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GETTING A NEW LEASH ON LIFE

THE TWISTED TALE OF ‘FAMILY DOG’

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They thought it would be simple: Just commission more shows like the 1987 Amazing Stories ”Family Dog” episode. But when executive producers Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton (Batman) first saw new episodes in May 1991-by which time CBS had begun promoting the series-they saw they had a mongrel on their hands. ”They felt the acting was flat for the main character,” says an exec at Amblin, Spielberg’s production company. ”When the star doesn’t talk, the audience has to relate to the (dog’s) expressions, and they just didn’t come through.” Where had the Dog team gone wrong? For one thing, say animation-industry vets, the TV cartoon boom fueled by The Simpsons’ success had many experienced artists tied up-including the main creative force behind the prototype, Brad Bird. Dennis Klein, the series’ initial writer, had no animation experience- and didn’t own a dog. ”He’d go around asking, ‘Would your dog do such and such?”’ says a production source. By January 1992, Spielberg and Burton had secured an additional $2 million to doctor the 10 completed episodes (which had already cost more than $600,000 each). They hired Canadian animation company Nelvana, Emmy winner for the TV cartoon Beetlejuice, to animate new scenes and redub others, especially in the first two shows. Nelvana senior vice president Toper Taylor claims that ”after a year of struggle,” Spielberg and Burton’s ”original vision” has been restored. Of course, it remains to be seen how many viewers will decide to give this puppy a home.