THE NEW SHMOO; or Scaring The #@$% Out Of Chuck Menville

Recently I received an e-mail[1] asking about my work on THE NEW SHMOO show from 1979.

Wow, talk about a blast from the past!

I get asked frequently about writing for G.I. JOE et al and THUNDARR and even TARZAN AND THE SUPER 7 but THE NEW SHMOO almost never comes up.

And for good reason, I might add, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

I remember working on the series, a pretty standard SCOOBY-DOO, WHERE ARE YOU? rip-off imitation[2] of the “3 kids & a nyah-nyah” variety ala RICKETY ROCKET (a show so offensive even the Internet Movie Database won't list it!) or RUBIK, THE AMAZING CUBE.

The writing process was fairly typical.  I was a freelancer.  The story editor, Chuck Menville, sent me a show bible, which described the concept & characters.  I came up with some ideas & sent them to him (they were probably no more than a page or two long, perhaps even as short as a paragraph).  Chuck picked one he liked, called me in, and we discussed how the story should be developed.  Then I went back to my office (I worked out of my home) and wrote the script.  There may have been Hanna-Barbera staff writers working on the show as well, but I never had a meeting with any of them.

From start to finish, probably no more than 7-10 days (including re-writes).  However, since there could be delays in Chuck's schedule or mine, the actual start to finish time probably ran closer to a month from the point where I got the bible to the point where Chuck approved the final draft.

I can't remember how long my outlines were; as I said above, they could have been as short as a single paragraph or up to 2 pages in length.  The scripts were written at roughly 1 page of script = 30 seconds of animation, so a 22 minute script probably ran about 44 pages (by the time I started working for Sunbow on G.I. JOE, etc., more and more staging was being given to the storyboard artists, so our scripts required less exact staging instructions and became shorter, more along the lines of live action screenplays, which are 1 page = 1 minute of screen time).  I was either using my first dedicated word processor or my last typewriter to write my scripts at that time.[3]

I had known Chuck (who passed away in 1992, alas!) since I first started working in animation at Filmation Studios; it was always a pleasure to work with him.  He and his writing partner Len Janson were the first story editors I worked with & the two of them taught me a great deal about the basics of writing scripts.  The two of them had done a series of incredible pixilation shorts, one of which, STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN (1967), was nominated for an Oscar and still plays occasionally on Turner Classic Movies.  While I was at Filmation, Len -- with great justification, I might add -- attempted to smash my head against a wall with a coat rack, but that’s another tale for another time.[4]

To be frank, while the time working with Chuck was enjoyable, I was disappointed in the show itself.  As I said, it was yet another imitation of SCOOBY-DOO, and had virtually nothing to do with the Shmoos that Al Capp created for his Li'l Abner comic strip.

If you aren't familiar with Li'l Abner, look him up online; it was one of the funniest strips ever published.  Capp used the Shmoos as a modern parable of consumerism, capitalism, & wasteful use of resources.  I wish we had done stories that were more in line with what Al Capp had envisioned for the Shmoo, but this show is what the network wanted:  Yet another Scooby-doo clone.

I can’t remember anything about the episode I wrote, not even the title, and since the shows had gang writing credits at the end there’s no way to determine who did what.  I do remember I tried to do something a bit differently from most Saturday morning shows at the time, and when I finally figured out my angle of approach I was happy with it, but I’ll be danged if I can remember what that was today!

What I remember most about working on THE NEW SHMOO was giving Chuck a terrible fright.

The outside of the H-B buildings had concrete lattice that was strong enough to support a full grown man.  To enter the executives/writers building (the artists were in another building), one parked in the back, then walked down a courtyard between the two buildings to the front lobby.  Since Chuck’s office was located at the far end of the building from the lobby, it meant schlepping back the length of the courtyard to meet with him.

Being the sort of person I am[5], I decided to save some shoe leather and for one meeting instead of walking down & back, I opted to climb the lattice to his 3rd story office.

Chuck as on the phone when I rapped on the window behind him and nearly fell out of his chair in surprise.  He hung up quickly ("Excuse me, I gotta go; a writer just climbed through my window") and opened the glass to let me in.  We then discussed the script & changes he wanted on it, and when the meeting was over he asked me to leave in a more conventional manner.

When I can back with the completed script, H-B security now had a guard patrolling the courtyard, keeping an eye out for anyone else who might try my shortcut!

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[1]  Hi, Louis!

[2]  Kosher b/c Hanna-Barbera produced both series.

[3]  If it was a typewriter, it was my Adler, a heavy duty German-made machine apparently made by the same people who built Panzer tanks during WWII; I had destroyed a series of Olivettis with my literally heavy-handed typing technique.

[4]  I ducked.

[5]  i.e., Lazy

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