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AL: What’s your relationship to Scooby-Doo, did you grow up watching?
MW: Yeah, I mean, the originals were on. I probably watched, ’cause they were on before I was born, so I probably watched reruns. I remember the original pretty well, and I remember a few iterations of it here and there, but I definitely cannot say that I was like some massive Scooby-Doo fan before I started working on the show, which is why I ended up working on the show. In fact, I think they probably chose, you know, I think I probably was asked to do it, or one of the reasons they approached me to do it was because I really wasn’t like some super fan, you know, so I could take it, look at it from a different angle and maybe come up with something that they hadn’t thought of before.
I was definitely not one of these people that’s like, “Oh my God, everything is canon and you can’t do this because they would never do that.” And in fact, once the show was done and it aired, there were many people who were diehard Scooby-Doo fans, who did not like the show because they felt that it did things that went against canon and blah, blah, blah. My feeling about that was there were so many iterations of Scooby-Doo at that point that there really was no canon. I mean, I guess you could go back to the original and say that that was canon or whatnot, but the problem I have with saying something is canon is you sort of box yourself in, and then you stop yourself from actually exploring new ways of taking the show or the subject matter, because you’re so hamstrung by rules and stuff – that don’t even really exist by the way, that have just sort of been created out in the ether. So I think when you take over a franchise like Scooby it helps to have reverence, but not be so reverent that it keeps you from exploring and trying to do something new with it.
AL: What was it like to come onto a show where the franchise does have those loyalist fans that are kind of obsessed with what is, and isn’t canon?
MW: You know, it was my first experience with that. And then right after Scooby I did my version of Batman and I experienced it more on that show than I did on Scooby. On Scooby, you know, we got a lot of, it was really funny. The most pushback we got, I think in the entire series from the fans was all about Velma. It was about how we were portraying Velma. And we were doing, we had a very specific – and I would always respond if anybody interviewed me, I would go like “You don’t quite see the whole picture of what we’re doing with Velma, but when you see the whole picture, I think you’re going to appreciate what we were doing.” And some, maybe they did. And maybe they didn’t because I never followed up with them, but that was – we got a ton of feedback on Velma for the way that she was acting towards Shaggy and the fact that we were actually showing them having a relationship and, and blah, blah, blah. And then people are saying, “Oh, we don’t like the way Velma was acting towards Shaggy.” And we just held our tongues because we knew what we were doing. And we knew that it was going to pay off. It’s somewhere down the line in the second season, but we weren’t allowed to talk about it really, because you know, we were setting up Velma to be a character who was sort of figuring out her own sexuality and coming to grips with the fact that, you know, she’s gay. And part of that was to show, you know, her reactions to Shaggy and how he wasn’t giving her what she felt she needed. And then ultimately she realizes that it’s not so much about Shaggy. It’s more about her. I mean, she was looking in the wrong place. And so then we have that, there’s a mermaid episode. And then we start, that’s where she really gets the first inkling that, “Oh, wait a minute. Maybe guys are not what I’m looking for.” And then we introduced Hot Dog Water. And then by the end of the series, we were hoping that it would be pretty clear that if the show goes on, or whatever happens in their lives, that Hot Dog Water and Velma are together, you know, they’ve found each other. And so Velma is finally content with who she is. So we knew that going all the way through, but we sort of had to endure all the attacks because we weren’t allowed to talk about it. It was not something, there was no way at that time. ‘Cause this was like, like I said, 10 years ago or so. They were not going to let us portray Velma as gay. Period. So, you know, we had to figure out a different way to do it. And that was how we did it. And some people got it and some people didn’t. So anyways, that sort of answers that part of the question. That was the most pushback we got. Everybody fucking flipped out about, first off with Shaggy and Velma making out in the first episode I think. I remember, even the executives – because the show was originally done for British or European Cartoon Network, not the United States. And I remember they wigged out, they were like, what are you, what? They just flipped out that we were doing this. We were like, well, no, no, no, it’s going to be fine.
And then what happened was the executive that we were dealing with in England, he either quit or got fired. We never quite found out what happened. All we knew was we just suddenly didn’t have an executive on the show anymore. And for those of you unfamiliar with how shows work, every show has at least one or two executives on it. They’re the ones who represent the studio. And so they make sure that you’re maintaining, you know, the brand or whatnot and they give you notes. Well without an executive on a show, we can pretty much do whatever we want. You know, there wasn’t, it was, there was no teacher watching over us. So because that guy lost his job, I think by, right around the second episode, we were without an executive for a good 10, 12 episodes.
