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Matt Thompson, co-creator of Sealab 2021: Other shows had happened in between, like South Park, that made adult cartoons OK.
Ouweleen: But Turner higher-ups were fuckin' terrified of doing it. They thought we were totally going to kill our main audience. And we all said, "Trust us."
Reed: They're eating their hat now.
Ouweleen: We had a big meeting with Brad Siegel [former president of Turner Entertainment Networks], and for a second, his big idea was, "Why don't you just air Gunsmoke and Bonanza? We have those." We all just looked at each other and grabbed our knees under the table, thinking, "Oh shit, there it goes." Then he looked at us and said [holding up one finger], "You have one year."
Dave Willis, co-creator of "Aqua Teen Hunger Force": I remember a network-wide meeting where one of the ad sales guys said, "Now I've got to go to talk to the Axe Male Body Spray people and tell them that a wad of meat is our new star."
What background in animation did the Adult Swim creators have?
Willis: Zero. We're not animators.
Crofford: No one really has an animation background. Dave was hired as a [production assistant] on Cartoon Planet back in the day. [Aqua Teen Hunger Force co-creator] Matt Maiellaro was in program operations for a while. Matt [Thompson] and Adam worked in our on-air promotion department; Michael heads up that whole division. [Harvey Birdman co-creator] Eric Richter came up through on-air promotions.
Willis: If we had pitched Aqua Teen as an unknown entity, or even as a known entity, anywhere else it would've been difficult. We got the opportunity to make it because they knew us.
Crofford: We know these guys pretty well because we've worked with them for so long. We try to keep our hands off the creative process as much as possible. Two guys pretty much handle most shows: Michael and Eric do Birdman, Matt [Thompson] and Adam do Sealab, Matt [Maiellaro] and Dave do Aqua Teen.
Ouweleen: One of the things that makes Adult Swim different from any other animated shows, like Father of the Pride or whatever, is that there aren't many people touching the show. Executives aren't trying to warp it into something that it isn't, or "note" it to death. They have an underlying belief that, "Well, we trusted them, and if they screw it up, we'll cancel the show and they'll leave. But for the time being, they know best."
One of the ways you save money is that, in addition to writing/producing episodes, many of you do the voices of characters -- Dave does Meatwad and Carl, two of Aqua Teen's four main roles.
Thompson: Adam and I do all of the incredibly unimportant voices on our show.
Willis: Matt and I write the show together and when we're in the studio recording it, we tend to play around a lot, so there's a lot of ad-libbing. But the decision for me to do Meatwad's voice was very divisive. It was always a voice that made us laugh ... [but] everyone else wasn't wild about it. That's one of the things we really fought for, but I think it grew on people. Meatwad's hard to make out sometimes, but the more you watch, the more you start to hopefully understand what he's saying. I've been doing that [voice] since I was a kid, and now that I have a baby, I do it constantly. That's the voice I use to speak to my cats and my child.
When did all the various cartoons come together as the Adult Swim programming block?
Crofford: Adult Swim premiered in September of 2001. We created this midnight destination of offbeat shows that you don't see anywhere else.
Thompson: They definitely belong at midnight. All of them are so strange -- especially Adult Swim's original shows.
Ouweleen: I keep trying to write a mainstream episode, and it keeps ending up fucked up. I don't know if it's Eric's fault or what. "OK, that one's kind of weird, too! There's a lot of men-on-men kissing! What's going on?"
When I show these cartoons to my friends, the first thing they say is, "Are these guys on drugs?" Do you get that a lot? Do people say, "Were you high when you wrote that?"
Reed: Yeah. They don't believe you when you say "No."
Thompson: It's just coffee.
Willis: They're like, "No, you're totally on acid."
Reed: If I've had, like, four beers, I can't sit down and type.
Ouweleen: I just started drinking red wine a couple of years ago, because I have too many kids and it freaks me out. But I lived my life totally straight and clean up until now. And it bothers me, actually. It's so patronizing, frankly. I fucking hate it.