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Dinosaurs aired fom April 1991 until July 1994 on ABC.
Modern day life and its foibles were seen through the eyes of a domesticated family of dinosaurs in this unusual comedy, conceived by muppet creator Jim Henson before his death. The puppet-like figures were brought to life by a complex process called " audioanimaltronics" at Henson productions creature shop in London by his son Brian Henson, and the same craftsmen who created The Muppets and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The puppets were funny and strikingly realistic, but the plot was Stone Age sitcom, derived from The Honeymooners by way of The Flintstones. The year was 60,000,003 B.C. on the Super-continent of Pangaea. Earl Sinclair ( Stuart Pankin) was a henpecked, blustery, cigar-smoking megalosaurus who worked as a tree-pusher for the Wesayso Development Corporation, which leveled forests to make way for suburban tract homes like his own. His sensible wife Fran ( Jessica Walter), a ten-ton allosaurus, ran both the household and Earl's life. Teenage son Robbie( Jason Willinger), was in his rebellious stage, but also the most enlightened member of the family, questioning all the foolish dinosaur customs and was alone in his believing that the comically inept cavemen might have a bright future. Charlene ( Sally Struthers), was his shop-till-you-drop daughter and Baby ( Kevin Clash), the most recently hatched member of the family, a smart-mouth brat who got on Earl's nerves by hitting Earl on the head with a frying pan and saying " Not the mama." Everyone, in fact, got on Earl's nerves, especially his nagging mother-in-law Ethyl ( Florence Stanley), who despised him, and his tyrannical boss B.P. Richfield ( Sherman Hemsley), a triceraytops with farsome teeth. Earl's best friend, a confirmed bachelor tyrannosaurus who lived in a condo at the marina, was Roy Hess ( Sam McMurray). ( Notice how everyone here seems to have a name derived from an oil company? There were many levels of parody in Dinosaurs). Occasionally, for comic relief, a few cavemen humans were seen scampering around like wild animals trying to invent the wheel. Although the series ended its regular run at the end of the 1992-1993 season, a few additional original episodes were aired during the summer of 1994. The series ended with perhaps the most chilling episode of any sitcom, the construction of a Wesayso factory which led to the ice age and the extinction of the dinosaurs. 65 episodes were produced.
An Article from The New York Times
TELEVISION; All in the Modern Stone-Age Family
By EVE M. KAHN;
Published: April 14, 1991
For nearly a year reporters have been hounding Brian Henson with the same question: Can he handle Jim Henson Productions, the Muppet-based entertainment empire he took over soon after his father, Jim, died unexpectedly in May?
Tall, lanky and gentle -- a beardless, fair-haired version of his father -- Brian Henson gives a similar response every time. "Jim Henson Productions was not all Jim Henson," he says. "My father surrounded himself with many, many very talented people. When it all gets too much for me, I lean on them a little more, so the legacy keeps going."
He is 27, the third of five children and the oldest son; he has been puppeteering professionally since he quit college at age 18. Complicating his transition to company president was a buyout effort by the Walt Disney Company that was underway when Jim Henson died. The deal fell through in December, reportedly in part because of an overblown asking price, leaving Henson Productions with a long list of co-production schemes that had to be scrapped. So Brian Henson's challenge is not only to lead the company, which has 100 employees, and offices in New York, London and Los Angeles, in new directions, but also to dig it out of a quagmire.
"We just want to get back to work, to get back into the groove," he said in a recent interview at the CBS/MTM Studios in the San Fernando Valley. He was taking a brief break from taping "Dinosaurs," the company's first major effort unguided by its founder.
The half-hour ABC situation comedy will have its premiere April 26, and it stars the Sinclairs, a family of protoreptiles powered by animatronics, a combination of puppetry and electronics. Cynics have dubbed the show "The Flintstones Meet the Simpsons," but Brian Henson calls it "very ambitious and very unique" as well as "a show my father would have loved."
He was talking with a visitor in a scriptwriter's office; a relatively firm lid is being kept on "Dinosaurs": sets and scripts are off-limits. In nearby buildings, about 100 people were working nearly around the clock to complete the 13 episodes that ABC has commissioned. In adjacent offices, Michael Jacobs, executive producer, and Bob Young, co-executive producer, were supervising six writers who were churning out scripts designed to attract children and entertain adults.
This much is known about the show: the head of the Sinclair household, Earl, is a blustery but lovable megalosaurus who makes his living knocking down trees, squandering resources, so that dinosaur suburbias like his own can spread. His allosaurus wife, Fran, is patient and forgiving; their teen-age son, Robbie, is rebellious; Charlene, the pre-teen daughter, is spoiled, and the freshly hatched baby cries constantly.
Early episodes will deal with such issues as neglect of the elderly and teen-age angst: Earl will set about tossing his mother-in-law into a tar pit, and Charlene will fret over her tail, which refuses to grow and which she will someday need to seduce male dinosaurs.
Taking further liberties with prehistory, the show posits that humans coexisted with dinosaurs; the caves at the fringes of the Sinclairs' town teem with hominoid savages, who are scorned by dinosaur society. Most episodes will include a live-action scene or two of dinosaurs observing cave-person behavior. For example, Earl will stumble upon a human couple struggling to generate sparks with rocks, and he will snigger at them as he sets off his torchlike lighter.
