Poster: Mr. Television
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Family Dog aired from June until July 1993 on CBS.
Known only as Family Dog , the star of this animated comedy was a happy mongrel ( voiced by Danny Mann), whose life was filled with the day-to-day concerns of the doggie world-finding good places to nap, burying and digging up bones, finding canine romance, avoiding confrontations with other animals, and coping with the ideosyncrasies of the human family to whom he belonged. The middle-class family consisted of father Skip ( Martin Mull), Mother Bev( Molly Cheek), and 2 children -Billy ( Zak Huxtable Epstein), who was almost as nasty as Bart Simpson, and Buffy( Cassie Cole), who spent most of her time planted in front of the tv.
Family Dog was an innovative series that CBS had high hopes for when it was originally put into production. Creators Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton decided that everything on Family Dog would be seen from the dog's perspective, not the human family's. There had been production problems, and the network must have had serious concerns about the results, because the finished series sat on the shelf for 2 years until finally airing in the summer of 1993.
A Review From Time Magazine
Old Dog, No New Tricks
Monday, Jun. 21, 1993 By RICHARD ZOGLIN
TIME: JUNE 23, 8 P.M. E.S.T., CBS (DEBUT)
THE BOTTOM LINE: After two years, a much touted cartoon show finally arrives. Question: What was all the fuss about?
Remember TV's animation boom? A couple of years back, snowed by the success of The Simpsons, the networks stormed the animation houses for other prime- time cartoons. Most of the promised shows never materialized (The Pink Panther) or came and went in a Road Runner minute (Capitol Critters, Fish Police). None, however, carried higher expectations than Family Dog, based on an episode that Tim Burton (Batman) directed for Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories series. So excited was CBS that it devoted much of its valuable commercial time during the 1991 Grammy Awards to promoting the show, which was scheduled to start that March.
But the series was postponed at the last minute when Burton and Spielberg were reportedly unhappy with the animation. Family Dog was sent back to the shop, and what followed was a two-year odyssey in which the missing series became a running gag between TV reporters and network programmers. Now, with a lack of fanfare that would be mystifying if it weren't so revealing, Family Dog is finally being let out of the kennel for a summer run, when the only significant viewer reaction is likely to be a puzzled, What was all the fuss about?
Not that Family Dog is awful. It's a perfectly amiable, perfectly inconsequential cartoon show that seems better suited to Saturday mornings. The concept is appealing: life in a suburban household as seen through the eyes of the ignored and abused family pet. And the pooch itself is amusingly drawn: a woebegone, teardrop-snouted creature, rendered in the spare lines of 1950s UPA animation (Mr. Magoo) .
The trouble is that this nameless Everydog doesn't talk, or even have many discernible expressions. That puts most of the comic burden on the characters around him, who are a dull lot. Mom and Dad (voiced by Molly Cheek and Martin Mull) have plain-vanilla marital spats, and the two kids are boring Bart-and- Lisa wannabes. The plots are thin (Family Dog goes to the zoo or befriends a homeless woman), and the dialogue, by sitcom veteran Dennis Klein (Buffalo Bill), is more garrulous than witty: "That was stealing, and stealing is bad . . . Ipso facto, Fido."
Before it rolls over and plays dead, Family Dog has a couple of lessons to impart. First, TV cartoons (especially The Simpsons) are largely dialogue- driven; a more stylized, visual cartoon like Family Dog is probably doomed without the sort of animation care that TV budgets don't permit. Second, big- name filmmakers venturing into TV need to do more than simply lend their big names. Burton and Spielberg, it seems, did little for Family Dog except use their clout to get it on the air. One expected more.
A Review from The New York Times
Review/Television; Spielberg's New Project? It's a Cartoon Dog's Life
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: June 23, 1993
Triumphant at the box office with the dinosaurs in "Jurassic Park," Steven Spielberg now trips over a dog. Finally having its premiere on CBS tonight at 8 with two back-to-back half-hour episodes, the animated series "Family Dog," which Mr. Spielberg produced, is about as much fun as a rabies epidemic.
Back in 1987, "Family Dog," written and directed by Brad Bird, was one of the more successful episodes in Mr. Spielberg's rickety television anthology "Amazing Stories." The next step, of course, was to go for a series. Working as executive producer with the director Tim Burton ("Batman"), Mr. Spielberg had 10 episodes finished, at a cost somewhere around $6 million, by the spring of 1991. The problem: The charm of the original was nowhere in sight. One likely reason: Mr. Bird had joined the mass trek of top animators to "The Simpsons."
Clearly, "Family Dog" would like to duplicate the cheerful dysfunctions of "The Simpsons." But Matt Groening's series, no matter how outrageous it might get, is held together by strong family bonds. "Family Dog" is simply anti-family. Mom and Dad are boobs. While she whines about hating Sundays, he sleeps fitfully in front of the television. Sister Buffy is a menacing toddler. Nine-year-old Billy is a sadistic monster bearing a marked resemblance to the bizarre cartoon character Beetlejuice. (Mr. Burton also directed the movie "Beetlejuice," which spawned the cartoon that was produced in Canada by a company called Nelvana, which has had a hand in "Family Dog." Small world.)