And so we were able to get a lot of stuff in that we normally would not have been able to get in. And then an executive came on the show and stopped a bunch of that. So I remember one of the biggest things I think that happened when the executive came back on the show was the reintroduction of Scooby snacks in the show because I had banned them. I said, “I don’t want to do it. I don’t want this to become a show about a dog eating a bunch of biscuits.” I said, you know, well, it’ll show up periodically, but I don’t want to make this like the whole fucking Scooby snacks show. ‘Cause a lot of the old, the other iterations of the show had been obsessive about Scooby snacks. And like, okay, great. But they’ve done that. Let’s dial that back a little bit. And then when the executive came in, he dialled it right back up again so. We battled back and forth over these very important life questions of how much Scooby snacks to show in an episode. But anyways, that’s my long winded answer to whatever the question was that I have now completely forgotten.
AL: Coming back to talking about what you could or couldn’t do with Velma, it’s been circling around on social media lately that Tony had actually confirmed that Velma was a lesbian and there’s still so many people that are like, “Whoa, that wasn’t obvious.” What’s your reaction to that?
MW: Well, to me, it’s obvious if you actually, I mean, I guess it’s obvious if you’re looking for it. To us, it was very obvious, especially after the mermaid episode and then also the final shots of Velma and Hot Dog Water on the bed together at the end. I mean, to us, it was crystal clear. My response is like, come on, really. I mean, I think now if you did it, it would almost be like, of course, you know, and expected and encouraged. But 10 years ago you just, even then you couldn’t do that kind of thing. So, you know, a lot of what we did on Mystery Incorporated was we would just go through the blogs and the Reddit posts and anything else to see what fans were saying. And so there were things that ended up in the show that were based on theories fans had, which was a lot of fun for us.
So we were very well aware of what was going on in terms of how people felt about Velma being gay or not gay – we just sort of ignored it. I think we got a big chuckle out of it ‘cause we knew what we were doing and we were doing it from the very start. And once we started doing it, there was no going back and we were pretty happy with the decisions we’d made. So it was, it was alternately like annoying that no one was sort of getting it, but also very, very fun to see how angry people would get with each other. And I think that’s why Tony finally said, “Look. It’s been 10 years, god damn it. She’s not bi, okay, she’s gay.” And so he just wanted to make that point. And then he immediately texted me after he did it. And he said, “Dude, just so you know Velma is gay is trending on Twitter.” And I’m like, “What? Oh, who let that cat out of the bag.” And he’s like, “Well, I posted this thing.” I’m like, alright, cool. Finally. I was wondering when that would finally come out, but anyway, so I think, what was your question? Your question was the fan reaction to all of that, what was my response to it? You know, I had been, at that point, it wasn’t, you know, not my first rodeo. So I was familiar with fan feedback and I had sort of built up a bit of a thick skin to it because of, you know, the thing about the internet and the interesting thing about writing, especially animation, and the fact that responses are immediate and you’re not, they’re not showing up in a letter in your mailbox. They’re literally showing up seconds after the show. ‘Cause I used to watch the show while watching some other – they used to live blog. People would live blog while watching the show. And so I was watching criticisms in real time and I got a big kick out of it, but you know, it never bugged me really. I enjoyed it. I always enjoyed it. In fact, the more hostile, the better. I got to a point where I really, really started to like all the anger, you know, I found it very entertaining because I thoroughly believe that if you’re going to do anything that will even remotely be remembered in any way, it has to offend somebody. If you do something that’s completely, you know, that everybody across the board just loves it and thinks it’s wonderful, that means, yes, you’ve probably created something entertaining, but you didn’t create something that sort of pushed the boundaries of whatever you were doing. And until you do that people are just going to be like “Yeah, it’s great,” and then move on. But if you can push them, push their buttons in some way, then they remember you. So I always feel that if you’re going to do something, you need to get both, you should have both negative and positive reactions. And that means all right, great. You did something that caused people to have a particular feeling about it, which means you must’ve done something right. So, I mean, Mystery Incorporated was a very interesting show for Tony and I, because you know, while we were doing it we had no idea how it was going to be received. And we got a lot of mixed messages from the studio. Warner Bros. was totally behind it, but Cartoon Network never liked the series. They didn’t like it at all. And they kept pulling it off the schedule and putting it in different places, and it became very hard for people to find. It wasn’t until it showed up in its entirety on Netflix, that people really started to get behind it. And Tony and I would say it all the time, we were like, “Yeah, maybe nobody’s going to appreciate it now. But five years from now people will appreciate it.” Then it actually happened a little quicker than that, but there was a certain point of working on the show where we were kind of like, alright, we’re not going to get, we’re not getting any support from Cartoon Network. They’re not going to promote the show. We’ve just got to accept the fact that for right now, people just aren’t going to ever get to see it, really see it. But that’s not going to stop us from doing what we wanted to do. With the hopes that somewhere down the line, somebody would finally discover the show and watch it and pay attention, but it was always a bit of a bummer