"We're trying both to show how humans would have looked to another species, and to make people see themselves in the dinosaurs," said Mr. Jacobs, and he added, apparently taking his comedy very seriously, "We go around as if we're kings of the earth, but who knows how much time we have left?"
Jim Henson dreamed up the show's basic concept about three years ago. "He wanted it to be a sitcom with a pretty standard structure, with the biggest differences being that it's a family of dinosaurs and their society has this strange toxic life style," said Brian Henson.
But until "The Simpsons" took off, said Alex Rockwell, a vice president of the Henson organization, "people thought it was a crazy idea." The show was pitched to ABC last summer, with Disney as co-producer. (Disney had signed up to participate in the show before the acquisition plan collapsed.)
ABC took the bait the next day, and earlier this year the dinosaurs arrived from Jim Henson's Creature Shop in London. Thanks to a fast-paced production schedule, the Sinclairs will be the first of many "Simpsons" imitations to reach the airwaves: two animated prime-time shows from CBS are planned for the fall and a pilot for a Claymation series is in the works for Fox.
ABC has given "Dinosaurs" a showcase that signifies high if not unbounded hopes: at 8:30 P.M. on Friday, between "Full House" and "Family Matters," sitcoms that rank among the network's more successful prime-time wares. Since the other shows in that time period, "Guns of Paradise" (CBS), "America's Most Wanted" (Fox) and "The 100 Lives of Blackjack Savage" (NBC), are far from family-oriented, "Dinosaurs" may draw an audience.
What may also enable "Dinosaurs" to attract attention is its technique: no other network seems to be venturing into prime-time animatronics, and few other production companies could achieve the quality of Henson's creatures. Henson executives assert that the animatronics for "Dinosaurs" is more sophisticated than anything even the Hensons have produced before and yield more finely tuned facial movements.
A Disney executive agrees. "The technology has never been around before," said Dean Valentine, a senior vice president at Disney.
The puppet hero of "ALF," the NBC sitcom that was canceled last season after four years on the air, was "basically a hand puppet," said Kirk Thatcher, a co-producer of "Dinosaurs"; its mechanisms were no more complex than ear waggers or eye blinkers. The largest dinosaurs, on the other hand, are nine feet tall and five feet wide, and covered with rubber scales. A puppeteer stands inside each one, moving its limbs, while another puppeteer electronically operates its facial movements.
Jim Henson Productions had used a similar method to create beings for fantasy films, including "The Dark Crystal" and both "Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles" movies.
Those within the Henson organization hope the show will give the company some needed momentum. "We're like Walt Disney after Walt Disney died, only we're getting back on track faster than they did," Mr. Thatcher added. "Everybody had genuine affection for Jim Henson, and nobody knows Brian. It's like getting a new dad in your family; there are bound to be rough patches."
Brian Henson describes his management style as "low key -- very." He sounds comfortable with his new role, although he was never exactly groomed for it. Whether or not he would take over someday, he said, "was never really talked about" before his father died. He grew up in Bedford, N.Y., and studied briefly at the University of Colorado before realizing "I wanted a career and I wanted it fast."
He moved to London in 1984, and was a puppeteer for several movies, including the first "Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles" film. At the time of his father's death he was directing "Mother Goose Stories" for the Disney Channel. He and his wife, the British fashion designer Ellis Flyte. now shuttle between a London apartment and a house in Los Angeles.
His mother, Jane Henson, serves as president of the Henson Foundation, which promotes the art of puppetry. Lisa, the eldest child, is 30, a senior vice president at Warner Brothers and a member of the board of Jim Henson Productions; Cheryl, 28, is also on the board and is the company's liaison to the Children's Television Workshop, which produces "Sesame Street." The two younger children, John and Heather, are not involved with the company. But even three offspring in the family business might have surprised Jim Henson.
"He never pushed us in any career direction," said Brian. "But when we were kids, he sometimes interacted with us as if he were just another kid, not Dad at all, so he could understand how our heads worked. That was a real secret of his success, that he could latch into the mind of a child."
A Review from The New York Times
TV Weekend; A Simpsonish Family of Dinosaurs
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: April 26, 1991
The blue-collar worker on television series has ranged from the "real" Archie Bunker to the animated Homer Simpson. Perhaps the next step was inevitable. Tonight at 8:30, ABC introduces Earl Sinclair, a giant puppet employing the latest developments in audio animatronics. Earl, a 43-year-old megalosaur, is the family head of "Dinosaurs," based on an idea by Jim Henson. Both ABC and Jim Henson Productions, working with Michael Jacobs Productions, have a lot of bottom-line hopes riding on this one.
The original idea may have been Henson's, but the premiere show indicates the producers have been tuning in closely to "The Simpsons." Instead of grumpy and dopily lovable Homer, we get a giant, lumbering clone called Earl. His wife, Fran, an allosaurus housewife, is every bit as sensible as Marge Simpson. And the Sinclairs also have three children. The ages are different but the personalities remain remarkably similar.
The result? One episode does not a series make, but tonight's premiere exhibits enough dazzling technology and cheeky humor to soothe the furrowed brows of the average network executive. Like the Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtle gang, also out of the Henson workshop, these puppets have actors inside their elaborate skins and their features are manipulated electronically. Some effects are noticeably better than others. Earl's wide face is more malleable than Fran's long, narrow one, which is limited to tiny lip movements at its outermost reaches. But in general, the wizardry is dazzling, certain to charm youngsters who have participated in the dinosaur craze of recent years.
