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AL: What’s your relationship to Scooby Doo?
MH: I grew up watching Scooby Doo, and then the really cool part about it is in the late 80s, I joined Hanna-Barbera, I worked in the publicity department. I worked as an assistant, and then I sort of moved up to arranging interviews for a lot of the voice cast and stuff. I not only got to see a lot of the production stuff on Scooby Doo, and then my very first piece of animation writing was I did a short re-write on a scene as sort of a test for one of the producers, and that was on A Pup Named Scooby Doo which was really fun. But I used to get to take Daws Butler* out to do interviews where he would talk about Scooby. And so that was really fun because Daws was the original voice of both Scooby and Astro. So he would talk quite extensively about that and that was really fun.
*Although Mark says Daws Butler, I believe he meant Don Messick, who was the original voice actor for Scooby Doo and Astro (The Jetsons.) Daws Butler was the voice of Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, and for the Scooby Doo franchise, Daws voiced Scooby-Dum.
AL: Do you remember which Pup Named Scooby Doo episode that was?
MH: I have no idea. I know it involved was it Velma in a chair with curlers on or something, or a barber chair, and it was spinning around. I don’t remember the specific episode name. What I remember was around that time they were doing a lot of shows that were like baby-fied versions of classic shows. Like they were doing the Flinstone Kids, and that was the big pitch that people would make is “Let’s make it a baby-fied version,” but I remember thinking that the Pup Named Scooby designs were really, I thought, some of the cutest of that era of you know, Muppet Babies and all that kind of stuff. I thought the way they re-did a Pup Named Scooby, it looked really cool, I thought it was really well done. It just looks great, it’s a really fun show.
AL: Did you ever watch the new Scooby Doo movies which also featured celebrity guest stars?
MH: I think I’ve maybe seen one of them, a buddy of mine wrote the one with the wrestlers, one of the most recent wrestling ones that came out. And now I’m trying to think, was it John Cena maybe? I’m trying to remember what wrestler was in the movie. So I’ve seen parts of that one, and I think they hold up. I think it’s great that Scooby is one of these timeless characters that sort of everybody relates to and what’s great is I remember the early stories about how the show was pitched by Joe Barbera was that he wanted to do sort of a serious mystery show for kids. So he had the van and he had the kids and that’s why some of the original backgrounds are kind of scary. And then one of the network execs he was pitching to, said you know, “Well I think this might be too scary.” And Joe says “Well what if we added a dog. What if we added a talking dog and his buddy.” And that’s sort of how that idea was birthed was it came from not wanting to make it too scary and I think he really had great instincts for finding something that people and kids in particular can relate to.
AL: Why do you think that adding the formula of having celebrities on the show works?
MH: I think it gives it a really sort of terrifically fun, almost like a movie of the week for kids. Around that time there were a lot of, like movie stars would guest on movies of the week, that was a big thing. And I think, you know when I was a kid in the 70s they had, was it the Sunday Night Mystery Theaters on I want to say NBC and they had like McMillan & Wife and all these, they had McCloud, and they were all these movies where people solved mysteries. So I think it was sort of a thing at the time to do. And I think it just, you know throwing in guys like Don Knotts and Jonathan Winters, and of course the Harlem Globetrotters, who were just great at that time. I remember going and seeing the Harlem Globetrotters live with Curly Neal and Meadowlark Lemon and they were not only amazing athletes but they were such great showmen that it added this great component to see them in animated form, you know, doing their stuff with Scooby. And guys like Jonathan Winters, what a great take, and then Sandy Duncan I think was in there. And for the stars, it was great because, I mean, that’s an easy day of work actually. They don’t have to get into makeup, they don’t have to memorize their lines. And that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take skill and talent to do the voice acting, but it’s just different. So they can just go into Hanna-Barbera and do a recording and you know, and have fun like that. So I think it worked out very well.
AL: And if you could pick anyone to guest star in Scooby Doo and Guess Who, and if you also got to write the episode, who would it be?
MH: Oh, for me, it would be Patton Oswalt. I love him, I think he would get into it because he’s got a young daughter, and he’s just, he’s done voice over stuff, he’s a very fun guy, I think it would be fantastic.
AL: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
MH: I knew in high school actually. I did a lot of writing for the high school newspaper and I wrote some poetry, and so I sort of knew by high school that I wanted to write. And I didn’t know exactly how or where or what that would mean, (but) since then I’ve always been writing. And so then when I got into college out here in California, I was also writing, like my roommate and I in college did our own sketch comedy show, we wrote and produced a sketch comedy show, I wrote a bunch of short stories in college, and I wrote for the newspaper extensively. So I sort of always knew that’s what I wanted to do, but I also liked performing so it just sort of came down to, in my case, that I was making more money writing than I was performing, so.