that Cartoon Network just never really got behind it. They always thought it was too dark and they thought it was too weird, and this, by the way, this is all stuff I heard second-hand. And one other rumor that I heard was that it premiered at around the same time as Adventure Time. And the ratings – this I do know was true. The ratings for Mystery Incorporated were better than the ratings for Adventure Time in the beginning. And then they pulled us off the schedule because, and this is, I don’t want to get in the weeds on this. There was, there’s always been a rivalry, or there was a rivalry between Cartoon Network and WB, even though they’re owned by the same company, they function completely separately. And there was a rivalry, you know, like Cartoon Network wanted to prove that they were the better studio, I think. And Warner Bros. wanted to show that they were the better studio. And so the trouble was that all of Warner Bros.’ stuff ultimately ended up on Cartoon Network. And we were at the whim of Cartoon Network’s programming people. So, if they wanted to tank a show, they could tank it. And they pretty much did, in my opinion. Only in the United States though, it became a major success for, I think, two years running all over the world. And then there was a big backlash where they asked, they wanted to know why it was successful everywhere else in the world, but not in the United States. And somebody finally said, well, they pointed out the fact that it had been pulled off the schedule 13 times, and moved to different spots. And then nobody was told about it. Cartoon Network also used to do trailers for the show that literally would reveal who the villain was in the episode. They would cut trailers together. And at the end of the trailer, they would do the unmasking. We’re like, what are you doing? What you’re literally, you are actually just giving away the ending of the show. That was at the point, we were kind of like, are they… are they sabotaging the show? So I don’t know if they were or not. Ultimately, I’m sure they would say they weren’t, but it’s hard to understand why they would do that and pull the show off the air 13 different times during the course of its run and with no real explanation why they were doing that. But ultimately it was, I think finally, everybody came around to the fact that, yeah, there was somebody at the top that just didn’t like the show and they were doing whatever they could to make sure that it didn’t succeed. And then it succeeded anyways. So that was very satisfying. But fortunately, like I said, Scooby ended up on Netflix and when it ended up on Netflix is when it exploded because everybody could watch the show in continuity. And that was the other thing they used to do. They used to put shows on in the wrong order. It was just really a nightmare, and there was nothing we could do about it because they were the platform we were on at the time. But that was what was great when it came out on Netflix. Cause then everybody could finally see the show as it was intended to be seen. And the rest is history.
AL: And what was it like to work on a Scooby show that really pushes the boundaries with having an overarching story and explorations of sexuality and things like that?
MW: Well, it was great, you know, that was our intention. When I was first approached to work on the show by Sam Register, he asked me to do it. And at first I was reticent because I was kinda like, you know, that show’s been allowed around for a long time. And I don’t know that there’s any, you know, I really wasn’t interested in just sort of doing another reboot version of the original series. And the original series, everybody loves the original series. The original series is iconic and I don’t want to just rehash it, but Sam was pretty open to, you know, us exploring new ways of doing it. So I sat down with Tony, actually it was Tony and myself, because I guess I think they’d been, they’d taken a couple of stabs at it already and nobody had sort of gotten it where they wanted to.
So then I met with Tony – and Tony and I didn’t know each other. And then we just started sitting down and hashing it out. And his partner Spike Brandt was also involved in the beginning, but then Spike sort of left to go work on, I think some Tom and Jerry stuff, but anyways. So then Tony and I just started hashing it out and we were both of the same belief that if we were going to do this, we were going to do it in the way that we would have liked to have seen the show. And so the first thing, you know, the first thing we tackled was, strangely enough, was how old are these kids? ‘Cause nobody knew. We would ask people, how old do you think they are? And then people well, some will go, “Well, they’re in college.” And then other people would go, “Well, they’re in high school.” And then other people go, “No, they’re in their twenties. They’re out of college.” Nobody knew. So we went into the archives. That’s one of the nice things about working for a place like Warner Bros. is they have all of this stuff archived. So all the original pitch materials from the original show are there and you can read them all. So we went back to the original material and read and discovered that, “Oh, they’re high school students,” and “Oh, they all basically live in the same town.” And the town, I don’t think the town had a name in the original materials. It certainly wasn’t Coolsville. But it was like La Jolla. They had described it as a beach side town. So, we were like, okay, and so we created the idea of Crystal Cove. And we said, instead of having them driving all over the place, so you never know where they live or see their parents. I said, “Let’s set them in a town. Let’s give them parents, let’s give them backstories. Let’s give them, you know, let’s add some dimensions to their characters. Let’s give them real personalities.” And then we had to figure out, well, what’s the deal with this town though? And Tony and I had been talking about the fact that there were places in the United States that were regarded as sort of supernatural towns, you could take these haunted tours. They were all over the place. So we said, what if we constructed a town that took all of the past history that we know about the show and just sort of up-ended it.
