Variety Massive Preview

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The following appeared in Daily Variety on March 23, 1995. The citation is Gallo, Phil. 'Quest' the latest of a vintage crop. Daily Variety.

'Quest' the latest of a vintage crop

The reintroduction of classic characters has drawn a straight line to the bank within the last five years. Warner Bros. has successfully lifted the Tazmanian Devil -- renamed Taz -- to the No. 2 slot in popularity and merchandise sales; the long-awaited debut last fall of "Spider-Man" has given Marvel the top-rated afternoon strip, and the company is now expanding its highly rated "Marvel Action Hour" into "Marvel Action Universe," featuring many of its classic comic-book heroes.

Warner Bros. has also enjoyed a strip success with the new version of "Batman," and Disney is going big with Goofy this summer in "A Goofy Movie." In addition, Harvey Entertainment and MCA will follow the release of Universal's bigscreen "Casper" with 26 ghostly episodes in 1996. Harvey also has "The Baby Huey Show" running in syndication, bringing back a 45-year-old character.

But where those projects have relied on an alignment of talent, licensing, syndication and distribution, Ted Turner's empire will put its synergy to the test with a hero from 30 years ago, Jonny Quest.

The $ 35 million "Jonny Quest Initiative" encompasses a yearlong revival of the original "Jonny Quest" episodes, 65 episodes of new "Jonny Quest" adventures produced by Hanna-Barbera that next year will run in primetime on the Cartoon Network, afternoons on TBS and mornings and weekends on TNT; and a live-action film currently in development with Richard Donner and Lauren Shuler-Donner that will be released by Turner Pictures.

"The crowning glory of the initiative is the TV series," says Jed Simmons, executive VP, Hanna-Barbera. "All of the initiative is based on the animated series. We look at the film to reinforce the animated franchise."

The show will receive 21 domestic runs per week, and will be seen "day and date in territories around the world," said H-B president Fred Seibert. "We're hitting almost completely unduplicated audiences."

H-B will introduce the characters through a series of stand-alone 60-second adventures that will start appearing this fall on the three Turner networks.

In its original incarnation, the show followed 11-year-old Jonny as he traveled the world with his father, Dr. Benton Quest. The two were accompanied by bodyguard Race Bannon and Hadji, an Indian boy several years older than Jonny who often helped them escape sticky situations.

"Quest" ran as an ABC primetime series from September 1964 to September 1965. The show moved to Saturday mornings from 1967-70 on CBS and 1970-72 on ABC. A revival appeared on NBC in 1979-80.

"It's like Batman," Simmons adds. "There's a whole new generation that won't know about the comics and the biff-bang-boom TV show. The series will serve for some as nostalgic, but our goal is to take 'Jonny Quest' and move it to the top."

The new show expands on the original: Jonny is about 14; Dr. Quest is a freelancer; Hadji is older and on the road to being a mystic; and a female character, Jesse, is introduced. There are currently about 30 scripts in various stages, with eight reels in progress.

"The first 'Jonny Quest' was akin to James Bond," says Seibert. "This is akin to 'The X Files.' Creatively, we wanted to make sure Jonny wasn't stuck in the '60s. ... We're taking the DNA of the original."

Peter Lawrence, story editor and producer of "Jonny Quest," says "the stories explore the paranormal (and) are somewhat enigmatic. That kind of storytelling requires somewhat more sophisticated (production). There's a need to go beyond cartooning and into animated filmmaking."

Work on the initiative began close to a year ago as Saturday mornings and syndicated strips started embracing action cartoons. At the time, inquiries toH-B about "Jonny Quest" were second only to those about "The Flintstones."

"The Q scores were incredibly high," said Stephanie Sperber, H-B director of marketing and brand manager of "Johnny Quest.""It has a retro audience, and it scored high with mothers of 2- to 11-year-olds, which was good."

H-B has assembled animation teams in Tokyo, Paris and Los Angeles. At Hanna-Barbera's studios, a computer system was developed that gives animators unheard-of control over camera angles and the finished product.

"We're combining manual (animation) with digital ink and paint by compositing in a computer," Lawrence says. "There's tremendous flexibility -- it gives us the ability to put the camera anywhere.

"We almost have a fine cut before we start animating. The pencil test is imported into the computer... By having camera mounts on multiple levels, it enables us to review the whole show without the animation. We see the writing and see where there's a stupid line. We can recut the show -- effectively ADR the show -- and not only send the tape, but print it as well. The tape goes to the compositor and the whole thing is laid together way upfront."

"Quest" animation chief Takashi says, "This process makes us honest filmmakers. We truly have a hands-on operation."

The Tokyo team consists mainly of colorists, though Takashi says the system opens the talent pool to the entire world, particularly Japan, where photo-realism has been in vogue for 15 years. The Paris team is generally called upon for computer expertise.

Technological advances have long been the forte of "Quest." A litany of inventions from the original series have come to pass -- though all involved are quick to note Dr. Quest got the snowmobile wrong by putting a propeller on the back -- and the show's current crew intends to perpetuate that idea. For starters, at least a third of the episodes will involve virtual reality.

Science fact will be extended into the licensing, as well.

"I can see quasi-educational (toys and games) that don't have the proper components to make them attractive to kids as a very logical place," Seibert says. "So much of the show is technically researched, and kids have an intense interest in computers and games -- all areas of science and technology."

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