The year is 60,000,003 B.C. Next year will be 60,000,002, which prompts 14-year-old Robbie, the Sinclairs' visionary son, to wonder: "Why are we counting backwards? What are we waiting for?" The Sinclairs are only beginning to experiment with family life and rough patches remain in the overall concept. Earl recalls for Baby, the youngest child, a period when all dinosaurs lived in the forest and ate their children. "That was a golden age," Earl says, only half-joking.
Deciding in a flashback to ask for a raise at Wesayso Development Corporation, where he's worked for 24 years, Earl is told by his boss: "You don't need more money. You need less family." Earl returns to the forest where, he thinks, "my spirit belongs and my soul longs to be." With Fran's help, he learns otherwise and returns home. "No matter how low you go in this world," he discovers, "as long as you have a family to come home to, they're lower." Beneath his crust, of course, beats a huge heart, which melts as Baby is born, popping out of his shell and announcing, "You gotta love me, c'mon!"
Prime time has difficulty dealing with working people and their concerns and increasingly seems content to approach the subjects indirectly, abstractly. Mustn't be too preachy, you know. Apparently, "Dinosaurs" is one way of making the homeless and the environment and the very future of man more palatable for audiences who prefer escapism. ABC is offering unstinting support, putting "Dinosaurs" in the middle of its most succesful block of programs, between "Full House" and "Family Matters," -- shows created by Mr. Jacobs, the co-executive producer. If it can't make it there, it can't make it anywhere. Also of Interest
A Review from Entertainment Weekly
Published May 10, 1991
THE TECHNOLOGY BEHIND ABC'S DINOSUARS IS COOL, BUT THE CHARACTERS ARE HARD TO WARM UP TO.
By Ken Tucker
If ever ABC thought it had a hit, it's Dinosaurs (Fridays, 8:30-9 p.m.). After the runaway success of Fox's The Simpsons proved that audiences of all ages enjoy kiddie shows with a sarcastic streak, the prospect of a sitcom with talking dinosaurs created by the late Jim Henson's special effects team must have struck ABC as surefire. And it is, sort of. As you probably know by now, Dinosaurs isn't a cartoon; its prehistoric creatures are moving figures, marvels of technical design. A top-secret combination of up-to-the-minute electronics and costuming, they make Alf look like a paper-bag puppet. Dinosaurs fits right into its cushy Friday-night showcase spot nestled between the hits Full House and Family Matters. It's a family sitcom about the Sinclair clan in 60,000,003 B.C.: Beefy papa Earl, a massive, cigar-chomping megalosaurus; his wife, Fran, a prim, tall, blue allosaurus; and their trio of attractively scaly children, 14-year-old Robbie, 12-year-old Charlene, and the newly hatched Baby, who in the premier episode scrambled out of his egg yammering, ''Love me, love me, love me-c'mon!'' Not so fast, kid. At this point, Dinosaurs is easy to admire, tough to love. Its premise-working-stiff Dad coping with his wiseacre family-crosses The Honeymooners with Married With Children, and the banality of this setup befits a show whose executive producer is Michael Jacobs, the man who gave us My Two Dads and Charles in Charge. There's nothing new about the attitude the show takes toward family life: It's hell (or, in early prime time, heck). Trying to weasel out of doing his math homework, Robbie moans, ''I don't get it: If this is 60,000,003 B.C., why is next year 60,000,002? Why are we counting backwards? What are we waiting for?'' Much of the humor on Dinosaurs is of the Flintstones sort-gags that cast modern items in prehistoric terms. While making dinner, Fran watches the Dinosaur Shopping Network; Earl wears a hard hat and labors as a ''tree pusher''-he clears forests for new dinosaur condominiums. Whenever Earl reaches into the refrigerator for a beer, he has to wrestle it away from the food supply: live animals being kept in there on ice. ''Where are the vegetables?'' daughter Charlene asks at one meal. ''Dinner ate the vegetables, dear,'' replies her mother. Among the performers supplying the dinosaurs' voices are a few well-known actors. It's easy to pick out Sally Struthers' whine as Charlene, for example, and Amen's Sherman Hemsley is a terrific grouch as Earl's boss, a triceratops named B.P. Richfield. (In one of the show's few stabs at Simpsons-style satire, some of the characters sport the names of modern fossil-fuel companies: Richfield, Sinclair; Earl's best friend is Roy Hess.) But the vividness of the voices only adds to Dinosaurs' problems-after a while, you begin to notice that these marvelously designed creations really don't have very expressive faces. The eyebrows waggle, the mouths move up and down, and a few facial muscles twitch, but these sitcom characters can't really execute a convincing double take or slow burn when the script requires it. Dinosaurs is one of the few projects to survive the acrimony around the merger that Jim Henson was negotiating with the Disney company before his death last May, and the Disney influence can be felt in a symbolic way in this project. The characters in Dinosaurs are much less like fuzzy, warm Henson Muppets than they are like the impeccable but cold figures that populate the live-action exhibits at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Maybe Dinosaurs will be the pop-culture smash that ABC hopes, but there's another possibility: that the characters in Dinosaurs are not quite cuddly enough for kids and not quite funny enough for grown-ups. B-
An Article from The Los Angeles Times
TELEVISION : Primal Secrets From the World of 'Dinosaurs' : Disney reveals both the wizardry and the wizards behind the prehistoric stars of a prime-time sitcom
November 17, 1991|DANIEL CERONE | Daniel Cerone is a Times staff writer. and
Mack Wilson stood on the fringe of a dark, cool sound stage and stared intently at the monitor before him, waiting for the director's cue. Wilson slipped his right hand into a mechanical glove, hard-wired to a master-control computer. His left hand gripped a joy stick that would drive Nintendo junkies giddy--a swiveling wrist mechanism, separate push-buttons for each finger and an independent joy stick for the thumb.