So this town has a history with all of the original monsters and ghosts that you saw in the original series, and they’ve figured out a way to monetize it. So, because part of the conceit of the show, if you really look at it is that adults cannot be trusted. That was like a theme that we wanted to impart. And so we created this idea, the idea of this town that’s completely run on supernatural tourism and every one of the kids’ parents are involved in some way. And the economy of this town is all based on it. And the only thing screwing it up for everybody is these four kids and their dog who keep disproving that these things are actually supernatural, which is driving tourism away. So the town hated the kids. They hated them. They were continually being arrested for sticking their nose in places they weren’t supposed to go, but they just couldn’t stop them. So that was so that became the conceit of the show. And then we said, but then why do they keep going? Why do they just keep going even when they’re being told not to do it. And then that was when we created the idea of the prior Mystery Incorporated that had vanished and Daphne finds that locket in the very first episode and that opens it up. And then we started layering the story, you know, with Angel Dynamite, that we would make her Angel Dynamite and Mr. E and all of these were all of these old members of the team, although you don’t find that out till later, you know, and they were all still circling Crystal Cove because they were all still looking for the treasure and that treasure being the Planispheric Disk.
So that would become our big story that we would tell throughout the season and then into the second season. And then in the second season my friend, Mike Ryan came on the show as a story editor because the first season was pretty much written by Tony and I, even though we hired other writers to come in and write them. And the way we would function was we would go to lunch and go, “Alright, this is the idea.” And we would start just bouncing ideas back and forth, and while we would do that, Tony would sketch whatever he wanted the monster to be or what he was thinking in his head. And I would just pepper him with questions and we would bat them back and forth until after a couple of lunches, we had the outline of a story and I would go off and write it. And then either I would write the episode or give the outline to a writer to do, but it was just us for the first season, because that was the way Warner Bros. worked. So we didn’t have a staff or anything. And then the second season, because I was also working on Batman at that time, we brought in [Mike]. And so the second season was created by Tony and myself and Mike Ryan, literally in late nights in Mike’s office, just pretty much just getting drunk and just coming up with our crazy notions that we wanted to do. And Mike was fun because Mike added the whole, really brought in the whole Nibiru aspect of the whole thing, ‘cause he was obsessed with that stuff. So we took what Tony and I had been doing, and then we just layered in that Nibiru stuff, which we had been flirting with ideas about it in the first season with the dog dies and all that stuff. And then it really came to fruition in the second season when Mike came aboard, because he had all this information about, you know, the lining up of the planets and – ‘cause that’s all based on real stuff. Real, you know, conspiracy theory stuff. So Mike was an integral part of the show in the second season in terms of pushing us in that direction. And then the other fun part of the show was the fact that we would put all these references, movie references and stuff. Like there’s an entire episode that’s devoted to Werner Herzog, you know, there’s an entire episode devoted to, the one with Harlan Ellison is all devoted to Lovecraft and stuff. So we were able, with that format, we were able to explore pretty much anything we wanted to do. I don’t even know if that answers your original question because I can’t remember what your original question was.
AL: And when you’re working on an overarching story like that, obviously you mentioned that the Nibiru stuff came in later, but how much did you know going into an episode? Did you have a huge timeline of when things would get revealed?
MW: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We had a board, I have pictures of it somewhere. Oh no, we had it all, it was all mapped out. We had two cork boards, you know, wall sized cork boards. So it basically filled two walls of my office with notecards that mapped the entire thing out. No, it was all planned. I mean, obviously new things would come up here and there that we would add in additionally, but it was pretty much all, like, we always knew that the show was going to be a prequel. So we knew what we were working towards. We always knew that the Planispheric Disk was always going to lead us to this sort of ancient evil that lived within the city. We, you know, there was the whole, in one of the episodes or later episodes when they talk about it, the town that fell into the sea, that’s all based on a real town. And a lot of stuff was based on like weird lore that we had heard too. But no, to answer your question, the only thing that was not mapped out, and it literally came from the fans was in I think the third episode, whatever the Gatorsburg episode was. Our art director, Dan Krall, who’s a fantastic guy and really created the look of the show. Dan put a gag in one of the backgrounds of the neon sign on the hotel, where they stay, where several of the words go out on the sign and it spells out “the dog dies.” And we did it as a gag. It was just a gag. And then we started to notice that on the blogs and stuff that people were really getting into that. They created all these conspiracy theories about what does that mean? Are they setting up that Scooby’s going to die? So there were tons of these theories and we thought, “Oh, we have to capitalize on this somehow.” So that theory of the dog dies, we worked it into the whole notion of that, the entity living beneath Crystal Cove, in order to become corporeal, needed an animal host. And that to us was our explanation for it needed a particular, particular type of talking animal host, which doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but you know. We were like, we’re never going to explain why Scooby can talk. We didn’t want to get into the weeds on that, but we were like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if the entity couldn’t become physical, unless it took over a host body.” And what if that host body ultimately was supposed to be Scooby’s. And so that was what led to the creation of all the different teams that all had different animals in them. So like the original team with Professor Pericles. And then in the second season we introduced all the other teams that also had animals. And, the idea was, and what we came up with was that the entity had been searching for centuries for an animal to take over. And every time it had failed. Something had always happened, the animal wasn’t worthy, or something got screwed up, like there’s the one with I think the monks and the pig or whatever, and that one got screwed up. And there’s the steampunk-y ones that had the chimp, that got screwed up. But then finally, Scooby was the one that Nibiru would actually be able to take over. And, you know, and the concept of Nibiru is a very Lovecraftian even though Nibiru is taken from a different thing, it was a very Lovecraftian concept. It was the idea of these, the elder gods coming down and, you know, possessing some sort of creature to take over the world, which is pretty much what happens at the end of the series with Professor Pericles. So that was really the big, that was really the only thing that wasn’t pre-planned, but came out by the third episode. By the third episode, we had sort of figured out how we were going to do that. But it was really fun to see the fans create an idea in their heads of a conspiracy. And then we just took that idea and ran with it. So I liked that kind of thing because, you know, it’s when people can get involved in a show to the extent that they’re like, “Oh, I wonder if this means that and this means that,” I always, I love to like validate some of those feelings, because they were pretty close to figuring out where we were going with it. And then they just took it a little one step further and we really liked that one step further. So we just decided to run with it when we heard the whole thing about the dog dies and it became a very integral part of the entire series. So thank you, fans.