AL: How did you get into that publicity job for Hanna-Barbera?
MH: I had a friend of a friend. Hanna-Barbera at the time was owned by a company called Taft Entertainment and they were based in Cincinnati. Bill and Joe had sold Hanna-Barbera to Taft Entertainment I want to say in the early 80s, late 70s. And they were retained as you know, co-presidents of the company, but it was owned by Taft Entertainment. And it was before the huge broadcasting conglomerates that we have today, so they owned numerous television stations in the Midwest, they needed syndication, product for syndication deals, Hanna-Barbera could do that. And I believe Taft also owned certain theme parks, and that’s how they also got the characters put out into theme parks and stuff. And they also had the heft then to be able to go make licensing deals for things. Although interestingly, the deal for Flinstones vitamins, and I believe Flinstones cereals, was made prior to the Taft deal, and was made as they say in perpetuity so in other words, those deals are going to go on forever, they can keep making Flinstones vitamins and Flinstones cereals as long as they want, so that was before deals got renegotiated every few years, that was just done like “Here you want it, you got it.”
So he called me up and there was actually a job in the mail room. So I started in the mail room and about five weeks in, I was a messenger, I used to have to do running around delivering stuff. And about five weeks in a job came up in publicity, and most of the guys that worked in the mail room wanted to go into production, so they were waiting for a production job to come up, and I was like “Well this has to be better than driving around in my car in LA when it’s hot out.” And I talked to the head of publicity, my boss Sarah Baisley, and she was like “Well, there’ll be a lot of writing of bios and talking to directors and writing up press kits and are you comfortable writing stuff?” And I was like “Yeah,” so I got to do that. And that was really fun because I got to do things like, I remember they needed an article written for TV Guide that I got to co-write with Mr. Hanna, and it was all about the Flinstones. And it was sort of updated versions of the Flinstones like “Who would come visit Bedrock now?” And so I got to do stuff like “Well it would be Arnold Quartzenegger,” right, it would be all that kind of fun. You know, Flinstone-izing the modern stars and that was really fun that I got to do stuff like that.
AL: What was your favourite part of doing that?
MH: My favourite part of doing that was actually arranging and going out on interviews with the voice actors and stuff. Like Daws Butler was a favourite of mine because Daws would often get — like you’d end up a lot of times on what they called “morning zoo radio shows” you know, that’s the guys that are doing real crazy and “Oh we’ve got the traffic and now it’s a helicopter, woo-hoo what’s going on” and Daws Butler was actually, he was actually very serious, he was a very great voice actor, he was also a DJ, and he also voiced Dr. Benton Quest on Johnny Quest. So that was actually his real voice, was this deep sort of resonant voice that he would give and he’d say stuff. And so it was sort of weird that he also did all these talking dogs. And so people would ask him, “Yeah well, I see here in your credits you do a lot of talking dogs so you basically, you’re Astro and Scooby, and they’re sort of the same guy aren’t they,” and then they’d go on, and Daws would stop them and say “No, no, no, let me correct you there. Astro and Scooby are actually two different voices, you see. Scooby is actually a very deep chest voice like this “Reah, I want a pizza,” whereas Astro is actually a throat voice, “Ri George, Ri love you,” so they’re very, very different. And I would just sit back in awe of the fact that he’s sort of scientifically breaking down the vocal differences between Astro and Scooby, and it was great. Frank Welker, who was Fred, would come along on those interviews and of course he’s now Scooby, and he would come along and he would do voices and it was just great to be in the room with them, and I got to meet a lot of people setting up interviews for them. I got to meet Little Richard, and I got to meet, Tim Curry did some stuff for us, I got to meet, I can’t think of his name, Tim Matheson, who was the original voice of Johnny Quest. A lot of people don’t know that. But when they did the new Johnny Quest, I set up a photo shoot between the voice of the new Johnny Quest and Tim Matheson came in, to just pose with a Johnny Quest photo. And Tim Matheson was so nice about it and so professional, and I realized “Oh yeah, this guy’s been in the industry since he was a kid,” so he knows how all of this works. So it was just, it was a really fun time, and it was really great setting up all those interviews and stuff.
AL: How did you transition into writing episodes for various different series?