Twenty-five feet away on a dense jungle set spilling over with fog and prehistoric flora, Bill Barretta also waited for the director's cue. Barretta, in constant contact with Wilson via radio headset, squatted inside a hot, sweaty foam-latex dinosaur suit. An assistant held a small electronic fan to the mouth of the fubsy dinosaur to cool off Barretta.
Meet the puppet team behind--and inside--Earl Sinclair, the megalosaurus star of ABC's prime-time comedy series, "Dinosaurs," from Jim Henson Productions and Michael Jacobs Productions with Walt Disney Television.
Remember when puppets weren't much more than a sock with buttons for eyes? The walking, talking, mugging creatures from "Dinosaurs" are prodigies of electronic, mechanical and computer engineering, manipulated by performance artists who have made it their life work.
"Dinosaurs," a 1950s-style sitcom about a wise-cracking family of blue-collar dinosaurs whose daily lives are a comment on modern times, stomped its competition during a smash five-episode run beginning last April. The premiere episode of the series, accompanied by a banzai of network promotion, was seen by three out of four children watching television in America that night. For several weeks, "Dinosaurs" ranked in the Top 10 of all series on television and was the No. 1 show among all viewers under 50.
But this fall, "Dinosaurs" has been suffering through something of an Ice Age.
Encouraged by early promise, ABC this season took a chance with "Dinosaurs," pulling the fledgling series from its sheltered Friday-night time slot--behind ratings powerhouse "Full House"--to head up ABC's Wednesday-night comedy block. The results have been mixed. "Dinosaurs" retained its core audience, remaining the most-watched TV show by children 2 to 11. But the series plunged in overall ratings. Last week, "Dinosaurs" finished 43rd out of 93 shows on the four major networks and regularly finishes second in its time slot.
"I think it's fair to say we were made somewhat nervous by the (scheduling) move," said Dean Valentine, Disney's executive vice president of network television. "Producers want to see their show protected for at least a year and have audiences fed (into it) before you're put into an 8 p.m. time slot, where you're responsible for an entire evening's lineup. We weren't sure the show was ready for that."
As long as the series has been on the air, the "Dinosaurs" set has been strictly off limits to the press. Recently, however, Disney's publicity department rolled out the red carpet for The Times to take a peek behind the scenes. The producers shrug off the suggestion that their defenses have suddenly come down to push ratings up.
"That is very cynical indeed because it's completely untrue," series creator and executive producer Michael Jacobs said. "We said all along that for the first season we would have no press on the set, because we did not want to blow the integrity of the show for kids. I didn't want the press around because the angle would have been to take pictures of these creatures with their heads off. It's like 'Alf': Do you want to see pictures of Alf or somebody's hand up Alf?
"I wasn't going to have it. It's the kids who come first, and I didn't want to blow the fantasy for kids."
Now that the "Dinosaurs" characters are living entities that many children have come to know and believe are real, the producers reason that it's OK to start letting people in to take a look.
On the director's signal, the puppet team went to work. Earl, a sort of reptilian knockoff of Ralph Kramden from "The Honeymooners," bounded onto the jungle set propelled by Barretta, who says he can see where he's going only when Earl's huge mouth is open.
"Hang on, Robbie, Daddy's coming!" boomed Earl, who was searching for his lost scaly green son, a 14-year-old herbivore with a Mohawk.
Off stage, Wilson's hands were a flurry of activity, as each minute movement activated one of the 30 tiny servos and motors implanted in Earl's head to operate his mouth, eyes and facial expressions. During filming, Wilson records Earl's dialogue live into a microphone as he maneuvers Earl's head. Later, in a recording studio, Wilson's voice is dubbed over by the gruff voice of Stuart Pankin from HBO's "Not Necessarily the News," which is what viewers hear on television.
After delivering his line, Earl turned to thunder away--only to blunder over some low shrubs with his big feet and land on his face. The fall wasn't in the script. Fearing the worst, crew members rushed to Barretta's side to see if he was OK. But when they rolled him over, from deep inside Earl's chest they heard the muffled belly laughs of Barretta.
The capabilities and limitations of the complex "Dinosaurs" puppets--Earl, by the way, sustained the fall quite nicely--are still being explored. The same puppet technology was used to bring the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" to life on film, but the Henson people say the "Dinosaurs" characters are even more refined.
The technique is commonly referred to as animatronics, although to the Henson group it's still puppetry. Jim Henson first fully explored this technique in his 1982 film "The Dark Crystal," which defied critics to describe the dazzling fantasy world Henson invented. At that time, eight puppeteers--each controlling a single facial movement of a major characters--were required to do what Wilson now does alone on Earl.
