Phil Mendez is a wildly-funny cartoonist who has designed — often without ample credit — a number of hit animation shows
Phil is the guy — this story is legendary — who moved his desk into the restroom at Hanna-Barbera. While he was
working there, he was promoted to some title that entitled him to a proper office, only they didn't give him one right away. They left him in
one of their little cubicles with the portable room dividers. (At Hanna-Barbera, the walls often moved more than the cartoons.)
After several requests when unheeded, Phil simply added the letters "DEZ" to the sign on the men's room door and moved in his drafting
table. H-B execs would walk in to use the facility, see Phil sitting there drawing, and make quick U-turns out to find another john.
Finally, they ordered him to vacate, whereupon Phil posed the question of how it would look to the industry if word got out that
Hanna-Barbera's highest-ranked black employee had been working in the men's room...and had even been thrown out of there. He was assigned a
real office within the hour.
Some years back, NBC put us together on a couple of projects, hoping that between his artistic brilliance and the stuff I pass off as
writing, a wonderful show would emerge. At the time of this story, we were developing a show for the Saturday morning schedule and were
completing scripts and artwork. In animation, we don't film pilot episodes; not usually. It costs too much and takes too long.
Instead, you whip up some scripts and notes and drawings and the decision to pick up a series is based on all that plus prayer.
Phil and I were at NBC one evening until around 7:30 discussing things with the appropriate vice-president. As we gathered to go,
I asked her, "Can we walk you down to the parking lot?"
"Thanks," she said. "But I have to wait around. Marvel is sending over some scripts and artwork on a show they're trying to
sell. I can't leave until it gets here." She muttered some curse words about how late it was. She also let it slip that this show
was competing with ours for a time slot.
Phil and I walked downstairs. As we hit the parking lot, we saw the Marvel Films van pull up. A young "runner" (as they
call delivery folks in show biz) got out with a pile of scripts and artwork. For no visible reason, I whispered to Phil, "Let's hijack their
I walked up to the runner and, sounding very official, asked, "Is that the presentation for the childrens' department? Good,
good...we've been waiting for it." I dropped the names of some of the execs upstairs while Phil said, "I can take that."
The kid handed us the scripts and artwork, then got back in his van and drove off. Just like that.
Phil and I got hysterical. We were standing in the NBC parking lot — no, we were leaning on each other for support —
holding the materials with which our competitor hoped to sell his show and freeze ours out. We were holding at least ten thousand dollars worth
Now, what were we going to do with it?
My first thought was to sell it back to them for ransom. I suggested we go to the nearby pay phone, call Marvel with a
handkerchief over the receiver and say, "We have your presentation. If you ever want to see it again, send Jerry Eisenberg out naked with fifty
thousand dollars." (Jerry was a producer then at Marvel — a talented, nice man who we figured would enjoy being sent outside naked with
fifty thousand dollars.)
"No, no," Phil said, still laughing too hard to speak. "Let's redo it for them." For about two minutes, we decided to go
find an empty office somewhere. I would quickly rewrite the scripts into moronic gibberish while Phil would redraw the art to be out of
proportion and ugly. Or, even better, he'd rewrite while I redrew. Then we'd deliver it upstairs.
We abandoned that idea because (a) there was no place to do this, (b) there was no time to do this and (c) it
might make their show more likely to sell. We rejected other ideas, equally mad, before the joke ran its course and we walked back in and
delivered the presentation to the proper hands.
The end result was that NBC didn't buy Marvel's show. They didn't buy ours, either. And the runner from Marvel got
chewed-out, about which I still feel kinda guilty.
Marvel's show was called something like Swords and Sorcery. It had been created by a clever writer-producer on their staff
named Dennis Marks and it was somewhat inspired by the popular game of Dungeons & Dragons, though without the official imprimatur of that
The following year, Marvel hooked up with the folks who did own Dungeons & Dragons, and Dennis refried his idea into a show
with that title. CBS picked it up as a potential project and the Marvel staff produced more scripts, more outlines, more artwork, hoping to
sell it there. I have a hunch the runner was very careful about delivering them to the right folks.
Dennis had done a very fine job on the show but, as sometimes happens when something's around long enough, everyone involved had grown
somewhat punchy. In the development process, as the format is being worked out and characters are added, deleted or defined, you often get lost
in the ninety-third revision. The CBS folks felt that Dungeons & Dragons was "almost there" as a series but that it needed some work
from a fresh mind. I have an extremely fresh mind to go with my fresh mouth.
They said they'd send the work done to date over for me to inspect. When I answered my door, it was the same runner from the NBC
parking lot. He looked at me in shock and when I said, "I'll take that," he yelled, "I'm not falling for that again" and carried it back
towards his van. I had to chase him into the street and show him a picture I.D. to get my package.
Talks were held, suggestions made, contracts negotiated and I wound up doing the pilot and format for Dungeons & Dragons
— both in about forty-eight hours, which was about all I had before CBS had to set its schedule.
My main contribution was probably to simplify the show. Dennis had a good idea to start with but, in the development process as
different minds had suggested this or added that, the whole thing had grown needlessly complicated and rambled off-course.