MH: Well when I was at Hanna-Barbera, I sort of got a reputation as a jokester. I did a lot of jokes around the studio. I was also working as a stand-up comedian and doing improv comedy, so people sort of knew me, that I could do jokes and I could do that kind of stuff. And I got to be friendly with some of the people who were producers there, a good friend of mine, Lane Raichert, who was the producer/head writer on Pup Named Scooby sort of knew this, and I had gotten a writing agent because I was actually speccing, what they call speccing, I was writing scripts for live action shows like Miami Vice, so trying to get into that work, the original equalizer on TV, trying to get into that. So, I think he’d read one of my scripts or something and he had this rewrite on a couple of scenes from Pup Named Scooby and he asked me if I wanted to do it and I said sure. Then from there I did some, I just did some freelance scripts, they had a show called Monster Tails, which was really great. It was done by a friend of mine called Don Dougherty and Don was a real classic cartoon gag man. He’d been trained by Tex Avery, one of the guys that helped train him, and it was a show where it was the pets of famous monsters. So it was like Frankenstein has a dog and all this kind of stuff. So the very first script I wrote was for Monster Tails, and one of the voice actors on that show was Jonathan Winters. So I got to go to the record and see Jonathan Winters reading my words and then riffing and being funny and it was fantastic, it was really great.
AL: Do you have any influences on your writing?
MH: Influences, wow. I don’t know. I mean a lot of my influences, you know I mean it’s so weird, this is going to sound so odd, but it goes back to like Shakespeare, I did a lot of Shakespeare in college, I read a lot of Shakespeare in high school. Sort of the classic writers, you know, Hemingway, and his sort of really, not curt but tight style. I think screenplay wise, there are a number of guys. It was funny because I remember when I was first getting into it, you could go, there was a store on Hollywood Blvd. and you’d go down and you could buy scripts, leftover scripts from old television productions. And I remember getting an early script for a Simpsons, and it was written by Conan O’Brien. It was the monorail episode. So reading through that and seeing how do they play out their jokes, how do they do this kind of stuff. I remember reading some early Miami Vices, I don’t remember who wrote them but that kind of stuff. It was really a combination of sources, but a lot of it with writing for Hollywood for screenwriting and television, a lot of that is just the formatting. So you have to really just sort of sit down and understand what the formatting of the scripts are. So it was really helpful to actually read scripts, to be able to sit down and look at scripts. And that was a really fun thing to do.
AL: What are the differences between some of the earlier writing, like writing for the newspaper and stuff and writing screenplays?
MH: I did a lot of feature writing for the newspaper. So feature writing, a lot of lighter stuff. News, the way I was trained, was strongly formatted and you tried to pull out a lot of your opinion and just dispense information. Whereas, like feature writing is a lot of fun and fluffy and how do you get people interested in stuff. So that was a lot more useful. Also that and ironically sports writing, because if you’ve ever read the sports page, (there’s) a lot of jargon, a lot of puffed up stuff, a lot of funny way to introduce quotes, there’s a lot more opinion on the sports pages, because everybody has an opinion about who’s the better pitcher, or who the Dodgers should be batting third in their lineup. So those influences helped, but there’s so much that goes into learning the formatting of television writing, and specifically sitcom writing is different format than screenplay writing at the time. Animation writing was very different because at the time, in animation writing they wanted you to suggest scenes and shots. They wanted you to sort of direct the episode on paper so that the networks knew what they were getting. And that’s all changed, and I think it’s good that it’s changed, because it gives the storyboard artists more freedom to interpret it the way they want. And it makes it easier on the writer. So it’s more gone the way towards screenplays. But a lot of that is learning how to write concise, funny dialogue but also writing concise, instructive scene descriptions. So people know what’s going on, but you’re not doing too much flowery stuff, or it’s too long, or it makes it really boring for people to read the script.
AL: What do you like about writing for animation specifically?
MH: I think, one of the fun things about it is it can be almost anything you want. In a lot of cases, unless you’re doing a really heavy CG thing, which is a lot more like live action in that you have to be conscious of locations and setting and character count. Regular 2D animation, you can almost go anywhere and do anything. And that makes it really, really fun. You can play out ridiculous gags, you can do stupid stuff, you know, you can do all that great Ren and Stimpy, Rick and Morty kind of craziness, which is I think the real power of that medium, is doing that kind of stuff, you know.
AL: And you’ve written for quite a few superhero shows as well. What are the differences between writing something for a superhero like Spiderman for example, and writing a Scooby Doo episode?
