representative secretly attend a lot of the screenings and one day Bruce got a call from them saying if Nickelodeon passes he should give them a call. Nickelodeon let their contract for The Proud Family lapse, allowing Bruce to revisit the concept with Disney and the rest was history.

Now at Disney Channel, Bruce made sure he had total control over The Proud Family. The animator was offered a staff of their own writers, which he declined. He was still dreaming of making the show more like a sitcom. “That’s when I reach out to Ralph Farquad,” Bruce explained about working with a legendary sitcom writer who had worked on Happy Days, Married with Children, and Moesha. “I remember showing him the characters and written synopses and immediately he was like I got it, I got it… He had a great taste for it, he got it, he got the temperature.” Disney was impressed that Bruce was able to get a highly respected seasoned writer on the project. Because Bruce already had his own Jambalaya Studios established, he was able to do all of the writing and animation in-house rather than letting Disney control the production.

Bruce was also committed to developing artists and giving seasons pros something they could be proud of. Being an artist himself, Bruce had relationships with a lot of great artists. Attracting them to The Proud Family wasn’t easy due to the show’s budget, but he was committed to giving them work that they could be proud of. “It was always this sort of unwritten rule in animated sitcoms that as funny as it is, it has to look like crap,” he shared about the low-quality animation on a lot of animated primetime shows. “I didn’t want my show to look bad, so I was coming to it from an artistic aesthetic that spoke to my fellow artists.” His ambitions to elevate the style of sitcom animation also made him passionate about developing artists since he was working with a lot of animators fresh out of school. “To me, it was like being a general manager and trying to staff a great basketball team.”

Bruce had always dreamed of having his own animated TV series. “We were coming to the end of Space Jam and I knew I was going on to Disney to do Tarzan, but in between that I started to develop the idea of doing The Proud Family.” He initially conceived the series as a primetime show like The Simpsons and started by creating the characters and writing an outline for who they are and how they interact. He showed his concept to Tom Woolhite, who would be co-founder of Jambalaya Studios, who unintentionally gave the show its name when he said: “They’re an interesting proud family.”

You can read more about what Bruce revealed during his WDFM virtual Happily Ever session, including how he was inspired by Saturday morning cartoons such as The Jetsons, The Flintstones, and Scooby-Doo, how he learned from the legends of Disney Animation at CalArts, and about working on the Oscar-winning short Hair Love, as well as find about the difference between animating on Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Space Jam as Laughing Place.

You can view and register for all of the Walt Disney Family Museum’s virtual events, including the Happily Ever After Hours speaker series, by visiting their calendar.

ICYMI, Former Nickelodeon animator Butch Hartman (Fairly OddParents, Danny Phantom, T.U.F.F. Puppy, Bunsen Is a Beast) also recently took part in the WDFM virtual Happily Ever sessions, which you can find out more here.

More Nick: Netflix and Nickelodeon Form Multi-Year Output Deal to Produce Original Animated Films and Series!

Additional source: Bustle.
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