AL: Just to delve a little bit deeper into the timeline, when you were naming the town, did you have that Spanish conquistador story in mind already?
MW: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We did. Again, because that story of the conquistadors and all that stuff was based on something that really happened. I forget where the town was, but there was, I think it happened in the 17th century. There was a town that literally everybody disappeared and I think it was a coastal town. I don’t know if that’s where we got the name. I don’t remember how the name of Crystal Cove came to be. It was always meant, you know, we were basing it on the original materials for the show, which had La Jolla pretty much, I think, as the town. So we wanted to create a La Jolla type town in Crystal Cove. I don’t know who came up with the name of Crystal Cove, but that’s what we came up with. But yeah, that conquistador story. That was always there. That was always part of the narrative, that the town itself had been built over some sort of ancient thing that had killed numerous times. Like the town disappeared essentially because of Nibiru, because of the evil. And a lot of other stuff had happened because of the evil and the show itself was just the latest iteration of the evil, trying to rise up and take control of an animal. So yeah, it was always there.
AL: And was the Planispheric Disk based on something real as well, or was that something that you had created?
MW: No, the Planispheric Disk was something that Tony and I came up with. I don’t, again, I don’t remember. We wanted to come up with this sort of intricate puzzle treasury kind of thing that when you put it together in the correct way, it would reveal things to you. I don’t know where that idea came from, but it was very much of a sort of Indiana Jones, Da Vinci Code kind of thing, where you use some sort of ancient artifact that if you could put the pieces together, I mean, it was partially for plot reasons too. We wanted a disc that could break apart so that we could, there’d be multiple episodes where you were trying to find it. And then once you did find it, we had to sort of figure out how, you know, you had to move it into a certain position, and it would show you clues or coordinates and stuff like that.
Like I was telling somebody the other day, you know, we hid a lot of Easter eggs in that show. And one of them that we had was, I believe it’s when the Planispheric Disk comes together and gives the longitude and latitude of where they’re supposed to go. That longitude and latitude is actually the coordinates of Sam Register’s office on the Warner Bros. lot. And we were always hoping that somebody would figure that out. I don’t think anybody ever did, but we did that, you know, we just kept thinking, we were like, “What are we going to do if somebody actually tries to pinpoint this and finds Sam’s office?” And we’re like, ah, who knows? We probably won’t be working here when that happens. And that was the truth, but there was a lot of stuff in there. Like I think the show Lost was still on the air when we were making that show. And if you were a fan of Lost, you know that there was this whole like number sequence that they used to use, that was sort of a red herring on that show. And we did the same thing. We it’s in several episodes where they find all these numbers and, you know, they’re all like, what the fuck are these numbers? And those numbers are the exact numbers from Lost. So we buried stuff like that all over the place, especially like in the Char Gar Gothakon episode, the Lovecraft takeoff, there’s stuff all through there that we hid. And that was fun for us. I was telling somebody the other day, one of the funnest things for me was I said that I already told you that our executive in England had quit or vanished, anyways. And so all we had left that was giving us notes was the broadcast standards and practice guy. Now, traditionally, those guys are the worst because they’re there to essentially catch anything that you might’ve done that could be offensive or get the studio in trouble or whatnot. But the guy we had in England was a big sci-fi, horror fan. And so he got a kick out of finding all the clues and all the things that we would hide in episodes that were references to movies or science-fiction stories or other things. And so every script that I would turn in when he would give us back his notes, part of his notes were a listing of all of the things that he found in the script. And he would always quiz us at the end. Like, did I get them all? Did I find them? And we were like, okay, you got them all in this episode, but then some episodes, he wouldn’t get them all. And he would be so disappointed that he missed a couple, but that became sort of a game with us over the course of the series. And he became a big fan of the show, but it was just so fun to see what we could slip in there that would stump him because he was pretty good. He would usually find everything. But again, that was another wrinkle to that show that just made it really enjoyable for all of us is that, you know, we were, I think everybody from top to bottom on the show were, we were all big fans of the franchise, but we were all also big sci-fi and horror fans too. And so, you know, everybody kind of got to do a lot of like, “Well, wait, I’ve always wanted to do this and stick this in something.” So we were able, that show allowed us to do that. And that was why I think people had a really good time working on it. So because we all, everybody really, we had a very good time working on that show. Sometimes shows are really difficult and awful and unpleasant, but not that one. That one, despite the fact that it was a very small crew. It was, we all had a very good time working on it.