"You're creating life at the same time you're trying to remember dialogue and operate all these servos," Wilson said. "The combination of expressions are endless."
The hand controls that operate Earl are hooked directly into a computer, called the puppet control system, into which the puppeteer programs each move. Wilson demonstrated: By wiggling the fingers of his right hand inside the mechanical glove, he made Earl's mallable lips curl. Moving his hand left produced a "Ffff" from Earl's lips, and moving his hand right got an "Ohhh." Tilting his hand down made Earl smile.
"I would say this is the hardest show to produce in television," said Ted Harbert, ABC's executive vice president of prime time. "It's just ridiculous. It's almost impossible."
"Dinosaurs" represents a tremendous investment for Disney and ABC. Rumors on the Disney lot and in the financial community have placed the budget between $1 million and $1.5 million per episode--which, if true, is more than the cost of most one-hour series. Weekly Variety estimated that the network is paying Disney a $650,000 licensing fee to air each episode of "Dinosaurs," compared to the average fee of $450,000 for a half-hour comedy.
"It's an expensive show to do," acknowledged Disney's Valentine, who would not reveal the budget. "But it's not out of the ballpark. Clearly if it were, if the number were so outrageous that somebody would gasp and keel over at the sound of it, that's something we would not do. We're known as a fiscally conservative company.
"As fiscally conservative as we are, there are certain projects that we love, and this is one of them. Everybody's been behind this project from the very first day. It would be a mistake to underestimate the value of excitement."
When the Walt Disney Co. was negotiating to buy Jim Henson Productions a year and a half ago, the deal seemed like a marriage forged in Fantasyland. Mickey Mouse and Kermit the Frog are the embodiments of childhood for millions of people around the globe. Disney is still regarded as the industry leader in animation and Henson raised puppetry to a new level of sophistication. Working together, the creative possibilities appeared limitless.
The relationship got off to a quick start when Henson presented Disney his vision of a prehistoric sitcom starring dinosaurs. Disney agreed to supply the financing and hire producers to create the series, while Henson's company took care of the set and puppet designs.
But when Henson died last year of a strep infection, buy-out talks collapsed and a heated legal battle ensued. Last May, days before the case was to go before a federal judge, Disney apologized and settled a licensing dispute with Brian Henson, Jim Henson's son, over the use of Muppet characters at Disney theme parks.
Today, "Dinosaurs" is the only surviving example of what a union between Disney and Henson might have been.
"This show is so big, so ambitious, Disney was about the only company we could have partnered with," said Brian Henson, who now heads Jim Henson Productions. "There are only two companies that could have pulled this production off. Even during the negotiation problems, we were saying, 'We must not let this affect "Dinosaurs." We must not let this affect "Dinosaurs." ' "
In the world of "Dinosaurs," the year is 60,000,003 BC, which prompts son Robbie to wonder: "Why are we counting backward? What are we waiting for?"
Earl, a blustery tree-pusher for Wesayso Development Corp., knocks down forests to make room for tract homes. Fran, a sensible allosaurus housewife, is most concerned with the cancellation of "thirtymillionsomething" by the network ABC (Antediluvian Broadcasting Co.).
Daughter Charlene frets about dating and baby-sitting. Pink, soft Baby Sinclair, meanwhile, finds great pleasure in tormenting Daddy Earl, whom he calls "Not the Momma!" Recalling the days when dinosaurs ate their young, Earl sighs, "That was a golden age."
When "Dinosaurs" premiered last April, TV critics were unanimously wowed by the special effects, but many were not amused by what they perceived as stale sitcom humor. They complained that underneath the dinosaur suits the Sinclairs were just a standard, recycled television family. Some blamed the writing of executive producer Michael Jacobs. Referring to him as the "former producer of the slack hack sitcoms 'Charles in Charge' and 'My Two Dads,' " the Washington Post's Tom Shales wrote: "One gets the impression that everything bright about 'Dinosaurs' was contributed by Henson and everything pat came from Jacobs."
"In a way, that's unfair, because nobody's ever written for a world of dinosaurs reflecting human lifestyles before," Henson said. "Quite often a moment doesn't work because we couldn't make it work with the characters."
"I think Michael Jacobs writes the best dialogue and has one of the finest ears of any writer I've worked with," argued Disney's Valentine, who brought in Jacobs. "He's suffered for having created two shows that were critically perceived as being generic, or bad television. Shows take time to find their voices. It doesn't always happen overnight. Here, an entire world had to be created."
Jacobs, for his part, said that the "Dinosaurs" characters had to be familiar to viewers in order to be successful.
"We had a character ideal in mind," Jacobs said. "The crotchety Archie Bunker, Fred Flintstone, Ralph Kramden--all of these are the same character, the harassed married man who's got the best friend and the faithful family. You look at Al Bundy or Homer Simpson, it's the same thing, the same guy. The point is, because we were going to have such an odd-looking cast of characters and the far-out sets, which won an Emmy, and so much for the audience to absorb, why send this thing over the top and say we're going to do a prehistoric 'Twin Peaks' ?"
Jacobs said that at one point Disney executives were concerned because "Dinosaurs" appeared too steeped in the mentality of a 1950s sitcom. But he and Valentine defended their approach.
