Warner Brothers Animation brings Bugs, Daffy and the full Looney Tunes gang back to TV in their latest series, “The Looney Tunes Show.” Using the classic characters, “The Looney Tunes Show” is an animated sitcom featuring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck slated to premiere May 3 at 8PM on Cartoon Network. CBR News spoke with the show’s producers Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone, character designer Jessica Borutski, and writers Hugh DavidsonÂ andÂ Rachel Ramras about what fans new and old can expect from the series, the process behind redesigning iconic characters for a modern audience and more.
Cervone began by telling CBR that the show’s sitcom format was settled on after a lengthy and involved development process. “We’ve been developing this show for a long time; it was a sketch comedy show for a while before we finally found this [format] and went, ‘Well, this is the best way for us to explore these characters,'” the producer said. Brandt, Cervone’s production partner, elaborated, saying the sitcom format allowed viewers to become invested in Bugs and Daffy in a way they could not with the original Looney Tunes shorts.
“We wanted to do something where the audience eventually cared about the characters, and it seemed like this sitcom format was the best way to do that. It was a way to have ongoing characters where you are learning something new about them over the course of the show,” said Brandt. Emphasizing the half-hour comedy angle, the producers compared the show’s format to classic ‘toons like “The Flintstones.”
“Bugs and Daffy are, for lack of a better word, adult men! They have the same concerns and problems that adult men have. They live in a house, they have girlfriends, they have jobs — well, I guess neither one have jobs,” laughed Cervone. “Fred and Barney are dudes, they aren’t kids. They are worried about their wives and their bills, so [“The Looney Tunes Show”] is kind of like that.”
Maintaining its sitcom premise, the plot of “The Looney Tunes Show” focuses on the antics of best friends and roommates Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, both voiced by Jeff Bergman. Rounding out the cast is a compliment of wacky neighbors including Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam, Speedy Gonzalez, Lola Bunny, Granny, the Witch, Foghorn Leghorn and other faces familiar to fans of the original Looney Tunes.
“If anything, [the show is] about the relationship between Bugs, Daffy and Porky,” said writer Hugh Davidson, adding, “It’s a great triangle, and they are really funny together.”
Explaining that Porky’s role on the show rose organically out of the writing process, writer Rachel Ramras described him as a “sweet,” if dopey, character. “Even a loser like [Daffy] likes to have another loser around, and that’s what Porky Pig is,” laughed Ramras. “Porky just likes to be part of the gang, so he takes it. Porky can bring that fun naivete into a scene, not because he is naive, but because he wants to be included so much.”
As far as the show’s main Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck dynamic, Davidson stated that in the series, the two are friends because they make each other’s lives interesting.
“Why would Bugs hang out with Daffy? He’s shallow, venal, and narcissistic — but you can tell it would be fun to have Daffy as a friend. He will do anything, and Bugs enjoys that,” said Davidson.
Along with the different type of environment the sitcom format brings, allowing viewers to get to know Bugs and Daffy better, unique challenges arose in terms of two other characters long known for their antagonistic relationship.
“Sylvester and Tweety are still pets, which makes it tricky, because the rabbit is a person, but the cat and the bird are animals,” Ramras said, laughing. To get around that conundrum, the writers simply kept the characters apart. “If Bugs and Daffy go across the street to talk to Granny, they don’t talk to Sylvester and Tweety. Otherwise, it looks like someone owns somebody, and it gets bizarre and less funny,” said Davidson.
When asked about re-tooling Lola Bunny, a non-classic character who instead made her first appearance in the 1996 movie “Space Jam,” the writers glanced sheepishly towards Cervone and Brandt, both of whom worked on the Michael Jordan starring live-action/animated mash-up.
“Don’t tell [Spike and Tony] down there — we’ve never seen ‘Space Jam,'” laughed Davidson.
“Ours is nothing like that Lola, no offense against that Lola, but this is what works for our show. We had the benefit of knowing [Lola Bunny voice actress] Kristen Wiig, so we had the advantage to write to her strengths,” said Ramras.
