TV URBAN LEGEND: Darkwing Duck came about due to Disney thinking that they had the rights to Rocky and Bullwinkle.
There a few examples of pieces of popular culture that, while not particularly popular in their own time, became so influential to those people who DID follow them that the piece of popular culture ended up having a much more impressive impact than you would initially think. The most famous example is the Velvet Underground, who Brian Eno once famously noted that while their initial records did not sell well, everyone who bought a copy was inspired by their album to start a band on their own. Similarly, Jay Ward's Rocky and Bullwinkle (which appeared under a variety of titles during its initial run) was not a huge hit when it first aired...
But it was so well done that it became highly influential to a whole generation of future cartoon producers. One of the recurring gags on the show was that all of the characters would have the middle initial J (in honor of Jay Ward). Well, ever wonder why Homer Simpson's middle initial is J? That is why.
So it comes as no surprise that Disney would be interested in doing an updated version of the show in the late 1980s. However, some confusion over the rights to the characters led to a bizarre situation that ultimately resulted in the creation of Darkwing Duck.
At his website, Michael Peraza told a story of being tasked with helping pitch a new series for Disney,
I was immediately asked to help kick off a new series idea that Gary Krisel, President of Walt Disney Television Animation, along with Tad Stones were putting together for a pitch.
That project was an updated version of Rocky and Bullwinkle.
Peraza also recalled, " I remember all too distinctly though, my first question to both of them. "So does Disney actually OWN the rights to these guys?" I went on to explain that I had been to Universal Studios only the day before and watched the "Rocky and Bullwinkle" live show right next to the "Duddley-Do-Right" Emporium, so how could Disney have the rights? Gary answered quickly that we (Disney) did in fact own, "all the video rights." That answer didn't quite settle my questioning little mind but I assumed we wouldn't be going forward into development without the rights all sewed up. Boy was I ever wrong."
So Peraza went to work on the pitch, including a sample title sequence...
However, just days before the project was set to go before Disney executives, disaster struck. Peraza has the low down...
I came in early Friday morning around 7:30, my usual time and turned on the coffee maker in the kitchen to make a little wake up juice. While I waited for the caffeine brew to drip, I sat down to finish up a couple of minor color details on the Bullwinkle presentation. I'll never forget what happened next. Gary Krisel came running down the hall shouting, "We don't have the rights! Put down your pencil! We don't have the rights!" Gary was a tad upset. When Tad got in a little while later, he too would be a tad upset. I was a tad upset and I wasn't even related to him! Gary had unfortuantely been given the go-ahead by the Disney legal staff that we indeed had all the rights when we only had rights to the "video distribution" of the Bullwinkle show. In other words he was up Frostbite Falls without a paddle. It wasn't his fault nor mine or Tads. Placing blame was pointless anyway as we were all in panic mode now as the presentation was only days away. We had to get a replacement pitch and fast!
Luckily, Tad Stones had also been working on a spinoff series from DuckTales about an undercover agent named Double-O Duck. One name change later (as detailed in this old TV Legends Revealed here) and Darkwing Duck was born!
It's funny how sometimes things just seem to work out for the best!
The legends is...
Thanks to Mike Peraza for the information! Be sure to check out his awesome website here.!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.