"If the series is going to have any chance of success, the characters have to be able to arc," Jacobs said. "And in the character arc of the series, we will go through the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s, rather than start out now and have nowhere to go."
Right now, the Henson Creature Shop is finishing touches on two new characters who will be added this season to evolve the themes of the series. Monica, a brontosaurus who snoops into the Sinclair household through open windows with her lanky 12-foot neck, will wake Fran out of her domesticated housewife mold. Spike, a prickly stegosaurus and the last of a barbaric breed of dinosaurs, will become a rotten influence for Robbie.
In sharpening the edge of their comedy and updating the story lines, "Dinosaurs" hopes to find a more adult audience.
"We have one flaw as a television show," Jacobs said. "It's a major flaw and we hope it won't be a fatal flaw. The fact that we're a puppet show may have alienated a certain adult segment from even giving the show a chance."
Disney Television, which has had bad luck in recent years in supplying the networks with successful TV series, is currently riding high with nine prime-time shows on the air--including the season's hottest new sitcom, "Home Improvement," starring Tim Allen. One studio executive speculated that the high cost of "Dinosaurs" will be worthwhile if it can help reestablish Disney as a major player in network television.
"Disney needs hit shows," the executive said. "They need the shelf space in prime time. They want the networks thinking of them as a studio that produces hit TV."
Disney has arranged creative financing deals to help pay for "Dinosaurs" and the rest of its burgeoning slate of TV series. The company recently offered public bonds, in which small investors can share in the profits of Disney's TV shows. And to help get "Dinosaurs" off the ground, the studio, in another unusual move, borrowed money from ABC--to be paid back incrementally--against the start-up cost of the series.
"The biggest problem with this show is these characters cost so much to build and we had to create a whole new look with the sets, so we had a giant initial investment," said Rich Frank, president of Walt Disney Studios. "Had the show gone 13 episodes and been cancelled, it would have been too big a risk for anybody to take. So we came up with an interesting financial arrangement to share the risk (with ABC) for start-up."
Also to help pay for the series, the first six episodes of "Dinosaurs" will be made available on videocassette Dec. 6. "We never dreamed the show would be as expensive as it is," Jacobs said. "The videocassette release is very early, based on getting some of the money defrayed."
The video also perpetuates the "Dinosaurs" characters in the eyes of young children, who tend to pop in videocassettes and watch them over and over. For the same reason, there are plans for an extensive line of "Dinosaurs" merchandising and toys, including a pull-string version of Baby Sinclair, who screeches such trademark lines as "Not the Momma!," "Hello, Fatboy!" and "I'm the baby, gotta love me!"
"The baby dinosaur would kick butt this holiday season if it were out there," Jacobs said. Because "Dinosaurs" was not picked up by ABC until June, there wasn't time to get products out by Christmas. "We didn't want to saturate the market with bad product just to get them out," Jacobs said.
The prehistoric lizards are also roaming around Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., where the whole family--from Earl to the wheelchair-bound Grandma Ethyl--are the featured attraction in a daily performance and motorcade at Disney-MGM Studios.
"This is the kind of show I can afford to invest a little extra in," Frank said, "because I get side benefits from having characters in the park, toys in the stores, videos on the shelf. We did licensing on some T-shirts that just went out last week, and they blew right out of the stores."
Henson--who is developing other TV shows, including some with puppets, and is creating the animals for Columbia Pictures' film version of Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods"--eventually expects the "Dinosaurs" TV series to sell around the world. Jacobs envisions foreign countries dubbing in the voices of popular local actors as the characters.
"This show is finding life everywhere," Henson said. " 'The Muppet Show' was sold in over 100 countries. Our shows systematically work everywhere. One of the great assets of puppets is (that) there are no preconceptions, no race distinctions, no sexual discrimination, no cultural problems. These characters translate universally."
An Article from The Chicago Tribune
Dinosaurs Still Rule The Land Of The Vcr
January 10, 1992|By Steve Dale.
Dinosaurs ruled the Earth for millions of years, and now they rule their Wednesday night time slot on ABC-TV (at 7 p.m. on WLS-Ch. 7 in Chicago). Various episodes from the Jim Henson-created TV show are now available on video.
If you thought Archie Bunker was a dinosaur, meet the head of this family, a 43-year-old megalosaurus named Earl Sinclair. He`s as bombastic as Archie. He rants and raves about being the king of his castle just as fellow B.C. prime-timer Fred Flintstone once did.
Fred worked for Mr. Slate in the construction business. Earl is in the same general line of work. He`s a tree pusher, using his several tons of weight to literally push over trees to make way for development (the building of caves).
At home, Earl is a loud but loving husband to his even-tempered allosaurus wife, Fran. They have two teenage dinosaurs, self-centered Charlene and Robbie, a good kid with an overworked conscience. They also have a baby, who so far is referred to only as ``the baby.`` He`s too young to talk, but any mother of any species can relate to what this kid is thinking, such as ``I will cry all night long so Mommy will stay up and keep me company.``
The ``Dinosaurs`` series might well be called Henson`s final legacy. Unlike ``Sesame Street`` or ``The Muppet Show,`` these puppets don`t look like puppets. They appear startlingly real-not at all like real dinosaurs, but like real people wearing outrageous costumes.