AL: With the darkness of the show and the overarching kind of sci-fi story, was it originally supposed to be marketed towards children or was that kind of ambiguous?
MW: Such an interesting question. So the show originally was, yes, it was supposed to be marketed to older kids, but the show itself was supposed to be scary. They really, that was one of the, probably the only main thing that Sam told me in the beginning was they really wanted it to be scary. They wanted a legitimately scary Scooby-Doo show. And so we gave them that. In fact, one of the episodes, the spookified children episode where all the children rebel against the parents and the town, Cartoon Network actually kicked it back to us for being too scary. They said, you can’t, you got to change this. It’s too scary. And we’re like, really? Cause no one thought you could make a Scooby-Doo episode actually legitimately scary, but we did. And so we had to go back and trim some stuff and change music in a particular sequence because apparently it was freaking people out too much. So the show itself was originally supposed to be a truly scary show for kids. And then it became too scary and they made us tone it down. But no, it was always meant for, it was always meant for kids, but part of what I’ve always liked doing, and I know Tony does too with these shows is not just to make them for kids. You know, that show, Mystery Incorporated was designed for yes, if you’re a child, you’re going to be entertained by it. But it’s also designed for parents or people in their twenties or whatnot to be watching the show and enjoy it as well. Because I’m a parent, I have two kids, I have two daughters and I cannot tell you how excited I get when I get to sit down and watch a show with them that I actually enjoy watching because the majority of them make me want to gouge my eyes out with large knives. ‘Cause they’re just so boring. And so like, blah, it’s the same thing and dah, dah, dah. So whenever they find a show that I can get into too, it’s like, “Yep, that’s the show we’re going to watch.” So that was our goal with Mystery Incorporated was we’re going to make a show that the parents would like as much as the kids. And I think we succeeded because the majority of the fans are not kids. The majority of the fans are actually the parents of the kids who started watching the show. I mean, I have a lot of friends who, to this day are like, “I was binge watching it with my kid and oh my God.” The parents are the ones I hear the most from. So that’s great. You know, to me, that’s the goal of any good animated show, and I think that’s why movies from Pixar worked so well and some Disney stuff and other, and Dreamworks, you know, is that they appeal to adults and kids. They don’t just appeal to kids. And so it’s, to me, what you should be striving for. A lot of shows don’t, but Mystery Incorporated certainly did.
AL: Is it difficult to get into the mindset of writing a show that appeals to both generations?
MW: No, not really. Not for me at least. You know, there are certain things that you can’t do in kids animation, and as long as you avoid those things, you can pretty much, I mean, I feel you can tell virtually any story you want. I mean, you can’t, you know, the big no-nos, sexuality, no, nothing sexual, not even real implied sexual, stay away from that. Stay away from swearing or derogatory words or anything like that, you know, in general mean, super like abusively, mean stuff obviously you stay away from, but barring all of that, it’s a pretty wide open field. So when we sit down or when I sit down to write these things, I don’t write them for kids. I’m writing them, basically the story that I would want to see. You have to, obviously you have to be a bit of a child yourself of which no one would say that I wasn’t. So there’s definitely that aspect of my personality, which I think helps. But no, you don’t see, I don’t, I don’t believe at least when I’ve talked to people about writing for animation, I always say don’t, don’t think write for kids because you’re, you’re hamstringing yourself, basically. You’re going to stop yourself from going to places that might be really entertaining if you think that, “Oh, a kid wouldn’t like that.” One of my biggest pet peeves when working with studios is when I’ll throw a word into a script and I’ll get a note back “A child’s not gonna understand that word.” And my response is always the same. It’s like, so? So what, so he asked his parents what that word means and oh, look at that. He just learned a new word. I go, what’s wrong with that? Why are we dumbing down these shows for kids making them stupider? And it doesn’t make any sense to me. I grew up watching the cartoons I grew up with which, you know, like Looney Tunes and other Saturday morning cartoons that look, some of them were terrible, but you know, some of them were relatively sophisticated and I would have to ask my parents like, what does that mean? Or what’s going on there? And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. And so to me, it’s, if you continually dumb down these shows and trust me, there is, you know, it’s not as bad as it used to be, but there’s definitely, you know, a section of the children’s animation community, which feels that everything should be nonthreatening. There should be no words that people don’t understand. No one should be offended. No one, you know all jokes should be, there should be a tinge of kindness to them and there should be no conflict. And it’s kind of like, ugh, I don’t want to do that, it sucks. So anyways, but to answer your question, I never go, I never start writing something with the intention of it