When it started airing on MTV in 1993, Beavis and Butt-Head was more than just a popular animated series, it was a cultural phenomenon. Its subversive humor centered around two terminally moronic teenagers became a hit with MTV’s viewership, not to mention a lightning rod for controversy and a focal point for discussion on the state of American culture: was the show promoting ignorance or a sly commentary on the inanity of contemporary society? The debate continued throughout the 1990s as Mike Judge’s dimwitted creations rocketed to stardom.
Tonight a new episode of Beavis & Butt-Head will air on MTV for the first time in 14 years. It remains to be seen whether the new incarnation can connect with a snarkier Internet-bred generation, but to mark the occasion, we thought it would be fitting to take a look back at the show’s roots. Cartoon Brew invited the show’s original producer, John Andrews, to write a personal essay recalling his experiences as a key member of the original crew and tell us about the behind-the-scene challenges of producing the show in the early nineties.
Andrews was hired in 1992 to produce MTV’s new series Beavis & Butt-Head and stayed for several years. He co-produced the 1996 feature Beavis & Butt-Head Do America with Abby Terkuhle. After a subsequent 13-year run at Klasky Csupo, he is now at Six Point Harness running 6 Point Media.
HOW BEAVIS SAVED MY LIFE
by John Andrews
I’m a fan of Mike Judge. In all my years working with animation creators, I have met very few others who have known their own creations with the thoroughness and vision Mike had from the very beginning. This is the true story of how Beavis & Butt-Head found me and changed my life.
As a budding animation producer with a few slightly tamer animation projects to my credit, mostly for PBS, I had the opportunity to jump into the job of producing the animated shorts and music video commentaries that MTV had ordered as the first season of Beavis & Butt-Head. For me this led to a five year run producing the series, co-producing the feature and launching a number of other MTV animated projects. But it all started with a leap onto a train that had already left the station, a series that already had an air-date, first scripts on the table and a whole lot of animation ahead with only a few months to make sense of it all and get something on air.
I moved to New York from Providence, Rhode Island, in 1981 with my rock band The Mundanes. The early eighties recession got the best of us and we all moved on. I settled in to a life of producing graphics and animation for TV and trade shows. I even won a few Emmys for the goofy Monty Python-esque animations that partner Todd Ruff and I put together for a business series called Adam Smith’s Money World in the mid to late eighties. But by 1990, life was getting dull.
Then I got the opportunity to produce the animation for a series called The Creative Spirit for PBS, underwritten by IBM. That series gave me the opportunity to sit at Chuck Jones’ feet for a day long interview/shoot and to meet many terrific animators including Alison Snowden and David Fine, Maciek Albrecht, the folks at Buzzco, Joey Ahlbum and several other denizens of the New York scene.
One relationship I gained out of working on that series was with John Canemaker. He created wonderful animations for the series and became a real friend in that period. One night I went to a party with John, a party thrown in honor of some animators from the film board of Canada. As we stood amidst the crowd, I said to John “Who should I meet in this room?” Without hesitation he answered “Linda Simensky”. Linda was then a part of the development team at Nickelodeon. Linda and I hit it off immediately, finding that we shared a taste for off-beat bands and went to a couple of shows together over the next few months.
With The Creative Spirit under my belt, I was ready for new work opportunities, but following the rule to never appear needy in the job market, when talking to Linda I always stressed how much I enjoyed my job but how open I was to anything else that might come along. Well one day she called to say MTV had signed Mike Judge to create a series called Beavis & Butt-Head based on some shorts Mike had done for Spike & Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival. MTV’s VP of on-air promotion Abby Terkuhle had called her looking for producing candidates. It sounded good to me. So Linda helped arrange an interview.
The story continues after the jump.