The series combines puppetry and audio animatronics. Several actors combine their talents for each of the puppet character voices, and they are later mixed in a sound studio. Among the familiar names are Sally Struthers
(who spent an entire TV series arguing with Archie Bunker in ``All in the Family``) as Charlene, Sherman Hemsley (another ``All in the Family`` alumnus) as Earl`s bossy boss, Mr. Richfield, and Florence Stanley as Grandma Ethyl.
``The Flintstones`` enjoyed six years (1960-66) on prime-time television because on one level the humor and animated characters appealed to children. But even in reruns it remains a timeless battle-of-the-sexes sitcom with the same adult appeal as the program it was based on, ``The Honeymooners.``
Similarly, ``Dinosaurs`` was an immediate hit with the ``Sesame Street``
crowd, but its underlying blue-collar themes and mother-in-law jokes are awfully reminiscent of Ralph and Alice Kramden.
Earl`s best buddy is a tall, skinny and slovenly dinosaur named Roy. Although he doesn`t work in a sewer, Roy sounds an awful lot like Ralph Kramden`s best friend, Norton, when he calls Earl ``Pally boy.`` It`s not too far from Norton`s ``Ralphie boy`` or ``pal-o-mine.``
Paul Heltne, director of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, doesn`t claim to be a TV critic. But he knows about dinosaurs. And he says that bringing dinosaurs to comedic life is the show`s greatest appeal and Henson`s real genius.
However, if you want to nit-pick, Heltne points out scores of inaccuracies (aside from the fact that dinosaurs rarely talked, watched TV, worked for construction companies or went to high school). He explains that dinosaurs thrived 65 billion to 175 billion years ago. Episodes of
``Dinosaurs`` are dated 60 million years ago, when in truth the dinosaurs were already extinct.
Earl is a megalosaurus. ``It sounds good, but it`s really a fictional name,`` says Heltne. ``I`m sorry to report that Earl could never have existed.``
Heltne explains the enduring popularity of TV and film dinosaurs-whether animated, puppets or meant to be scary-as a mythical dragon that human beings need to slay. ``Dinosaurs really did rule the Earth, just as we do today,``
Heltne says. ``They were bigger, faster and stronger than us.``
Heltne says it`s no coincidence that in most dinosaur flicks a family or group of innocent tourists finds themselves in a lost world or on an uncharted island filled with the noisy beasts. What would really happen if human beings were forced to live in a land of dinosaurs? ``It`s a good thing it`s just in the movies,`` Heltne says. ``Small, nocturnal mammals did manage to survive alongside the dinosaurs. But human beings are big, slow and juicy.``
Here are descriptions of the episodes from TV`s ``Dinosaurs`` (Walt Disney Home Video, $12.99 per volume) that are now available and also a roundup of many of the feature films starring dinosaurs that can be rented or purchased on video.
After watching dinosaurs on your VCR, you can shriek at the real thing-well, robotic re-creations of the ancient creatures-at various Chicago-area shopping centers. The free traveling exhibit called ``Dinosaurs and Monsters of the Deep`` is presented by the Chicago Academy of Sciences. The dinosaurs appear Jan. 17 through 26 at the Chicago Ridge Mall (95th Street and Ridgeland Avenue) in Chicago Ridge, Jan. 31 through Feb. 9 at Hawthorn Center (Town Line Road and Milwaukee Avenue) in Vernon Hills and Feb. 14 through 23 at Stratford Square (Army Trail Road and Gary Avenue) in Bloomingdale. For more information and details on locations through April, call 312-871-2668.
Dinosaurs,` the series
Volume I: ``The Mighty Megalosaurus.`` Earl tells the baby how he came to be. After being humiliated by his boss, Earl explains to his family, ``No matter how low you are in the world, as long as you have a family to come home to, you realize they`re lower.``
``Hurling Day.`` When a dinosaur gets up 16 times in the night and slows the herd, it`s old, and it`s time to get thrown into the tar pit. It`s a long- standing tradition. And Earl can`t wait to dump his mother-in-law, who says, ``I had my scales done for the occasion.``
Volume II: ``The Howling.`` It`s just like a bar mitzvah for Robbie, sort of. At the age of 15 all dinosaurs become ``real men`` when they howl to the moon.
``The Mating Dance.`` Fran fears she has turned into a dreary housewife. In order to make her feel beautiful again, Earl performs the mating dance.
Volume III: ``High Noon.`` Fran meets a tall, dark and handsome guy at the supermarket. He`s really tall, a 50-foot-tall taloposaurus. Earl must confront his imposing adversary.
``Endangered Species.`` Robbie teaches his dad why it`s important to save the last two remaining Graptolites on Earth.
More video dinosaurs
``Dinosaurus`` (1960; New World Video, $9.95). Funny what a heat wave can do: Assorted dinosaurs and cavemen are suddenly brought back to life on a remote island. Ward Ramsey and Paul Lukather star.
``Journey to the Center of the Earth`` (1959; CBS/Fox, $14.98). Jules Verne`s novel of the same title is the inspiration for this adventure, where a scientist (James Mason), his star pupil (Pat Boone), his assistant (Arlene Dahl) and pet duck (Gertrude) encounter the lost city of Atlantis, volcanoes, an evil count and, of course, dinosaurs.