Tonight you can watch the family dog -- it has no name -- nearly dying of thirst. Try as it might, the mutt can't get the family to give it a drink of water. The Binfords are intent on dragging the animal to a dog show and having it compete against their neighbor's monster dog. But all the family dog wants is a drink of water. Looking out the car window at street hydrants and country lakes, the animal whimpers pathetically, but is ignored by his blithely despicable family. Some toilet jokes are thrown in for good measure.
In short, "Family Dog" is mean, nasty and brutish. Keep the children away from this one. Family Dog CBS, tonight at 8 (Channel 2 in New York) Written by Dennis Klein, Paul Dini and Sherri Stoner; Chris Buck and Clive A. Smith, animation directors. Chuck Richardson, producer. Theme music by Danny Elfman. A production of Amblin Television in association with Universal Television and Warner Brothers Television. Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton and Mr. Klein, executive producers. Narrated by Martin Mull, Molly Cheek, Danny Mann, Zak Huxtable Epstein and Cassie Cole.
A Review from Entertainment Weekly
D+ By Ken Tucker
Maybe you remember the first time you saw Family Dog. It was way back in 1987, in an edition of Steven Spielberg's flop NBC anthology series, Amazing Stories. In those pre-Simpsons days, this first-rate half hour, written and directed by Brad Bird, was something unusual for a network cartoon: an almost completely novel creation, the funny yet gloomy tale of a gray little football of a dog, despised by his despicable family.
The grown-up joke in Bird's Family Dog was that the people who owned this lazy, smelly, dumb pooch were even more pathetic than the dog was. In the context of this clan, the family dog (always a nameless creature) was the hero, the protagonist to root for, if only by process of elimination. The whole thing would have been too much of a downer had Bird not displayed a bright, quirky talent for showing us the world from the canine's doggedly optimistic, low-down point of view.
That cartoon was one of the few episodes of Amazing Stories that generated some word of mouth and lingered in people's minds, so it wasn't surprising that Spielberg's Amblin production company decided to turn the one-shot show into a series. What is surprising is that it has taken six years for Family Dog to debut � there reportedly were delays and problems with the animation, some of it done overseas, and with the quality of the scripts, which frequently rely on poor-taste jokes. The biggest surprise of all, however, is that this once-subtle, striking creation has been turned into such a crude bore that CBS is dumping the show into its slow summer schedule.
In the new adventures of Family Dog (where Brad Bird's name is nowhere to be seen), we are reintroduced to the pup's owners, a drab suburban tribe called the Binfords. The clan consists of paunchy, gimlet-eyed Skip (voice provided by Martin Mull); his dumpy wife, Bev (Harry and the Hendersons' Molly Cheek); and their two children bratty 9-year-old mischief-maker Billy (Zak Huxtable Epstein) and a plump toddler, Buffy (Cassie Cole). In the two half-hour episodes airing back-to-back this week, the family is a perpetually unhappy bunch, always sniping at each other for no apparent reason.
In fact, the only thing they all seem to agree on is the ''stupid dog,'' as everyone calls our sad-sack star. They scream at the dog (''You ungrateful bag of fur!''), then tie a leash around its neck and give a hard, strangling tug; when the family wants to take a trip in the car, they sneak out of the house, because they know how much the dog would like to come along with them.
To think that many children will probably be watching this casual cruelty, which is unrelieved by anything other than crass put-down humor, is pretty dismaying. In one installment, a few dog-poop jokes are topped by a family visit to the zoo, where we're subjected to elephant-poop jokes. Both episodes were written by Dennis Klein (The Larry Sanders Show), with an ''additional material'' credit going to Paul Dini and Sherri Stoner. There is as much sloppiness as there is witless vulgarity: It took three writers to have Buffy say, ''Your nose looks like a clown's nose'' after Skip is hit in the eye?
There's a lot of cynical sarcasm in The Simpsons, to be sure, but Matt Groening's cartoon is rooted in the rockbottom love and loyalty that hold that family together. Young Bart may hold his silly dad, Homer, in contempt a lot of the time, but there's always a level on which he admires the big galoot. No such emotional complexity disturbs Family Dog, however; for all its depth of characterization, this may as well be Scooby-Doo.
The trend in television these days is away from grim, downbeat dramas in favor of chipper comedies that reduce family life to cartoon status. In this atmosphere, the chances for survival of a grim, downbeat cartoon seem slim. It's too bad, actually. How interesting and innovative it would be if mainstream artists started using animation to depict the morose, as well as the cheerful, side of life. The one thing Family Dog has going for it is its sleek look, a clever throw-back to the stylized, semiabstractionist mannerisms of animators like Chuck Jones, John Hubley, and Bob Clampett.
But style in the absence of wit only emphasizes the cold heartlessness of Family Dog. If I were more of an animal-lover, I'd be offended at the way this poor hound is treated; it's as a cartoon-lover that I'm really annoyed.
To watch some clips from Family Dog go to http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=family+dog+show&aq=f
For more on Family Dog go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_Dog_(TV_series)
For more on Family Dog go to https://web.archive.org/web/20070311112211/http://www.toontracker.com/familydog/familydog.htm
To watch the opening credits of Family Dog go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_zdk1YORp0
� Date: Sun July 16, 2006 � Filesize: 138.5kb � Dimensions: 406 x 414 �
Keywords: Family Dog