Lance Falk Interview
The way I heard it was that Ted Turner himself simply thought the show was too violent for kids, so it was downplayed to fail.
SWAT Kats writer Lance Falk was gracious enough to do another email interview with The SWAT Kats Encyclopedia. The staff would like to thank Lance again for his participation and willingness to answer questions. This is from January 18, 2009.
Q: In the episode Unlikely Alloys you were cited as saying that Davis Doi had made the suggestion to change your script from a “big robot fight” to a “love story” between the Metallikats, two married robot gangsters who often quarreled with each other for comedic effect. When you write a script, either for SWAT Kats or your other work, how often do you either have to sacrifice a creative idea or subtlety/overtly make adjustments based on the suggestion of others? In the end, how much of a script for a TV show like SWAT Kats is completely a writer’s work or the product of others? Is there a line that’s ever drawn to share credit with another writer, and if so, how is it determined?
A: That’s hard for me to answer because I’ve only been a staff writer on two shows. Jonny Quest and of course, Swat Kats. It probably doesn’t give me enough perspective on how it typically works. In fact, I know it doesn’t! In both cases, I worked directly with the Producer, Davis Doi. I pitched the ideas to him, he had a pass of notes on the Premise (2 pages), Outline (10 pages), and First Draft (35-40 Pages).
Generally speaking, it’s usually the Story Editor who does this, but being both a brand new writer and already a staff member of the art crew (already working under Davis) we did it this way. Now, I don’t want to take anything away from the Story Editor of both shows: Mr. Glenn Leopold. Glenn is a fantastic writer/editor. Very talented, great to work with, full of ideas, versatile in any style you could name (something I’m definitely not) and the fastest scripter I’ve ever known. Glenn did give notes to me…and good, helpful ones too. I was grateful for his expertise. (more than he probably suspects).
You may have noticed that we have slightly different tastes. Glenn is a big time horror / monster guy while I lean towards Tech/Sci-Fi/Straight Action stuff. He’s more Stephen King and I’m more Jim Cameron if that makes any sense. Though, again, Glenn can write anything well, including the tech stuff. And I think my own Destructive nature was a decent Monster / Horror episode. If you look at our Jonny Quests, you’ll see these same propensities played out again and again.
To answer your question as best as I can…It’s a collaborative process no matter how you slice it. It’s great or terrible depending on the quality and instincts of who you’re collaborating with. Glenn and Davis were great….as were the Tremblays. I can’t say the same for some others higher in the food chain….which is all I can say. If you want a percentage, I’d say that about 90% of my ideas for an episode survived throughout the process from concept to final episode. Davis and Glenn’s contributions always made my stuff better. Believe it.
Q: For the episodes Metal Urgency and Cry Turmoil, you have been cited as wanting to have made the character of Commander Feral less one-dimensional. In Metal Urgency this was accomplished by making him uphold his values even when offered the opportunity to learn the identities of the SWAT Kats. In Cry Turmoil you were cited as wanting to make the focus of the episode be around Feral instead of T-Bone. In a show like SWAT Kats that presumably has a lot of management influence, how difficult was it to try to add more depth to any of the characters? Also, were there ever any more ideas you had to expand on any characters that were never used, or unapproved by management? If you cannot recall any from SWAT Kats, have their been other creative disagreements you’ve had to overcome when it comes to a show?
A: Well, like the last question, I really can’t get into any real political disagreements (of which, there are always some). I think a few episodes could have been even better if a really good idea or moment weren’t killed now and then. These things are ‘little deaths’ for the writer, but you get used to it. I had some vague notions about further storylines for just about everyone (mostly vague musings). We were really concentrating on the ones we know we had to do.
Now, if the show had been allowed to succeed and we were given a big number to play with: like a block of 30-40 more to bring the total up to a daily rerun friendly number of 65, I would definitely have suggested that we all sit down and plot a bigger arc of continuity for the series…some multi-parters, some unusual, experimental formats, etc. A big order of shows like that would give us the legroom to think along those lines. Since it never happened, no one had a chance to think about specifics or really “plan” anything. And lastly, there are ALWAYS disagreements. That’s the nature of television.
