Rocko's Modern Life is an American animated series created by Joe Murray that aired for four seasons from 1993 to 1996. The show was based around the surreal, parodic adventures of an anthropomorphic wallaby named Rocko, and his life in the city of O-Town. One of Nickelodeon's Nicktoons, it was the fourth series released in the Nicktoons group, and the first to be introduced since the original three were introduced in August 1991. The program was produced by Joe Murray Productions and Nickelodeon Studios, and occasionally by Games Productions.
Murray described the early 1990s animation atmosphere as "ripe for this kind of project. We took some chances that would be hard to do in these current times," with the "current times" being the 2000s.
Murray wanted funding for his independent film "My Dog Zero," so he wanted Nickelodeon to pre-buy television rights for the series. Murray presented a pencil test to Nickelodeon Studios, which afterward became interested in buying and airing the show. Linda Simensky, then in charge of animation development in Nickelodeon, informed Murray about the Nicktoons lineup and concept. Murray originally felt skepticism towards the concept of creating a Nicktoon as he disliked television cartoons. Simensky told Murray that Nicktoons differed from other cartoons. Murray told her that he believed that "My Dog Zero" would not work as a cartoon. He then researched Nickelodeon at the library and found that Nickelodeon's "attitude was different than regular TV." Murray combed through his sketchbooks, developed the Rocko's Modern Life concept, and submitted it to Nickelodeon, believing that the concept would likely be rejected. According to Murray, around three or four months later he had "forgotten about" the concept and was working on "My Dog Zero" when Simensky informed Murray that Nickelodeon wanted a pilot episode. Murray said that he was glad that he would get funding for "My Dog Zero." On his website Murray describes "My Dog Zero" was "that film that Linda Simensky saw which led me to Rocko."
Murray originally wrote "Sucker for the Suck-O-Matic" as the pilot; the executives decided that Heffer Wolfe, one of the characters, would be "a little too weird for test audiences." Murray, instead of removing Heffer from "Sucker for the Suck-O-Matic," decided to write "Trash-O-Madness" as the pilot episode.
When the series was in development prior to the release of the first episode, the series had the title The Rocko Show.
In 1992, two months prior to the production of season 1 of Rocko's Modern Life, Murray's first wife committed suicide. Murray said that he felt that he had emotional and physical "unresolved issues" when he moved to Los Angeles. He describes the experience as like participating in "marathon with my pants around my ankles." Murray initially believed that he would create one season, move back to the San Francisco Bay Area, and "clean up the loose ends I had left hanging." Murray said that he felt surprised when Nickelodeon approved new seasons; Nickelodeon renewed the series for its second season in December 1993.
After season 3 he decided to hand the project to Stephen Hillenburg, who performed most work for season 4; Murray continued to manage the cartoon. Murray said that he would completely leave the production after season 4. Murray said also that he encouraged the network to continue production, but Nickelodeon eventually decided to cancel the series. Murray described all fifty-two episodes as "top notch", and in his view the quality of a television show may decline as production continues "when you are dealing with volume."
On his website Murray said that, "In some ways it succeeded and in some ways failed. All I know it developed own flavor and an equally original legion of fans."
In a 1997 interview Murray said that he at times wondered if he could re-start the series; he feels the task would be difficult.
According to Murray, as Rocko's Modern Life was Murray's first television series, he did not know about the atmosphere of typical animation studios. Murray said that he opted to operate his studio in a similar manner to the operation of his Saratoga, California studio, which he describes as "Very relaxed." Murray's cadre included many veterans who, according to him, described the experience as "the most fun they had ever had!" Murray, saying that the atmosphere was "not my doing," credited his team members for collectively contributing.
Murray described the daily atmosphere at the studio as "very loose," adding that the rules permitted all staff members to use the paging system to make announcements. Murray stated that one visitor compared the environment of the production studio to "preschool without supervision." Murray stated that 70 people in the United States and over 200 people in South Korea animated the series.
Murray produced the pilot episode, "Trash-O-Madness," at his studio in Saratoga; Murray animated half of the episode, and the production occurred entirely in the United States, with animation in Saratoga and processing in San Francisco. While directing during recording sessions, Murray preferred to be on the stage with the actors instead of "behind glass" in a control room, which Murray describes as "the norm" while making animated series.
Murray believes that, due to his lack of experience with children, Rocko's Modern Life "skewed kind of older." Murray noted, "There's a lot of big kids out there. People went to see 'Roger Rabbit' and saw all these characters they'd grown up with and said, 'Yeah, why don't they have something like that anymore?'
When he began producing Rocko, he says that his experience in independent films initially led him to attempt to micromanage many details in the production. Murray said that the approach, when used for production of television shows, was "driving me crazy." This led Murray to allow for other team members to manage aspects of the Rocko's Modern Life production.
Jeff "Swampy" Marsh, a storyboard writer, says that writers of Rocko's Modern Life targeted children and adults. Marsh cites Rocky and Bullwinkle as an example of another series that contains references undecipherable by children and understood by adults. Aiming for a similar goal, Marsh described the process as "a hard job." According to Marsh, when censors questioned proposed material, sometimes the team disagreed with the opinions of the censors and sometimes the team agreed with the rationale of the censors. Marsh says that "many people" told him that the team "succeded in this endevour" and that "many parents I know really enjoyed watching the show with their kids for just this reason." John Pacenti said the series "seems very much aimed at adults" "for a children's' cartoon.
Marsh believes that the material written by Doug Lawrence stands as an example of a "unique sense of humor." For instance, Marsh credits Lawrence with the "pineapple references" adding that Lawrence believed that pineapples seemed humorous.
