Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Super Friends”—Jeffrey Scott, writer

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”

How did you get the job to write for Super Friends?

My father was the story editor on Super Friends and I was his assistant story editor. Fortunately for me, my dad sold his Robonic Stooges series to H-B, and left Super Friends to run that series. This left me at the reins of Super Friends, which was my first story editing gig.

Did you do any professional writing (TV or otherwise) before SF?

I was blessed by learning how to write animation the old-fashioned way, via an apprenticeship from my dad. His assistant story editor, Orville Hampton, quit and my dad asked me if I wanted to replace him. $500 a week to learn how to write? You bet! He’d ask me to write a premise and I’d say “What’s a premise?” Then I’d go off and write one and he’d edit it. But not like every other editor edits. He’d explain each comment and tell me the theory behind how to do it right. Ditto with outlines and scripts. Six months later I started Super Friends. So I guess my father knew what he was doing.

I came from a very creative family. Not just my dad, but my grandfather, Moe, and my great uncles Curly and Shemp. In fact, my first writing job was to write a screenplay for what was to be the Stooges’s final feature film. It was called Make Mine Manilla. I got paid $100 to write it. They were about to begin pre-production when Emil Sitka, who replaced Larry after his stroke, “went Hollywood” and started demanding limos and star treatment. The producers killed the picture. And my screenwriting career was nipped in the bud.

How long did you have the SF job?

I was story editor from 1977 through 1980.

Were you the only person writing SF in that time?

In ‘77 I wrote 37 episodes. The series consisted of half hours, 11-, 7-, and 3-minute episodes. I wrote most of them, but there were other writers as well. The show was such a big hit that in ‘78 ABC ordered 32 more half-hours. To my knowledge, this was unprecedented. When the deal was made I told the producer I was going to write all 32 scripts. He told me it was impossible because Bill Hanna was a taskmaster. I thought, “Oh, good. A challenge!” After I finished three scripts, all of which Peter Roth at ABC loved, I thought, “Oh my god. I’ve got 29 more to write.” I wrote them all without missing a deadline.

It seemed like you started right in with writing episodes, but you said first you were assistant story editor for your dad. Which season/years was that?

I was assistant story editor on Dynomutt: Dog Wonder for a while before being the same on SF. I wrote some SF premises before taking over the show in ‘77. Check out my website for a complete timeline.

On SF, was “story editor” the equivalent of “lead writer”? In other words, did you write and do nothing else, or did you also edit your own and/or other writers’ stories?

I edited everything, mine and other writers’.

How familiar with the DC characters were you before you got the job?

Not very. I knew the characters informally as anyone with a casual knowledge of comics and TV would.

Who created Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, Samurai, and El Dorado?

Not sure. Probably Joe [Ruby] and Ken [Spears].

Did you come up with the stories on your own or did producers guide you in any way (i.e. “we want a story with dinosaurs,” etc.)?

I can’t recall precisely. Joe and Ken were creative producers on the show my first year and they came up with a lot of the story ideas. But from 1978 on, every idea was mine.

What, besides the obvious given that it was aimed at children, was off-limits for a script?

ABC’s broadcast standards were hot and heavy in that period. They were most concerned about violence. But their definition of violence was onerous. Destroying an object was considered violent action. If Superman knocked through a wall to get a baddy they made us put the wall back.

How long did it take you to write one 30-minute episode?

I was known at the fastest writer in the business. The time it took varied a lot based on how quickly I wanted to get the script done. If I took my time it took me four days. If I wanted to write one quickly it took two days. I wrote several of them in one day (although those days sometimes ended at 3 a.m.). It should be noted that time has nothing to do with quality. The scripts I wrote in a day were usually the best ones.

What challenges were involved in writing SF?

Nice pun! Other than broadcast standards, there really weren’t any significant challenges that I can recall. It was fun work and went very smoothly.

How did writing SF compare to writing other animated series? (Related: what has been your favorite series to write for?)

If Super Friends wasn’t my favorite series it was certainly right up there at the top. What I loved most about it was that I could write in virtually any genre: sci-fi, western, crime, comedy, medieval, prehistoric, and on and on. I was really able to expand my creative horizons wherever I dreamed. Although I have to admit, working with Jim Henson on Muppet Babies was the highlight of my career.

These days, Batman is a badass. Wonder Woman is a bit aloof in her nobility. Flash is light-hearted. Hawkman is fierce. Did you want to inject more distinctive personalities into the characters but the format of the show did not allow for it?

Saturday morning cartoons were much tamer then. Ironically, we went into SF with the mandate to turn the old SF (Wendy and Marvin version) into a stronger more comic book format. Even though we did that it was still tame by today’s standards.

Were there any characters you found more fun to write than others?

Mxyzptlk was a blast!

Out of all the episodes you wrote, do you have a favorite?

“Space Knights of Camelon.”

Were there any you ended up being disappointed with?

Sure. But I’ve conveniently forgotten them.

Where did you write—at home, on site at Hanna-Barbera, or a combination?

For the first two years I wrote at H-B. After that I worked at home.

Once you began writing SF from home, how did you deliver scripts? Drop them off/FedEx/courier?

Superman picked them up personally. Naw, we used couriers.

At the time, did you have a set writing routine—same time every day, for example?

I had writer’s hours, which means I got up around noon and wrote till midnight or after. Other than that I had no set routines. I was never the kind of writer who had to have things just so.

Do you remember any incidents where you fought for something to stay in (or against putting something in to) a script?

Nothing specifically, though I did battle with broadcast standards often. We had a method to handle them that is still used today. We’d add extra violence knowing they’d take it out, figuring this would protect the less violent things. They had to take something out to justify their existence. It was a fun cat and mouse game.

Did you ever write any ancillary SF material like storybooks or coloring books?

Not that I recall.

How much interaction, if any, did you have with the voice actors? Were you there when they recorded?

Just a few times.

Did you ever get letters from fans, and if so, do you still have any?

I got a few. If I have them they’re buried in my voluminous files.

What brought your time as a SF scribe to an end? Did you choose to move on or did they replace you with other writers?

After four years I moved on. I think I wrote three scripts in year five, after I’d left as story editor.

Do you still have any of your original SF scripts?

I have every one.

Do you have any other SF memorabilia from the era (i.e. cards signed by cast members, candid photos, etc.)?

Storyboards, outlines, premises, and some ABC notes.

How aware are you of the influence that SF had on the current generation of comic book writers?

Not very.

Have you heard from any current comic book writers?


How often do you get e-mails from SF fans?

Once every couple of years at most.

Do you have kids, and if so, ages?

Caroline Kimberly Scott, 21; Moe Howard Scott, 16.

What do they think of your history writing for Super Friends?

They don’t…think about it.

How do you look back on your time writing SF?

With my time machine.

Would you have liked the chance to write for any of the subsequent superhero animated series such as Batman: The Animated Series or Justice League?

Yes. That would’ve been fun. It was more serious writing than SF, with richer characters and plots.

What are you writing these days?

This stupid questionnaire!

Has anyone else interviewed you about SF?

I did an on-camera interview that’s on the first Challenge of the Superfriends DVD.

Have you ever participated (i.e. signed autographs) at a comic convention? If not, would you be willing to (if the convention paid your way)?

Yes, if by “paid my way” you mean paid my way to retirement.

1 comment:

Captain Blog said...

Excellent interview! I already feel like I know this man! Talk about an unsung hero. I wish more DVDs mined the many memories Jeffrey could offer.
Any way to get an autograph?