MH: Well, you know, Spiderman is sort of more inherently dramatic. It’s sort of, a lot of times they use the phrase action-comedy. And it really is more action-comedy. Whereas I would say Scooby Doo is comedy-action, if that makes sense. Scooby Doo starts more from a comedy perspective because that’s just who he is, right. But Spiderman starts more from an action perspective. And they’re both in their own unique ways about empowerment, which I like. That’s where their similarities are. Spiderman is a teenager trying to figure it out, and how do I defeat this guy in the rhino suit while I have a math assignment due tomorrow. And Scooby Doo is about overcoming your fears. He and Shaggy are the fraidy cats, and are obsessed with food, and it’s like how do they we get to see them overcome their fears, and how do they do it so that it’s also funny too. Whereas Spiderman that twist would be in a more dramatic fashion, a more dramatic way. And his problem solving is, he has to protect people, he has to actually save people from real threats, whereas in Scooby Doo in the end they pull the hood off the guy “It’s Mr. Carstares” right, you know. “I would have done it if it weren’t for you meddling kids.” We see it’s all hokum, it’s somebody trying to put one over on us. I think those are the main differences.
AL: And how did you come to work on Scooby Doo and Guess Who?
MH: A good friend of mine, Mike Ryan was the producer on the show. So he called me up and said do you want to do some, and I said sure. And I’d worked with Mike on several shows, and so that was really fun to have a chance to do that.
AL: How is it decided as to who might be writing what episode?
MH: That’s totally, usually up to the production staff. I know on that particular show, in a lot of cases it was, you know, you have to go out and see “Okay, here’s a list of people we’d love to have on the show as guest stars. Let’s go out and see if they could possibly do it,” and then in some cases you get back they can’t do it, or they’d like to do it, will it fit in their schedule, those kinds of things, there’s a lot of practical considerations on that. And then I know like with the Funky Phantom episode, they just knew they wanted to do a Funky Phantom episode. And they knew I had a reverence and sort of knew all those old Hanna-Barbera shows, and so they knew I could sort of handle the voices on that. And so that turned out really fun to be able to do that, and at the end to throw in not only the Funky Phantom but a Goober and the Ghost Chasers gag, because Goober and the Ghost Chasers was basically Scooby Doo done by the Ruby Spears gang, you know, it was sort of a derivation on that. So that was really fun to be able to throw all that together and that they said “Yeah, let’s do that.”
AL: Do you ever get to toss in any input as to what guest stars you might want to write an episode for?
MH: I remember having some discussions with Mike about that, like have you asked about this person, have you asked about that person. And it’s so complex because you don’t know, have they already asked that person, do they maybe not have that person on their list because, I mean like, especially in today’s Hollywood, what is their reputation like, do we want to put them on a kids show, you know. What’s their reputation family wise, are they as you would say “family friendly.” There’s just so many considerations. Are they doing a movie maybe with Warner Bros. and it would be great to have them on the show because that helps support all the product that’s going out, you know. So there’s a lot of different considerations that go into it, and so. Like a master list is made up, and then they throw stuff in there and try to do it. I know we tried to do an episode, we tried to come up for an episode for Jabberjaw, and that involved, was it Sealab 2020 I think and Jabberjaw. And we just couldn’t quite make it work, it just didn’t all quite hold together. So sometimes that happens too. You write out a premise and you say, “This would be great, let’s do Jabberjaw and let’s make it underwater and it’ll be crazy,” and it just doesn’t work out.
AL: How much freedom do you have in the writing process, are you given an idea of what the plot should look like, or can you just run wild with the characters?
MH: Oh no, it’s all very, it’s sort of strictly laid out. It’s sort of like a logic problem. So the process is you’ll get a premise, you know, in this case, the premise for like Funky Phantom I remember was “they’re visiting a civil war battlefield and they come across these ghosts” and what’s going on here, and how do we explore the competition between the two teams. And that was sort of laid out that way by Mike because you know, the historical aspect to the Funky Phantom, and so we were folding in the history of the civil war. I was sort of, I’m a history buff so I love the civil war, so I was careful to make it a fictitious civil war battlefield because I didn’t want it to seem too irreverent to make it a real civil war battlefield that all this crazy stuff was happening on. So, you start with a premise, and everybody approves it, or goes around and makes their notes, and this is what we should do. Then you go to an outline, so you know, if a premise is one to two, sometimes three pages, the outline will then usually be you know, 10-12 pages and you lay out again, more of the action, you actually lay out where the scenes will be. Again, you get more notes, and then you go to script. So it’s all sort of carefully orchestrated and laid out. It’s sort of building, starting with the skeleton, building the inner structure, building the outer structure, and then you know, laying it all out there. So it’s kind of like building a building. You got to start with plans, then you have to put up the skeleton of the building, then you have to put up the exterior, then you have to finish out the insides of it. So it’s a lot like that.
