Kim Possible's creators speak: An interview with Mark McCorkle and Bob Schooley
It's no secret around these parts that most of the TV I watch these days is kids' TV. And it's even less of a secret that I'm a fan of Disney Channel's Kim Possible, a smart series about a girl secret agent who manages to squeeze in saving the world between algebra class and cheer squad. In what may be an animation fan's idea of heaven, I had a chance to gab this week with the show's creators, Mark McCorkle and Robert Schooley, whom I caught up with after they had just attended a recording session for Season 4. Naturally, since I write for Blogging Baby, I hit them from the parenting angle - asking about their show's appeal to parents, how kids' TV has changed in the past two decades, and how they manage their own childrens' TV viewing time. But, hey, I'm also a fan, so I managed to sneak in a question or two about the upcoming Season 4. It helped that my nine-year-old daughter Neve - a rabid KP fan in her own right - was in the room and kept egging me on.
Mark, can you tell us a little bit about how Kim Possible started?
Mark: Bob and I had been working here [at Disney] for a while doing spinoff shows, like the Aladdin and Hercules series. Those were great, but we wanted to create something original. This was the first time this division was going to do something like this, create new characters from scratch. So we came up with the idea of Kim Possible, of this girl who can do anything - and, of course, Ron Stoppable, who, well, can't. And it just snowballed from there. We got very lucky.
You're both executive producers. So tell us, what does a cartoon executive producer do?
Bob: It varies, depending on whether you're on the artistic, animation side or the story/writing side of the team. We're more on the writing side, although we do have input into some aspects of the visual designs of the characters. We weigh in on art, but we focus on the plotting and dialogue. We work with the other writers and story editors. We attend the recording sessions and work with the voice actors.
What stage are you in with Season 4?
Mark: The early phase - we're just starting production on the 22 episodes Disney requested for Season 4. We're recording this week. Next week, we'll go to story boarding which is more Steve Loter's job.
So what can you tell both kids and adult fans about Season 4? The big question everybody in the fan community seems to want to know is: Does it pick up from the last movie, So the Drama, where we saw best friends Kim Possible and Ron Stoppable become a couple?
Bob: Well, we don't want to give the whole thing away! But...well, here's the thing. We thought So the Drama was the series finale. That was it. Ending it with Kim and Ron getting together seemed right. Problem is, now we've kind of painted ourselves into a corner. But yes, it definitely picks up from So the Drama. We're finding a way to tip-toe out of that corner.
Mark: Obviously, we can't ignore So the Drama. At the same time, we want to do something different with the series - we don't want to do the same old thing. So having this new direction is actually good. It forces us to do something original.
Bob: But it's not going to turn into a soap opera. This is a kids' show. We're trying to keep it light and fun. We realize there are a lot of 10-year-old boys out there, and we don't want them to get totally grossed out!
From what I've seen, some members of the fan community would lynch you in effigy if you attempted to backpedal on So the Drama.
Bob: We'll have been working on this show for six years by the time we finish Season 4. And it's amazing how dramatic, how excited people get about the show. That's been the fun part of doing this. The fan community is so engaged with the characters. That's a great testament to Will and Christy [Will Friedle and Christy Carlson Romano, the voice actors behind Ron Stoppable and Kim Possible] - they add something to this that makes it more than a typical gag-oriented cartoon. I mean, Christy was 16 when we started this show, and now she's 21, 22, and getting married next year! So she and Will have had a good opportunity to grow the characters.
Will you consider doing a Season 5?
Bob: That seems kind of unlikely, I mean, Season 4 was a bolt out of the blue. But never say never, I guess. The break actually worked out nicely for us, as we've been doing other things in the interim [the two co-wrote the film Sky High with Paul Hernandez]. But it's nice to get back to the world of Kim after a year. So I dunno - if they give us another year's break, perhaps.
Mark: So long as we can come up with new, fresh stories. That's my position.
What's been the most rewarding part about producing Kim Possible?