Besides Wiig, the voice cast also includes a second “Saturday Night Live” comedian, Fred Armisen as Speedy Gonzalez.
“Our Speedy is really different from the classic Speedy — because there really isn’t much going on in the classic Speedy,’ said Cervone.
“[Speedy] has sort of emerged as a fun voice of reason on the show,” added Ramras.
The writers then touched on the show’s brand new character, Daffy’s girlfriend Tina.
“She’s voiced by Jennifer Esposito,” Davidson told CBR. “On paper, [Tina] is this tough, no-nonsense New York type. The great thing about having Jen Esposito voice her is that Jen is a New York girl and kind of tough, so it’s not a put-on. She’s not a voice actor doing a funny New York voice. It’s her real voice. So when she says something to Daffy, it just seems real.”
The producers also described how the show’s suburban setting ultimately helped determine the final sit-com format. “Somewhere around the fourth or fifth script in the development period, there was a point where the two characters were in a house together, and that just seemed right. Then we made it Bugs Bunny’s house and Daffy was sort of a freeloader hanging on,” said Cervone.
“I always though the Looney Tunes lived in California, even as a little kid. So that’s why they live in California,” added Brandt.
Besides the normal sitcom plot of every episode, “The Looney Tunes Show” also features computer animated Coyote and Roadrunner shorts and a musical “Merrie Melodies” segment featuring Looney Tunes characters starring in their own music videos.
“With the Merrie Melodies, music is an important part historically to Looney Tunes and Warner Brothers cartoons — up through ‘Animaniacs’ and ‘Tiny Toons’ as well. So it’s something we wanted to do,” said Cervone. “It helped us go deeper into the catalog; Marvin Martian is not in the main stories that much, but it’s cool to do Marvin songs. That way, Marvin is in the show.”
Both producers agreed that having the silent, action-driven Roadrunner and Coyote shorts interspersed throughout the episodes helps break up the talky elements of the show. “The sitcom part is so verbal, so [with] Coyote and Roadrunner, we have a whole pantomime set,” said Cervone.
When it came to revamping the look of the iconic characters for a new, more modern show, producers and writers alike were thrilled by character designer Jessica Borutski’s style.
“Tony asked me if I wanted to take a shot at redesigning the Looney Tunes, and I was, of course, totally into that idea, so I did a couple of sketches. The idea was to keep it looking very classic, but I wanted to give it something fresh and make it very subtle,” said Borutski, who described her changes as mainly streamlining the shape of characters.
“I tend to draw cute animals in my spare time, so in my first attempt they were very cute and looked about eight years old,” Borutski continued. Talking specifically about Bugs Bunny, who she drew on an easel in the room prior to the interview, Borutski highlighted the subtle changes she made to the character. “I accentuated things I liked about the character: I love his tail, so I stayed with the same shape but made it more streamlined and bigger. I love his feet too, so I played with those a bit. I took all the shapes and made them simpler and bigger!”
“Some of the designs might come across stronger in some of the Merrie Melodies, I think, because Jessica directed a bunch of them and went over all the storyboard poses. They are a little more pure her than some of the other parts of the show,” added Cervone. “We developed the format of the show for a long time, but not the look. It was a home run from minute one.”
While the show is mainly aimed at an audience of six to eleven year olds, Ramras and Davidson both admit they hope it appeals to parents along with their kids.
“There was always something genuinely funny about the shorts for adults — possibly more for adults! Hopefully the show has appeal to them as well,” said Davison.
Overall, the entire team agrees that while they loved the original “Looney Tunes,” they hope “The Looney Tunes Show” would open up the world a little more, albeit in a way that honors the comedy of the original shorts.
“It was a good way to differentiate [“Looney Tunes Show”] from the classic shorts. No one will confuse them, we’re not trying to compete with those things,” said Brandt.
Added Cervone, “This is a world, and it takes a little getting used to. But the more you watch the more invested you get.”
“The Looney Tunes Show” airs May 2 at 8PM on Cartoon Network