``The Land Before Time`` (1988; MCA Home Video, $14.06). An animated adventure about a baby brontosaurus named Littlefoot and his beleaguered family. The bronto clan is forced to leave its homeland, where the climate is no longer hospitable. In their search for a place where food grows abundantly, evil flesh-eating predators, like Tyrannosaurus rex, follow. Eventually, Littlefoot finds himself separated from his family. He survives only with help from a little pal of another species. Together, they find the promised land of green. Voices of Pat Hingle, Helen Shaver, Candice Houston and Gabriel Damon. ``Land of the Lost`` (1974; Nelson Entertainment, $29.95 per volume). This short-lived but acclaimed live-action TV adventure from the Saturday morning lineup features a forest ranger and his two children lost in a prehistoric world. Episodes involve how they use their wits to find food and defend themselves against marauding dinosaurs, all while trying to figure out a way back to the 20th Century. There are two volumes available on video; each contains two of the TV episodes.
An Article from The Los Angeles Times
The Attack of the 'Dinosaurs' : Television: ABC series sinks its teeth into witty social commentary a la 'The Simpsons' and finds its metier.
February 19, 1992|HOWARD ROSENBERG
"Dinosaurs," ABC's weekly series about extinct carnivores, is consistently funny comedy to chew on, the only spot on television where the Mesozoic Era intersects with witty social commentary.
Its audience? Let's call them comevores , kids who devour physical comedy and adults who love nothing better than voraciously sinking their teeth into meaty urbane humor. Both thrive in "Dinosaurs," now achieving only so-so ratings at 8 p.m. Wednesdays on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42, after premiering last April with Nielsens that soared.
Maybe they will again in another time slot, for "Dinosaurs" is scheduled to be relocated by ABC after February. It's hard imagining something so uncommonly clever, and with such potentially transcendent appeal, not becoming a hit somewhere.
Michael Jacobs, Brian Henson and Bob Young are the executive producers here, in partnership with Walt Disney Television. The unique, farcically reptilian look of their series comes mostly from audio animatronics--a collaboration involving electronic puppetry, actors wearing costumes and other actors speaking the voices of the characters.
As much as anything, though, it's writing that nourishes "Dinosaurs," which relentlessly satirizes contemporary manners, often as brilliantly as Fox's great animated comedy, "The Simpsons." When it comes to spoofing middle-class conventions, these two irresistibly weird series occupy a television stratosphere of their own.
Although distinctive in its own right and anything but derivative, "Dinosaurs" shares more than a few traits with "The Simpsons."
Both series are essentially sitcoms, centering on turbulent blue-collar households where the parents are continually tormented by their three children. That slug Homer Simpson's counterpart on "Dinosaurs" is oafish megalosaur Earl Sinclair (the voice of Stuart Pankin), a forest-destroying tree toppler who, like Homer, mindlessly works for a greedy corporate giant (Wesayso Development) that pushes profit at the expense of the environment. And like Homer's wife, Marge, Earl's allosaurus wife, Fran (the voice of Jessica Walter), is the principled, level-headed half of the pair.
Fifteen-year-old Robbie (the voice of Jason Willinger) is the Sinclair household's socially conscious visionary, a la precocious Lisa Simpson, and 12-year-old Charlene (the voice of Sally Struthers) is only a little less self-centered and self-serving than Bart Simpson. Again like the Simpsons, the youngest Sinclair is an infant, named Baby (the voice of Kevin Cash). And just as Homer is constantly annoyed by Marge's visiting twin sisters, Earl has his own family nemesis in Fran's scene-stealing sourpuss of an elderly mother, Ethyl (the voice of Florence Stanley).
In another characteristic shared with the Fox comedy, "Dinosaurs" gushes shrewd TV references. Tonight, for example, it launches a two-part spectacle, "Nuts to War," an homage to "The Winds of War" that, among other things, pits two-legged dinosaurs against four-legged dinosaurs while mocking the Persian Gulf conflict and its media coverage.
"Dinosaurs" was particularly brash and funny last week, partially building an episode around a show remarkably similar to "Unsolved Mysteries," the NBC series that consistently whips "Dinosaurs" in the ratings. "Dinosaurs" renamed it "Mysteries That Haven't Been Solved Yet," then poked fun at its competitor--and itself.
The plot's catalyst was shriveled Ethyl, whose euphoric, near-death encounter after passing out ("There were shuffleboard courts as far as the eye could see . . . (and) I was regular") enticed "Mysteries That Haven't Been Solved Yet" to depict her experience.
To watch some clips from Dinosaurs go to http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=dinosaurs+tv+show&aq=f
For the Official Website of Dinosaurs go to https://movies.disney.com/dinosaurs
To go to a Website dedicated to everything Dinosaurs go to http://www.dinosaurfact.net/
To see the Dinosaurs Fan Club go to http://www.fanpop.com/spots/dinosaurs
For an article about Dinosaurs go to https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/aem3q5/the-story-behind-the-super-stoned-episode-of-dinosaurs
For some Dinosaurs-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/shows/dinosaurs
For a Review of Dinosaurs go to https://web.archive.org/web/20140102085321/http://www.dinosaurstvshow.com/
To watch the opening credits go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHOWnLetNhM
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Keywords: Dinosaurs: Cast Photo (Links Updated 7/25/18)