Q: One of the characters you developed was Dr. Lieter Greenbox, who played a supporting role in Chaos in Crystal and later a “good guy” turned mad by his invention in Unlikely Alloys. Were there ever any plans to bring the character back in future episodes, and if so, what kind of role would he play?
A: I didn’t know I was gonna bring him back the second time until I realized that I needed a role filled that he would work for. I didn’t have any plans, per se, but I’m not opposed to bringing anyone back if they fit smoothly into a story. Reoccurring characters give the viewer a feeling of a connected universe. I like that. Also, if we really like the way a character was designed or especially voice performed, that’s always an incentive to bring ‘em back.
Q: Do you know the precise reason why SWAT Kats was canceled? (Low ratings, administrative decision, failure to move merchandise, too violent, something else?) Also, when a show is canceled, how are you informed and what happens to the writers and production staff afterward?
A: The way I heard it was that Ted Turner himself simply thought the show was too violent for kids, so it was downplayed to fail. Buried on early Sunday Mornings (a ratings death slot for this kind of show), no decent merchandise to speak of (though it would have been a toy company’s dream). I’m surprised we got to do a second year. I know in my heart if we had a juicy afternoon spot, opposite TMNT or an anime import, we would have kicked ass.
Sadly, we were never given the opportunity. How are we told? We wait for word every season…then it’s announced in the trades. “Swat Kats will not be returning for a Third Season”. Because there’s always a gap between finishing a season and starting another, we tend to hustle for that next show as soon as we’re done because it’s never wise to wait until you hear. By then, all the spots around town are full. Some times you are not available to return. Especially if a longer gig presents itself in the meanwhile. That’s why the credits change a bit every season for every show. It’s just the way this industry is.
Q: In today’s animation industry, how likely is it that a show like SWAT Kats could ever be revived, rebooted, or revisited in some manner, either through a new show, a DVD release or even a parody on something like Seth Green’s Robot Chicken?
A: You’ll have to ask Seth about Robot Chicken. He’s certainly the right age to have been a fan. DVD releases are probably an inevitability at some point in the years to come, though WAY down the list (No. Nothing has been announced yet.) The odds of NEW Swat Kats? Zero to Less than Zero. Every year, it gets less likely too. Even if it did, I doubt you’d see any of the original creative team since we’ve all moved on to other projects and companies. Hanna-Barbera doesn’t even exist anymore.
Cartoon Network does their own original creations and Warner Bros pretty much only does one Scooby and one DC comics DVD per year. Swat Kats would be WAY down the list of HB properties they’d invest in. It only has a small cult following, no real public recognition factor, and a failed history in it’s time. I HATE to describe the show like that because I’m extremely proud of our work on it. She deserved better.
Q: Is there anything related to SWAT Kats you can think of that is not already known, either about the production, behind the scenes, unused ideas or just tidbits of background information that maybe amused or infuriated you, either during production or about the show in general?
A: Not really, except to thank you folks for loving it sill and keeping the flame lit. It’s very touching and we all thank you for your love of something that we loved making. Those were great times.
Q: Are there any projects you would like to mention that you’re currently working on, or any other past work that you would like to draw more attention to?
A: Hmmm…Well I did some design work for a forthcoming Scooby-Doo Vs. Samurai movie (I don’t know the final title). Good story on that one. I like our former SK crew’s work on 3 Scooby DTV movies “Zombie Island” “Witch’s Ghost” and “Alien Invaders” (this last I wrote with Davis and Glenn). They are all on DVD. The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest are being released on DVD soon. The ones our SK crew did will be the 3rd and 4th batches released. (NOT 1st and 2nd) We’re very proud of those.
These days a bunch of the old SK/JQ/SD crew is at a nice studio called SD Entertainment where we are primarily working on cute shows for preschoolers. It’s more fun than I thought it would be. Shows like Care Bears and My Little Pony. If you have any little 4-8 year old sisters, they will love this stuff as much as you did Swat Kats in the day. Check out the Care Bears CGI movie “Oopsy Does It” for the littlest ones in the household.
So, that wraps it up. I hope I gave you some little tidbits of interest and thanks for the smart questions. All my best from The Radical Squadron!