AL: And is the monster of the week decided in that premise too or do you get some input?
MH: Usually, yeah. Usually the monster of the week is going to be decided in the premise. So the premise will basically give you the beginning, the middle, and the end. It lays that out so that you have an actually story, because a story is a beginning, a middle and an end. So you usually get that laid out, usually (in the) premise. And that doesn’t mean it can’t change, somebody might say, “That villain is too close to one we’ve already used, or we’ve already got one that’s already going forward,” or somebody might say “What if we changed it and made it like this,” and so. But in a lot of cases by the time you go to outline you know who your bad guys are, and basically, what your beginning, your middle, and your end is.
AL: And what’s your specific writing process?
MH: Well it’s sort of that. In some cases on shows, depending on the show you’re working on, they’ll want you to do premises, so you can sit down and write, 10 or 12 premises for a show. You’ll know the basic concept heading into the writing process, and you submit those premises and then you get feedback. And they’ll say “We like this one, let’s push it forward,” and let’s do that. In the case of the Guess Who scripts, they already knew what they wanted to do, just because that show sort of needed to, with the timing of guests coming on they sort of needed to know what direction they were going in to begin with. So I think they had a master list of “Here’s who we’re trying to get, here’s how we’re going to make it work.” And so they came to me (and) already had a premise sort of. Funky Phantom, set on a civil war battlefield, it’s a competition between the Funky Phantom crew and the Scooby crew. And it’s like okay, and it’s building the story out from there. For me, it’s about sitting every day and having to write. You got to sit down every day and you got to write, and you got to hit those, sort of your target deadlines. I do a lot of stuff where, let’s say I’ve been given the go to script, and I know a script is going to be usually between 28-35 pages, I’ll actually break down and say, “Okay, in order to hit the deadline, I got to write five or 6 pages a day.” And you sit down and you try to do that. And some days maybe you write eight, and some days you’ll write fewer, because you’re being lazy, or you’re just stuck with a certain problem. That’s sort of the basics of it.
AL: What is it like to be able to write for these iconic characters?
MH: Well like I said, for me it’s pretty cool because having worked at Hanna-Barbera, working on Scooby, and having gotten to do, you know, I remember I got to revise one of the bios on Daws Butler so I got to take him to lunch and talk to him about his career and all the stuff he’d done, you know, from Boo Boo Bear to Scooby to Astro, to Johnny Quest and so. To me, it’s great to be able to, I sort of hear those voices in my head when I’m doing it, you know. And to be able to voice the Funky Phantom, done by another great voice actor Daws Butler who I got to meet and interview, and sit down in his home studio with. And he was fantastic, and so it was great to hear these guys. And they’d been old radio guys so they got used to performing, I think both of them did radio content during World War II, where in a lot of cases, they played all the characters. So frequently in the studio, when both Daws and Don were performing, the audio engineers would have to tell them, “Can you redo that sequence, because you didn’t leave enough spaces between the characters,” because they were able to switch from one character to another so quickly, because they were used to doing it on radio, that the editors didn’t have enough space in there if they needed to put a cut between the characters, so they’d have to tell them to spread it out a little bit as they switched. And so to be able to write for the voices that I talked to them about and can hear in my head, it was really fun.
AL: Who’s your favourite character of the gang to write for?
MH: It’s got to be Shaggy and Scooby. Although Velma, I like writing for Velma too because you can, you know, Velma in a lot of cases, there’s a lot of exposition going on there, but she’s also smart so it’s great. You can drop the knowledge in there, and the crazy science stuff, and it’s always fun to have a character like that. Like I wrote on Back to the Future animated series too, and Doc Brown, right. I did a baseball episode, so he’s dropping in all kinds of crazy statistics about baseball cause that’s who he is. So it’s always really fun to have smart characters too.
AL: Were you able to be present for the record for both of those episodes that you wrote?
MH: Those, I was not. In many cases you can be, but I know in that case, the schedules were just so crazy and demanding, and getting like guests together with all that, it didn’t work out. I was kind of bummed because I love Weird Al, and I’d actually met Weird Al before. And he’s very personable and very charming, and very sort of self-effacing. He’s just a great guy and he’s sort of, he has a great outlook on the fact that he’s become this famous song parodier. And so I was bummed that I couldn’t get to go see the records, but I understand too. When you’re doing a production schedule, sometimes it just doesn’t work out, you just can’t invite everybody who’d like to be there.
