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conducted July, 2002

I recently talked with Lou Scheimer, founder of Filmation Studios, a company that was a leader in Saturday morning programming for several years before going on to even greater success with He Man and the Masters of the Universe. Although Lou later sold the company to Westinghouse in 1989, he still has a great fondness for his creations and has gotten back into the animation business with his daughter, Erika. You can find out more about Lou's early career and his new production company here.

Why did you decide to move into live action after doing animation for so long?

Lou Scheimer: That's interesting. We had the rights to Captain Marvel (Shazam!) and I presented it to CBS in the early '70s and they said they'd buy it. They loved it. They liked the idea except we'd have to do it in live action and they said, "can you do it live-action?" and I said, "of course we can!" Then I figured, "now what are we gonna do?"

Luckily, we were involved with a bunch of people who I had known and one guy who worked with us were familiar with live-action. We put together a team that was really very easy to work with and in many respects, it was easier than animation because it's just not as laborious and time consuming as animation, but not as gratifying either in many respects, too. Don't forget, I started out as an animator, so I have my preferences, but I enjoyed doing the live action. It's a whole other experience.

How did the idea for Isis get its start?

LS: We did Shazam! and I thought it would be interesting to use the popularity of Shazam! to create a heroine because there was no such thing on the air at that time. I went back to CBS and went in to talk to Marc Richard who was working for us. He was a very creative guy (he also created the original Ghost Busters show for Filmation) and I said "Marc, let's try to come up with a gal who is a super-hero that can be a companion piece to Captain Marvel." Marc had sort of a propensity toward historical figures and said, "why don't we do something in the Egyptian motif?"

The show seemed popular, though only a limited number of episodes were produced. Why was that?

LS: In those days, what they did was they bought the initial 15, which gave them the right to run the show for a year, with repeats. To get an additional year, they had to buy at least seven additional shows, so, it became an economic problem rather than a creative problem [to make more shows]. By buying the seven additional shows, they got two years out of it.

So it appears the network was trying to get the most bang for its buck by buying a small number of episodes and simply rerunning them.

LS: Of course. We would have loved to have done more because the more shows you have, the more valuable they become [syndication, for instance] and the more interesting the show becomes.

Did CBS just decide to move on to something different after purchasing two years of Isis? Any idea as to why they decided not to purchase any more?

LS: You know, I don't know. In those days, shows didn't last very long. If the ratings weren't phenomenal, [shows] didn't get renewed. The ratings [on Isis] were very respectable on those shows. In fact, as we ended up doing an animated version of it, too (the Freedom Force segment of Tarzan and the Super 7), we liked the character. Plus, the live-action shows were more expensive to do than animated shows back then.

Was it tough to keep the show "in-budget"?

LS: It was always tough to keep shows "in-budget" but it was in-budget. We had some very proficient people working on the shows.

How did you manage to choose Joanna Cameron for the role of Isis?

LS: Well, we had a talent coordinator and an assistant who was familiar with the people who were available in town. I'm not sure which of them interviewed Joanna, but then they would interview people and introduce us (the producers) to the people who they thought were appropriate.

I can remember the first time I met Joanna she just seemed terrific, and she looked the part and she was a very beautiful young lady. She was great, and she had the best looking legs I'd ever seen!

In the last show, there was a group of students called "The Super Sleuths." Were there plans to spin-off those characters into another show?

LS: That was a pilot. It had a tall Hindu kid who played the magician, and another guy who had an interesting career for awhile (Craig Wasson). He did very well, but I've not seen or heard from him in years, though.

Was Ronalda Douglas (Rennie on Isis) to have been used in the spin-off, also?

LS: You know, I think so, but I can't remember. "The Super Sleuths" was only a working title. Obviously, it didn't sell. We did it as an "in-show" pilot. It would have been an interesting idea, but it didn't work.

Speaking of Ronalda Douglas, how did she come to be on the show in the second year?

LS: I really don't remember what the circumstances were, but the casting directors found her.

Was there pressure from the network to have an African-American in the regular cast?

LS: I don't think so. They interfered, but they didn't interfere in that way.

Which was your favourite among the live-action shows you did at Filmation?

LS: (Laughs). You know, I really don't [have a favourite]. They were different kinds of shows. For instance, Ghost Busters, was not at all like the [other] live-action shows. I happen to be a science-fiction fan myself, so the sci-fi stuff was more interesting for me (Space Academy and Jason of Star Command) and what we did with that stuff was more interesting to work with. They were all [good], in their own way. It's hard to pick a favourite. I like different shows for different purposes.

What were the animals like to work with (Tut in Isis and Adam in Ark II)?

LS: A pain in the ass! Birds don't want to do what you want to do sometimes. That bird got loose every once awhile and drove us crazy. It's very tough to get good bird wranglers! The animals are always difficult to work with, especially on a show that you're doing one or two [episodes] a week. We did a show once that was animated, but in the live action portion of it (the show was Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty), that damn bulldog drove us nuts trying to get him to do stuff.

A lot of people perhaps didn't realise that in addition to producing the shows, you provided a lot of voices.

LS: That's because I was inexpensive!

(Laugh). Did you have a favourite character that you played?

LS: (Laughs). It all depends on the show! I guess Orko in He-Man and Dumb Donald (on Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids).

Yes, I think Dumb Donald is the one you're most known for.

LS: Yeah, I didn't even want anybody to know I was doing that one! It was a character that was used in the pilot and I didn't know we were going to use a lot of him. The writers kept liking him and having more and more for Dumb Donald to do!

Did Joanna simply elect not to provide the voice for Isis on Freedom Force or was there another reason the part was re-cast?

LS: I don't even know if she was still in town. On the animated version, we probably used someone who did two or three voices. Animated voice artists are usually more adept at doing character voices and in those days you could do three voices for the price of one.

What are Norm Prescott and Dick Rosenbloom up to these days?

LS: Well, they're both retired. I haven't talked to Dick in a couple of months. He lives up in Ventura and my former partner Norm Prescott retired in the '80s and he's doing well. He has a house down in San Diego County and we see each other every couple months.

Is there anything about your new company (Lou Scheimer Productions) you'd like to mention?

LS: I think it's a bit premature right now. We're working on something new [that] looks sort of interesting and it if happens, we'll let you know!

Any regrets?

LS: No, [except] I regret I'm not doing the same thing I was doing 20 years ago! I really enjoyed that! Working in this business is not really work, it's a labour of love. If I regret anything, it's the fact that I'm not as busy as I used to be. I don't think I could do it now anyway!


Thank you, Lou Scheimer!

LS: Good talking to you!


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