being for kids. I write something for my own, pretty much for my own enjoyment. Like I think this is good. I like this. It doesn’t, it doesn’t step on any of the rules that you kind of have to follow in terms of, like I said, the sexuality and the swearing and stuff like that, as long as I’m not doing that, to me, everything is fair game. So if I put a big word in there or political stuff, you know, every now and then we’ll slip in some political subject matter, or we’re telling an emotional story that maybe you normally wouldn’t see in a kids cartoon. So what, you know what, so what. I think kids, I think people don’t give kids enough credit. You know, the show was, Scooby was designed, Mystery Incorporated was designed for kids seven and up. And having daughters that are nine and almost six, they can handle it. The only thing I would say about Scooby is it might be a little scary for some kids. But subject matter wise it’s, it’s fine. I do think if some kids are susceptible to being scared really easily, like my older daughter is she can’t watch, she doesn’t watch the show. She can’t watch it because it’s too scary for her. She will someday, but my younger daughter has absolutely no problem with it. So that part sort of depends on the kid, but in terms of subject matter, I don’t think anything should be off limits except the sexual stuff.
AL: For you personally, was it at all difficult to keep the darker tone while also inserting the comedy and lightheartedness of the Scooby franchise in your writing?
MW: No. No, not at all. ‘Cause I love, first and foremost, I love horror movies. I’m a huge horror movie fan. I’ve written horror movies. I’ve, you know, I watch horror movies constantly, so no it didn’t at all. Stuff that I write naturally, a lot of times just comes out humorous anyways and writing something scary was just, I loved it. I would love if I could just continually work on shows where I got to do horror and comedy at the same time. Fantastic. But I have yet to be able to do another show like that. I dream of doing another show like that someday, because it’s, it was one of my favorite working experiences to do that. The nice thing now with animation is that because of Netflix and other places like Amazon, they’re finally getting into doing like true adult animation that isn’t reliant on, you know, like it’s not just a sitcom. It’s actually an adult drama or adult horror animated show. And they’ve had some success on Netflix with them, with like Castlevania and things like that. So I’m hoping that we’re going to continue to do that to the point where we actually get to do an actual animated horror thing, because I think it would be great. But to finally answer that question: no, not whatsoever. It was easy. It was a piece of cake for me because it’s the exact kind of stuff I love to do.
AL: As producer/head writer in an overarching show and bringing the odd freelance writer on, how do you make sure that all the characters seem consistent?
MW: Rewriting, really. You know, animated shows or any show for that matter, it goes through a sort of a metamorphosis process, which you just kind of let it, you have to kind of let it just take its course. And it starts with, you know, when you write the pilot, and write the voices that’s the first step. And then the second step is what the actors are going to bring to it. One of the interesting things that happened on Mystery Incorporated was we had to, you know, Frank Welker who was the voice of Fred and also the voice of Scooby, you know, Frank had been on the show since 1968. So he was, Frank was sort of the you know, he was the, the final old guard that we had to get past in terms of whether he was going to go for how we were doing this particular show.
And so at the very first record, he read the script and started doing Fred how he thought we wanted Fred to be done. And we said, “No, Frank, we don’t want you to change anything. We want you to do that same voice, the same attitude, the same inflection, all of it. We wrote the character with your voice in mind. We just wrote him differently. But he should sound just like Fred.” ‘Cause you know, in our version of Mystery Incorporated Fred is slightly on the spectrum. You know, he is slightly, he’s a little bit Asperger’s-y, you know, with his obsession with traps and his inability to sort of read human emotions properly and everything. So again, we never said this in the series, but this is what we, this was what was in our minds. So, but the point I was going to make was when you write these shows and then it goes to the actors, the actors then bring a whole new element to it.
And if you’re paying attention, what you do is you then listen to the way they’re reading the dialogue and then you go back and you rewrite the dialogue. So to answer your question, if I get a script in and in the dialogue, I can’t hear the actual actors’ voices in the dialogue that I’m reading, I go through and I adjust the dialogue. You know, that’s part of the job though. You know, part of the job of being either the head writer or the story editor or whatnot, is to make sure that all of the scripts sound like they’re coming from the same show. The tricky part is not to just completely step on the voice of the writer who wrote those scripts. The sweet spot is to be able to let the writer’s voice be heard, but still make it feel like it’s all part of the same show. If you don’t do that, you end up with a very disjointed series where one episode seems like the show and then other episodes don’t seem anything like the show. So it’s just, it’s just rewriting. Going through and just making, putting everything on model as they would say.