AL: Of the two episodes you wrote, do you have a favourite?
MH: I am sort of partial to the Funky Phantom episode, only because it’s such classic Hanna-Barbera. And it’s one of those things that, back in the early days of Hanna-Barbera when I started, they probably wouldn’t have done a crossover like that because the eras didn’t match. By the time I was there when Pup Named Scooby Doo was going on, they probably wouldn’t have dropped Funky Phantom into A Pup Named Scooby Doo, because they would’ve just said “Well, who cares.” But it’s such a great mash-up now of some of the classic Hanna-Barbera stuff that I love being able to do that. I think being able to do Weird Al stuff was really fun, but having classic Hanna-Barbera stuff in there, to me, was the real treat.
AL: More generally, what’s your favourite show that you’ve written for, or do you have a favourite episode that you’ve written over everything that you’ve done?
MH: Oh wow. There was a show done years ago that I loved, called Bruno the Kid. It was Bruce Willis’ Bruno character, his harmonica playing band character, but he was a kid spy called Bruno the Kid. And what was great about those shows was they were incredibly silly spy things, they were written by guys who had done sitcoms, so they had a very sitcom sensibility. And I got to throw in jokes I never thought would get into an animated show, and those turned out really great, those were some of the most fun I’ve had. I think, other than that, my run on Spiderman, being on staff on Spiderman for all those years, took us four or five years to get all of that done. It was really great, you know. It’s still, I think that show still holds up. It was really great to work on some of those classic episodes and classic villains. That first season, there were a lot of meetings, and in those meetings Stan Lee would be in the meetings, and so you’d get to hear Stan’s input and talk to Stan about stuff and that was really, really fun and important. And then, a lot of the stuff I did with LEGO was really fun too because LEGO has this great sense of family-friendly snark, so I got to, you know, like doing a LEGO version of the Avengers is really fun because you get to poke fun at like, Thor, in this LEGO-y fun way. In particular, Thor, I was always told I was going too far with Thor because he has that theatricality right. And it was like “You’ve gone too far with Thor, you need to pull Thor,” “Okay, okay,” but you know. It was like, doing jokes like they’re having a party and there’s a bowl of mini meatballs. “The mini meatballs are cold, this is a job for Mjölnir! And he’d strike them with lightning, and it’s such a stupid joke and such a stupid thing to use with his magic hammer, reheating meatballs, but it was really fun to do stuff like that, and people really sort of saw the fun in being able to do a LEGO-ized version of something. I did LEGO Frozen, and what was great about doing LEGO Frozen was all the original, I think we had every original voice actor come in from Frozen and do the LEGO version because they were like “Yes, we want to do the LEGO version.” And it was like “Oh, okay, fantastic. Come on in and do it.” It was really fun. That one was fun, I actually got to be in the booth for that, and what was great was I got to do a lot of, they wanted extra lines and improv lines, so we got to do a lot of that, that was really fun, being able to throw in lines from listening and hearing them doing a line and “Oh, why don’t you try it like this,” or “Oh how about this one,” and I’d write one real quick and they’d put it in the booth and that was really fun to do that.
AL: Moving more specifically to A Mystery Solving Gang Divided, the Funky Phantom episode, what was it like to write a rivalry between the two groups?
MH: That was really fun. I mean, it was really fun because you got to play with all those tropes of the mystery hunting gangs and all that kind of stuff, and like how they were going to investigate it. Because they sort of all match up one on one with each other in the gang and so you could have these just funny crazy rivalries and of course, then the whole idea that one group has a ghost with them, and one group has a talking dog. And the fact that Scooby’s afraid of ghosts and the ghost is afraid is ghosts, I mean it was like, it was just stuff piled on top of stuff. And then of course they’re actually solving a mystery too together, so that was really fun. And of course the fact that they have like, you know, competing vehicles, and it was really cool because I think that’s always a fun way to do it when you have a rivalry like that. And so, being able to write to that rivalry, it sets up, it just naturally sets up all kinds of gags.
AL: They’re often knocking each other in the episode, do you have a favourite jab or insult that happens in the episode?
MH: I’m trying to remember, gosh this takes me back. There was some stuff I think that took place in the diner, where they’re in the diner. And it’s Fred going after the guy who leads the Funky Phantom group, and I remember that exchange specifically in the diner, and there’s some pancake gags I think with Scooby. And so that to me was a really fun scene to write because that sort of really sets up their rivalry and it’s really, we sort of see Fred taken out of his cool exterior because he’s feeling so “I’ve got to defend my turf,” you know.
