Even at the time, I knew. Maybe not with precision. Certainly, not enough to fully appreciate the magic, serendipity and uniqueness of the situation. But even at the height of production chaos, when I was simultaneously coming up with springboards, editing premises, outlines and scripts, supervising voice recordings, giving notes on storyboards and designs, attending edit sessions, sound mixes and video on-lines, when I was working six days and easily eighty plus hours a week, when I barely had time to sleep, I knew. Producing GARGOYLES was the best job I ever had.
When it all began, it wasn’t even a job I was looking to take on. I was a quote-unquote creative executive, the Director of Series Development at Walt Disney Television Animation. Even that was a sidetrack. I had wanted to be a writer since at least the second grade. In 1989, I had taken a staff assistant job at Disney to pay the bills. Before I knew it, I had been promoted into an executive career track. But in 1991, my development team and I began developing a new cartoon show based on a subject that had fascinated me since high school: gargoyles. Ugly stone statues placed on old buildings. Creatures of the night, that protected their perches from greater evils. The inherent contradictions (not to mention the actual sculpture) had always fascinated me. Now we were exploring their possibilities. First as a comedy, but when that failed to sell, as an action-drama. Finally in 1993, on our third attempt, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg (they were a team in those days), gave us the go-ahead to produce Gargoyles.
Now my job was to hire people to make the show, while I moved on to develop other properties. We went through a couple of writers, before finding our story editor, Michael Reaves. But time was passing, and my counterpart executives on the production side of things still hadn’t found a producer for the series. So by default and out of necessity, I began making decisions that would typically be made by a show-runner, not a development exec. Maybe it was my initial fascination with the subject matter or the years we spent nurturing the concept and trying to get it sold or the emotional investment that came with making all these hands-on decisions, but by the time Frank Paur was hired to produce on the art side, I was no longer prepared to give the show up and just move on. Even then I knew. Gargoyles was something special.
It took some convincing. I had written (Jem and the Holograms) and story edited (DuckTales) before, but I had never produced. Plus my bosses sorta liked having me in the job I was doing. They agreed to let me co-produce the first season with Frank -- on the condition that I kept up with all my development exec responsibilities as well. I agreed. Even then, I knew.
The first season was both exhilarating and hellish. A ten-month sliding schedule to produce thirteen episodes of a series that was like nothing Disney had ever done before. (Plus the development work -- another full-time job.) But I had good people helping me out, and from a story standpoint, the series just seemed to gel. We had terrific characters. Our heroes: Goliath, Hudson, Brooklyn, Lexington, Broadway, Bronx and Detective Elisa Maza. And perhaps even more impressive, our villains: David Xanatos, Demona, Owen, the Pack, Macbeth and Coldstone. These were rich, complex characters that actually made writing fun. (O.K., not everyday, but generally.) And we were given the freedom to really push the envelope. In our eighth episode, Broadway accidentally shot Elisa with her own gun, allowing us to deal with something important in as honest and dramatic a way as we could. (And that’s just an example.)
Still, we did our thirteen in a virtual vacuum, with no idea as to whether this experiment would be rewarded with another season. I went back to developing new series.
Then word came back. They wanted six more episodes for 1995. No, thirteen. No, eighteen. By the time the final decision was made to strip the show across the Disney Afternoon, we had that same ten-month sliding schedule as before. This time to produce fifty-two episodes instead of thirteen.
Well, first thing first, there was no way I could possibly cover this job and stay an exec, even part-time. I moved over to become a full-time producer. I sometimes wonder what might have happened if I hadn’t made that switch. But I literally have no regrets. Even then, I knew.
Next, we had to staff up. I brought on three more strong story editors to join Michael. Brynne Chandler Reaves, Cary Bates and Gary Sperling. Then we hit the ground running… and running… and running. (See paragraph one.) Upper management left us alone. They had other fires to put out within the company, and maybe because I had been an executive, I was given more rope than most. Like a trustee in a prison mental ward, I was the lunatic most trusted. It gave us the freedom to make the show we wanted to make. I didn’t realize then how unique an experience that was in this industry. But I did know I loved what we were doing.