Bob: It's easily the most recognizable thing we've done. This is the one project where we're constantly butting into people whose kids are fans, and who are fans themselves. People we haven't heard from in 20 years who see our name in the credits will call us up out of the blue. It's a property that people plugged into.
Mark: We've had a great response from kids, and from parents as well.
I can see that. It's one of my daughter's favorite shows as well.
Neve (loud enough so Mark and Bob can hear through the phone): Are you kidding?! It's my absolute FAVORITE show!
Mark and Bob: (laugh)
Bob: Beyond the praise, it's our baby. We developed it. We had a great time with the others, but with spin-offs, you're always mindful of the original movie, and what the characters were when you took them over. Being able to create the characters from scratch has been rewarding.
Now, about us grown-ups for a minute. The humor on Kim Possible is oddly appealing to adults, even though it's not chock-full of inside jokes or references that only adults might get. Do you keep adult fans and parents in mind when writing scripts?
Mark: Yes. We don't put in a lot of adult references. Instead, we try to do a sitcom-style dialogue rhythm - the fast-paced, witty speaking that adults respond to. As a result, our scripts are about five pages longer than most scripts coming out of the studio.
When I was a kid, we didn't have no fancy "Nickelodeon" or Disney Channel. Nick started up when I was in 6th grade as a bunch of reruns from other networks and local TV stations. Back then, the only time to watch cartoons was on Saturday morning. Does the plethora of options that exist for kids makes it more challenging to create good kids' entertainment?
Bob: Truly. The bar's been raised for everybody. Yahoo or some other site had clips recently from the "Super Mario Bros. Super Show", which I had worked on back in the late 1980's. And it was just amazing to me how unwatchable it was. The dialogue, the bad puns. The worst cartoon today is light years ahead of what we used to have!
Mark: The quality shift started when Disney did Ducktales. They poured a ton of money into making that good. And then Warner Bros. upped the ante even further when it did the Batman series. That caused everybody to take it to the next level. I wish I was a kid now. When I think of the action shows we used to watch, many of which were badly animated, I think the industry today is definitely in great shape.
Bob: Animation fans have this nostalgia for the old days, but the caliber of all the new stuff is impressive. One of the things we set out to do with Kim Possible was to do something that could be animated on a TV budget and schedule, but still looked and sounded attractive. And I think that's where everybody is now. And there's such a variety of styles now. All TV animation used to look the same.
True. You have such a difference between, say, Kim Possible, Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, and Jimmy Neutron.
Neve: And don't forget Fairly Oddparents!
Bob: (laughs) That's funny, because we've seen Butch Hartman (Fairly Oddparents series creator) at lunch every day this week. In Burbank, Disney, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon are all in a two mile radius from each other, so at lunchtime in the nearby restaurants, it's all people from different animation studios. A lot of us started out together at studios like DiC. Most of the people we knew who used to be runners and production assistants are now running studios.
Do you have any sort of message you're trying to communicate to kids with the series - particularly to young girls?
Bob: Yeah - give the geeks a chance! It's wishful thinking on our parts.
Mark: We both have daughters, and we were conscious of creating a girl character with dimension. We wanted a character that girls could watch and appreciate. And we hear a lot from people who appreciate that - though it might color some people's perception of us. We had a meeting with someone who's a fan, but who'd never met us. He'd heard us described just as "Schooley and McCorkle." When he saw us, he was taken aback. He said, "Oh, I thought you guys would be two young women!"
We've had a lot of debate on Blogging Baby about how much TV is too much TV for kids of certain ages. Do you limit your own kids' TV viewing?
Bob: Eh. My kids all watch Disney, Cartoon Network, Nick, etc. - they never even go to the network stations.
Mark: We try to make sure they read and do other things too.
Bob: We have worked with people in this business who won't let their kids watch TV at all. Which we find more than a touch hypocritical. What we do is not damaging their psyches. It's all in good fun.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.