AL: What was it like to bring back those older Hanna-Barbera characters and reinvent them to the year that it is now?
MH: Well it’s really fun. The other fun part about that is, what I love now is, when you need to do research on that stuff, if you just Google it, you’re going to find it out there somewhere on YouTube, right. So you get to see how those gags were played out, and especially on Funky Phantom, he had this classic gag he did when he was afraid, where he would become like a window shade, which is kind of old because I don’t know if that many people have window shades anymore, right. We have the blinds and those kinds of things. And he would like pull on the bottom and the shade would roll up. That’s kind of a classic gag that you pull on it, and it zips up. And he’d do that to get out of a scene, you know, he’d be afraid and he’d want to get out, right. Or, suddenly he has a ghostly canoe and he’d paddle his way out of the scene. And it was so bizarre that I loved being able to play with that stuff. Because that is very cartoony, you know.
AL: And you mentioned that you’re a bit of a civil war buff, what was it like to be able to bring that aspect into it as well?
MH: To me, that’s the really cool stuff too. When you can bring in, hopefully something that you can say okay, maybe kids watching or somebody will then get interested in the civil war or want to know more, or say was this a real battle, or what’s going on, and so. When you sort of bring in, at least just in that one, at least touching or a flavour of actual history, to me that’s always great. Because then you can, especially in a show that’s set sort of currently, not a sci-fi show or a Batman show that’s set in an alternate world, you can bring in real world stuff and hopefully you’re getting people interested in stuff that really, they should they be interested in it, they should be interested in that history.
AL: Do you know what the thought process was to make the guest star Abraham Lincoln?
MH: I do not, I think it was just that, you know, it seemed like, Abraham Lincoln and the civil war, it was important and so, let’s make it about that, and this important time period. And so I think, I think it just worked out story wise, I think it just integrated very well in the fact that they were on a civil war battlefield and so yeah, also let’s bring in Lincoln, you know.
AL: Moving towards the Weird Al episode, what was your reaction when you found out you were going to be writing an episode with Weird Al in it?
MH: I was so jazzed because I went back to, I actually found it on YouTube and I remember, I was in Mike’s office, and I was saying, “There is one of the earliest videos of Weird Al playing one of his parody songs.” And I don’t remember which song it was, but Weird Al used to have a guy who would accompany him, Weird Al would be playing his accordion and singing, and this guy would be playing the suitcase. And he’d be banging on it like a drum, and he had like kazoos attached to it and bells, and it was the craziest, weirdest thing and I just wanted to be able to push it in all directions. I remember in early meetings I was like “Can I have a kid who wants to play the suitcase or the kazoo?” And we tried to figure out, can we do that, can we make it work, and then we specifically focused on the accordion, because the accordion is a ridiculous instrument too.
AL: How difficult is it to write someone like that into an animated show?
MH: Well Weird Al, I mean fortunately Weird Al sort of has this big personality already, right. The aloha shirts and the wild hair, and the glasses. And he plays an accordion, you know. Other than playing the bagpipe or a banjo, I can’t think of a sort of a wilder, more comedic instrument. Because you can do stings, he can play a crazy song all of a sudden. And he sort of lends himself to animation better than most, just because of who his persona is and actually, some of that isn’t persona, that’s just him. That’s just sort of who he is and how he’s established himself. And so it just, it lends itself almost perfectly to being able to do that kind of crazy, wild stuff you can do in animation.
AL: What do you have to do to stay true to his personality to get him in an animated episode?
MH: I think a lot of it is just knowing, do you sort of know his songs, I remember watching more YouTube, like I watched a lot of his videos again. I’d seen them before but I think I watched Like a Surgeon again, and Eat It, I think I watched Eat It, because he has this very, again, like the LEGO stuff, Weird Al has a very, sort of family-friendly snarkiness, right. It’s not mean spirited, it’s very fun, and so it’s from that fun point of view. And so, same thing in the way that like Scooby Doo has this sort of fun take on ghosts and what’s going on, and monsters and stuff like that, Weird Al lends to that because you can immediately break the tension if they’re say, sneaking through a cave and it’s dangerous and he’s playing musical stings on his accordion, right. It’s just great.
AL: Talking about those musical stings, did you write the words for those?