(Several years earlier, another studio had offered me a not-dissimilar show that was in much the same trouble. The written format
had about three dozen characters in it, each with his or her own alleged personality and gimmick. I proposed tossing two-thirds of them out and
thus horrified the studio head, who was more interested in a big line of toys than in a good show. He wound up, of course, with neither.)
In the case of D & D though, everyone concurred with my approach, in part because there wasn't time to quibble. We
only had two days to whip the show into a shape that CBS would buy. Sometimes, the best thing that can happen to you in television is to be up
against a deadline. If they have time to argue about something, they will.
I told the story about Phil Mendez and the intercepted presentation for a few reasons. One was that it still makes me
laugh. Another is that I've lost touch with Phil and I hope that mentioning him here will spur him to call me for lunch. (If you know
Phil, show him this column.)*
But the main reason is to segue into clearing up a small matter. A couple of animation mags have credited me with creating the
series and being responsible for its three-season success. This is not accurate. The credits on every episode read, "Created by Dennis
Marks, Developed by Mark Evanier."
And that ain't the end of it, either. Many others (mostly a fine producer named Hank Saroyan) steered its course after Dennis and
I each went on to other projects. Dozens of writers, artists, actors, camerapersons, etc., contributed to make that show happen.
Whatever credit there is to distribute should be parcelled out in many directions. I'll accept my hunk but I would not be getting
any, had not all those other folks made their fine contributions. I had next-to-nothing to do with the show once it was up and running, so I
got to enjoy it as a non-involved viewer. I usually did.
I also told the story about Phil because I wanted to talk about Dungeons & Dragons. I have a confession to make and also, I
think it's time we cleared up an urban legend, which I'll get to in a moment. But first the confession —
Dungeons & Dragons was a series about six kids who were transported to a dimension filled with wizards and fire-snorting
reptiles and cryptic clues and an extremely-evil despot named Venger. The youngsters were trapped in this game-like environment but,
fortunately, they were armed with magical skills and weaponry, the better to foil Venger's insidious plans each week.
The kids were all heroic — all but a semi-heroic member of their troupe named Eric. Eric was a whiner, a complainer, a guy
who didn't like to go along with whatever the others wanted to do. Usually, he would grudgingly agree to participate, and it would always turn
out well, and Eric would be glad he joined in. He was the one thing I really didn't like about the show.
So why, you may wonder, did I leave him in there? Answer: I had to.
As you may know, there are those out there who attempt to influence the content of childrens' television. We call them "parents
groups," although many are not comprised of parents, or at least not of folks whose primary interest is as parents. Study them and you'll find
a wide array of agendum at work...and I suspect that, in some cases, their stated goals are far from their real goals.
Nevertheless, they all seek to make kidvid more enriching and redeeming, at least by their definitions, and at the time, they had
enough clout to cause the networks to yield. Consultants were brought in and we, the folks who were writing cartoons, were ordered to include
certain "pro-social" morals in our shows. At the time, the dominant "pro-social" moral was as follows: The group is always right...the
complainer is always wrong.
This was the message of way too many eighties' cartoon shows. If all your friends want to go get pizza and you want a burger, you
should bow to the will of the majority and go get pizza with them. There was even a show for one season on CBS called The Get-Along
Gang, which was dedicated unabashedly to this principle. Each week, whichever member of the gang didn't get along with the gang learned the
error of his or her ways.
We were forced to insert this "lesson" in D & D, which is why Eric was always saying, "I don't want to do that" and paying
for his social recalcitrance. I thought it was forced and repetitive, but I especially objected to the lesson. I don't believe you should
always go along with the group. What about thinking for yourself? What about developing your own personality and viewpoint? What
about doing things because you decide they're the right thing to do, not because the majority ruled and you got outvoted?
We weren't allowed to teach any of that. We had to teach kids to join gangs. And then to do whatever the rest of the gang
wanted to do.
What a stupid thing to teach children.
Now, I won't make the leap to charge that gang activity, of the Crips and Bloods variety, increased on account of these programs.
That influential, I don't believe a cartoon show could ever be. I just think that "pro-social" message was bogus and ill-conceived. End
That leaves us with the urban legend I wish to dispel. Here is the truth of the matter — in bold type, no less:
There was NO "final episode" of Dungeons & Dragons.
Now, let me get more specific. There was a final episode, in the sense that they stopped making them. There was even an
episode wherein the kids thought they'd gotten home, but actually didn't. There was no "final episode" in the sense of doing one wherein the
kids finally vanquished Venger and returned home from the magical dimension, thereby ending the series.
I'd love to have done one, and I even had some ideas about what it might have encompassed. But the way network TV animation deals
work, when you do your last episode, you almost never know it's your last episode, and that was the case here.
About once a week on the Internet, someone asks where they can get a copy of this episode. I usually drop them a little E-note
telling them it was never made. Half the time, they write back and give me an argument: They saw it, they know it existed, I'm wrong. One
even wrote, "You only started the show. You're not an authority on how it ended."
You'd think this would disturb me, but it doesn't. As stated, I was worried that the "pro-social" message of the show might
actually have impregnated someone with group-think. It's nice to see that some of its viewers are still able to think for themselves.
Even if, as in this case, they're dead wrong.
*UPDATE: Someone called Phil and he called me. So you can
all stop pestering him with calls to say, "Mark Evanier is looking for you."