AL: And speaking of trying to get Frank Welker on board with the way you were doing the show, how did you get Casey Kasem on to do Shaggy’s dad?
MW: Okay. So, Casey obviously had been doing Shaggy for a long time. By the time we did the show, Casey was not in great health. So we knew that he wasn’t going to be able to play Shaggy. And I don’t even think he wanted to play Shaggy at that point. ‘Cause he was, you know, you could get maybe a good half hour out of Casey and then, and then he was just, he would just get too weak. So we came up with the idea of making him Shaggy’s father to sort of continue all of that, continue the unity for it. But in terms of getting him, it was easy. He wanted to be part of it. And he was more than, you know, because it had been a while since he had been doing it, Matt Lillard had taken over the role for a while and he was, you know, Matt had sort of become the character and I think Casey was fine with that, but Casey also knew his own health wouldn’t allow him to be as involved as he had been before.
So that was why we created the role of Shaggy’s father and gave it to Casey because it was sort of our way of paying homage to him and getting his involvement. And we were very fortunate that we did because he passed away, I think during the making while we were doing that show or maybe just after we did it. So we were all very excited and happy that we got to put him in there and got to use him at the very end.
AL: When you have actors that have been doing the role for so long, did you ever get any pushback on, you know, what maybe fits their character or not?
MW: We did. It was interesting, the only one we got real pushback from in the beginning was Mindy Cohn who was playing Velma because like I said at the very top of this thing, Mindy also did not know what we were doing with the character. We purposely kept her in the dark. So when she read the character initially, she didn’t understand why the character was acting the way she was acting. And that was exactly what we wanted her to feel because that was what Velma was going through, but it made her uncomfortable with some of the dialogue that she was saying. And so we had to sort of talk her through it and explain that she just had to trust us. And there was a reason for this and we were going somewhere with this and she did. And she was great, you know, but in the very beginning, in the, I think the first couple of episodes, she just didn’t understand why we were making Velma act the way Velma was acting. And we sat her down and just sort of had to have a talk with her and just kind of go, “We get it. We think you’re brilliant. And we love what you’re doing. Just trust us. There’s a reason that she’s acting like this and it will all become clear later on.” And then once she trusted us, everything was awesome, you know. But yeah, that was the only real issue we had with one of the main actors.
The only other time we had trouble with an actor on that show was when we did the Twin Peaks episode. When we brought in the little person who had played the dancing man or whatever they call him on Twin Peaks, in the little red suit. He, I don’t think he really dug it. I don’t think he was particularly happy to be there. So he was not happy when he was there and he was supposed to come back in the final episode and just didn’t, he didn’t refuse to do it, but he quoted us a price that was just so exorbitantly expensive that we were like, we can’t, we can’t do it. So that was why we ended up getting Harlan Ellison again, bringing Harlan back for the very last episode, because we couldn’t get the little person from Twin Peaks. He just, he was not having it. He was, he was not into it basically, but besides him, I think that everybody else we had on the show, I mean, we had George Segal, you know, we had a lot of pretty decent people. Florence Henderson, who was fantastic, but everybody else was pretty great. We didn’t really have any issues.
Even Harlan Ellison, who everybody thought was going to be a major pain in the ass, you know, Harlan agreed to do it because he and I were friends. And he was like, “Are you going to pay me?” We’re like, “Yeah, of course, we’re going to pay you Harlan.” And he goes, “I’m in.” So he did it. And he was, yeah, everybody was really afraid because Harlan has a reputation for being kind of a pain in the ass, but he was awesome. He was great. And he loved it. I have a picture somewhere of, we went to, because Harlan was, he’s since passed away, but he was, and he was kind of sick then. And he got sick and I got a frantic call from a friend of mine saying that, “Hey, do you have a copy of Harlan’s episode because he’s not doing well and they’re not sure he’s going to make it through the weekend. And I would love, and it’d be great if he could see it.” And I’m like, “Oh shit, okay, well, let me call the guys.” So I called our post place and they were like, “We could put together a special cut-up like dub of it for you.” So they did a special dub. I drove up there with my buddy Josh on the weekend, we went to Harlan’s house and we sat there in Harlan’s living room with Harlan in his pajamas because he wasn’t feeling well. And his wife and myself and my friend, Josh, and we all watched it together. And I have pictures of Harlan, like a child sitting in front of the TV, like three or four feet away with this big smile, just loving it, just enjoying the hell out of it. So that was extremely, that was really, that was one of the nicest moments for me on the show was because he was kind of a idol, you know, Harlan’s kind of an idol of mine and very inspirational to me as a writer and to see him so, you know, engrossed in it and just so enjoying it, knowing that he was sick and that this had cheered him up and everything, it was just, that was one of the moments that I will always have with me from that show is that moment. And I fortunately have a picture of it too.
It’s a work in progress! Check back soon for the full transcript.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.