The background staff hand-painted backgrounds with Dr. Martin dyes.
Each episode title card consisted of an original painting.
Linda Simensky said that she asked the creators of Rocko's Modern Life about why the women in the series were drawn to be "top-heavy," the creators told her that they believed that drawing women "the traditional way" was easier. Simensky described the creators as "talented guys" who formed "a boy's club" and added that "we pushed them to be funny, but a lot of their women are stereotypical.
I always got a big kick out of the businesses that were 'House-O-Paint', or 'Ton-O-Noodles', because their names seemed to homogenize what they sold, and strip the products of true individuality and stress volume ... and we all know, the American dream is volume!! So what better company to create volume than 'Conglom-O', and since a majority of the town worked at Conglom-O, it should be called 'O' Town. I also wanted the town to be 'anytown' USA, and I used to love sports players with a big ZERO on their back. It was funny to me.
Murray said that, in Rocko's Modern Life, he matched personalities of his characters to various animals, forming a "social caricature."
The first and original version can be heard playing throughout season one and was composed by Pat Irwin, who also composed the series' background music.
The second version of the theme song was a slightly remixed version of the first and was only used during episodes 8 and 9 of season one. One of the changes included high pitched voices added to the chorus.
At first Murray wanted Paul Sumares to perform the theme song since Sumares created most of the music found in My Dog Zero. Murray wanted the same style in My Dog Zero exhibited in Rocko's Modern Life. Nickelodeon wanted a person with more experience. According to Sumares, believing for the request to be a long shot, Murray asked for Danny Elfman and felt stunned when Nickelodeon decided to honor his request by asking Elfman to perform. According to Murray, Elfman, his first choice, was booked. Therefore he chose the B-52's, his second choice. According to Sumares Murray decided to use the B-52's instead of Elfman. Murray states that the difference between the stories "could just be a recollection conflict, because Paul is a brilliant amazing guy."
Murray also sought Alan Silvestri; according to Murray, Silvestri did not wish to perform the theme song as "wasn't into doing television." According to Sumares Viacom did not want to use Silvestri as the organization wanted a band "slightly older kids could identify with."
On his website Murray said that Linda Simensky introduced him to Pat Irwin, who became the musical director for Rocko's Modern Life. Murray describes Irwin's music as "pure Pat Irwin genius" and that the amount of time allotted to complete the music "makes his music even more astonishing. Marsh said that he was "not happy" with Irwin's music derived from the songs that the team wrote for the series. The team used another arranger to create the music for the episode "Zanzibar." Marsh believes that Irwin lacked "a good ear for musical parody." Marsh describes Irwin's background music as "pretty cool."
Prior to the official DVD releases, Murray stated that he has not heard of any plans for a DVD release and that there are several illegal DVD releases of the series sold on eBay. He commented, "But at least someone is trying to give Rocko fans what they want. Because Nickelodeon sure isn't doing it." Murray has been working with his legal team to regain the rights, so that an official DVD can be released.
The official home video release of the series in the United States was in 1995, when selected episodes were released on VHS by Sony Wonder. Paramount Home Entertainment later re-released the episodes in 1997 and 1998.
|DVD name||Release date||Discs||Episodes||Cover art|
|September 16 2008||2||Disc-1
01x09 Carnival Knowledge|
01x09 Sand In The Navel
01x08 A Sucker for the Suck-O-Matic
01x11 Rocko's Happy Sack
|September 16 2008||2||Disc-1
01x01 No Pain, No Gain|
01x01 Who Gives A Buck?
01x03 Jet Stream
01x03 Dirty Dog
01x04 Keeping Up with the Bigheads
01x04 Skid Marks
Together, these two DVD releases contain the complete first season.
Ted Drozdowski of The Boston Phoenix stated in the "Eye pleasers" article that he enjoyed Rocko's Modern Life because of "jovial excitement," "good-hearted outrage," "humanity," and "pushy animated characterizations.
The series won an award as part of the Environmental Media Awards in 1996.
Common Sense Media reviewer Andrea Graham, whose review is posted on Go.com, describes Rocko's Modern Life as "somewhat edgy" and gave the series four out of five stars. Graham tells parents to watch for "sexual innuendos."
It aired on Nicktoons TV on several occasions.
In Australia, it was shown on Nickelodeon Australia and ABC Kids (on ABC Kids, it went on for a few years until 2002 except for Nickelodeon). In the UK, it was shown on Nicktoons UK until 2008.
During Tom DeFalco's Editor-in-Chief career, Marvel Comics produced a seven-issue comic book series based on the television series. Marvel published the series from June 1994 to December 1994 with monthly releases.
Nickelodeon approached Marvel, asking the company to produce comic book series for Rocko's Modern Life and Ren and Stimpy. Marvel purchased the license for Rocko from Nickelodeon. The staff created the comics, and Susan Luposniak, a Nickelodeon employee, examined the comics before they were released.
The comics contain stories not seen in the television show. In addition, the comic book series omits some television show characters and places, while some original places and characters appear in the comics.
Troy Little, a resident of Monroe, Oregon, wrote to Marvel requesting that the title for the comic's letters column should be "That's Life." In Issue 3, published in August 1994, the editors decided to use the title for the comic's "Letters to the Editor" section. In Issue 5, published in October 1994, the editors stated that they still received suggestions for the title for the comic even though the editors had decided on using "That's Life" by Issue 3.
Hardee's distributed Rocko toys.
Viacom New Media released one game based on the show, Rocko's Modern Life: Spunky's Dangerous Day, in the United States for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. In addition, Nickelodeon 3-D Movie Maker features various characters from the show. Rocko also appeared in the game Nicktoons: Attack of the Toybots.