Again, we had some great characters (Puck, Titania, Thailog, Angela, etc.) and wonderful, maybe groundbreaking story lines (“City of Stone”, “Hunter’s Moon”, etc.). It was hard, hard work. And it wasn’t without conflict, or even politics. But everyone on the series was simply geared toward making the best show they could make. We were overworked, massively stressed and sleep-deprived. But I can honestly say that for me at least, making Gargoyles was a labor of love. Not everything came out perfectly. But the passion and intent, I believe, shown through.
By August of 1995, it finally had begun to wind down. Script work was completed. Life got calmer. I had many more ideas for a third season, and I was hopeful they’d give me a shot at that. And I was back to developing new series ideas. This time, spin-offs, sequels and prequels to Gargoyles. Ideas that became Gargoyles: The Dark Ages, Pendragon, The New Olympians, Bad Guys, TimeDancer and Gargoyles: Future Tense (later Gargoyles 2198).
And word came back again. ABC wanted a third season of the show for their Saturday Morning line-up. And I SHOULD have known. Should have remembered. Should have jumped at the chance. But I forgot. To be fair, the situation had changed dramatically. Most of my bosses (Katzenberg, Rich Frank, Gary Krisel, Bruce Cranston) had left Disney. The new guys didn’t really know me and clearly weren’t that anxious to keep me around. They asked me to story edit (story edit, mind you, not produce) the third season. But before I had even given them an answer, they were in negotiations to hire my replacements. There were other reasons too. Things they were doing that seemed like they had a virtual intent to sabotage the quality of the show. But mostly, it was hybris on my part. Briefly, I had forgotten just how special Gargoyles was. Briefly, I thought that it was a creative experience I could duplicate or even better at other studios. If Disney was gently shoving me out the door, I’d let them. I agreed to write “The Journey” for what became Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles. That would be my farewell to the cast, to the characters and to the audience. Or so I thought.
Of course now, I regret not doing that third season -- not because I was wrong about that regime’s lack of enthusiasm for the show, but because I missed the opportunity to tell twelve more of my stories. Given another opportunity, I won’t make that mistake again.
I’d remain at Disney until May of 1996, mostly doing post-production on the last dozen episodes of the second season. Edits, mixes, etc. So I was still sticking around for a few month, a lame-duck producer, resting up for his NEXT BIG THING. But even then, I knew. I had briefly allowed myself to forget. But now I remembered. I had many conversations in those days about how I might never have another professional experience to match Gargoyles. How, frankly, the show had spoiled me for all the times that were sure to (and did) follow, when I wouldn’t have the creative freedom that I had been enjoying. As I packed up to leave, I knew. Best job I ever had.
Gargoyles was and is something special. It was a solid hit for Disney. Not a home run, but a good strong single or double. But, man, it attracted a great group of fans. I thought I was done with the show. But I missed it terribly. And then in 1997, I was invited to attend the first “Gathering of the Gargoyles” in New York City. It was a small convention, but I had an absolute blast. Keith David (the voice of Goliath) made a surprise appearance. We told stories. I showed some behind-the-scenes videotapes. And the fans let us know how much Gargoyles had meant to them. I came away with an ego boost that lasted for months.
Since then I’ve attended every annual convention. New York again in ‘98. Dallas in ‘99. Orlando in 2000. Thom Adcox (the voice of Lexington) began attending in Dallas, and though we were only casual acquaintances before, I now count him as one of my best friends. And I’ve made many other friends too. The show meant so much to so many people, that it re-awakened the Gargoyle-lover in me. I began answering questions about the show at Station Eight’s “ASK GREG” website. This year, I’ve become personally involved in planning the Fifth Annual Gathering, here in Los Angeles. We’ve already got over twenty-five special guests scheduled to attend, and if we can reach our target attendance goals of 500, we plan on inviting Disney Executives to the convention to show them what a great bet they’re missing by not bringing the series back.
Because, damnit, I want to bring the series back. In addition to ASK GREG and the conventions, I’m developing two separate projects with two separate groups of people -- both attempts to bring Gargoyles back in some, way, shape or form. The fans haven’t given up, and now I won’t either. Not until we get our Gargoyles back.
I’ll be honest. Sometimes, I know I must seem a bit pathetic. A guy who had some success at age 30 is still obsessed with recapturing it. Still trying to stuff that lightning back into the bottle. Fine. I acknowledge that. But what can I tell you?
It was the best job I ever had.
The Gathering of Gargoyles 2001
Universal City, California
June 22-25, 2001
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