MH: I wrote some words, I don’t know how much of my original stuff got in, because I know he’s such a creative guy, that I know they allowed him the freedom to be like “If you want to do something, you can do something. If you want to follow what’s down there, what’s down there.” In a lot of cases with voice actors, especially really talented voice actors, you know, like Frank Welker, and I know with Daws Butler, and a lot of the other voice actors I’ve worked with throughout the years, you can say to them “Just give me a couple of takes as written,” and then a lot of times they’ll say “Can I try something?” “Sure, please try something,” or they’ll say “I have something I think would be fun,” and they’ll do their own take on stuff. Especially when you’ve got a guy like Weird Al, you actually want that, because it shows that they’re sort of invested in the story, and they’re sort of invested in bringing their own voice to that story, and how it can work, and that kind of stuff is really fun too.
AL: Do you have a favourite part within that episode?
MH: I would say, I think there’s a great part in there where he’s, all the kids are leaving or their parents are coming to pick them up, and he’s, you know, he’s talking to the kids and we’re first introduced to the camp kids and the whole accordion idea, and there’s some great stuff there with just Weird Al and the fact that he’s wearing an accordion the whole time. And then I think that the Scooby stuff where they’re sneaking around and he’s playing stings on the accordion. To me, that’s the kind of stuff that’s like, it’s so unique to his character, that really no other character can do that, right. There’s no other character that can have an accordion strapped on and be doing stuff like that, you know.
AL: Moving back a little bit more generally, why do you think that a cartoon dog solving mysteries has had so much staying power over the last 50 years?
MH: I think it’s the, you know, the relationship between all of them, you know. The gang, and Scooby and Shaggy, it’s really a family. It’s sort of a crazy family and they all have their roles, and they all do certain things that are important to the group, and so, it makes it this level of it’s recognizable, it’s sort of family friendly, you could sit down as a family and watch these shows, and everybody’s going to get a little bit of something fun out of it. And I think just, you know, the idea that it’s a talking dog. I think we love to personify our pets and our animals that are around us. I have a dog, I love dogs, and so I’m always doing that, I know people do that with their cats, and the grumpy cat memes, and so I think that being able to have this big goofy, and he’s a Great Dane, right. So you know, like Marmaduke. They’re sort of big, funny, goofy dogs that normally, if you looked at a Great Dane, you’d be quick intimidated by it, they’re big animals. I had a friend who had a Great Dane and he said “Yeah, we had to be careful what we put on top of the refrigerator because he could actually stand on his hind legs and get to the top of the refrigerator.” And you’d go like, Jesus, it’s like a horse, right. It’s not like a dog. And so I think that the fact that it’s a Great Dane that’s goofy and funny and scared of stuff, and more actually like what Great Danes are, I think that’s so relatable to people, and I think kids say “I’d love to have a pet like that.” If you don’t have a pet, you want to have a pet like that, if you do have a pet, you want to think your pet is goofy and silly and funny like Scooby, but also could protect you and be your pal. So I think that’s a universal thing.
AL: Is there anything else you wanted to add at all?
MH: No, I just wanted to say thanks to you. It’s always fun to talk to people who are appreciative of this and into this and looking to ask more questions and learn about it. Again, having that curiosity for the world and figuring it out. The other thing I would say is that I certainly hope that anybody watched that Funky Phantom episode would want to learn more about Lincoln and the civil war, and particularly US history about that era because we’re still living that era, we’re still living the consequences of that war and those decisions, and those decisions, speaking of the Funky Phantom, go back to the founding of our country, and so you can trace that timeline all the way up to what’s happening in modern times, and we can’t understand what’s going on with the protests and things on our streets now, unless we go back and look at all that history and how far we’ve come. And same thing with the Weird Al episode, I would hope that kids would want to learn more about dinosaurs, right. Because that’s sort of a fun thing there, the fact that we put a paleontologist in there, and actually had some stuff about dinosaurs in there, to me, let your inquiring mind go and really sort of look at that stuff and have fun and understand it.
AL: Just before we end, do you have any recent projects you’d like to promote?
MH: I just did a series, it was released last year on Netflix called Legend Quest. And it is like a Mexican version of Scooby Doo. So it’s produced by a Mexican animation company called Ánima, and the difference is it’s a gang of kids solving mysteries, but the monsters are real and the monsters are from world myth and legend. So they go around the world trying to see what’s going on with these world myths and legends and there’s a larger plot going on. So it’s very serialized, it’s very fun, had a great time doing it, there’s a lot of great monsters from the world in that series that you can look at and like “Oh, okay, here’s some really great monsters we can look at,” and figure out who they are, and how do they fit in the world. Like a Japanese doll that can turn people into dolls and there’s just creepy fun stuff in that, so if you get a chance watch it, it’s Legend Quest on Netflix.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.