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Rocko's Modern Life

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.

The show is laden with double entendres, sexual innuendos, and social commentary, some of which have been edited in rebroadcasts. Rocko's Modern Life ended production in 1996.

History

Originally, the character Rocko appeared in an unpublished comic book titled Travis. Murray tried selling the comic book in the late 1980s, between illustrating jobs, and did not find success in getting it in production. Many other characters appeared in various sketchbooks.

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.

Production

Murray's Joe Murray Productions and Games Animation rented office space on Ventura Boulevard in the Studio City neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, California. The production moved to a different office building on Vineland Avenue in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. Executives did not share space with the creative team. Rough Draft Studios assembled the animation.

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.

Writing style

The writers aimed to create stories that they describe as "strong" and "funny." The writers, including George Maestri and Martin Olson, often presented ideas to Murray while eating hamburgers at Rocky's, a restaurant formerly located on Lankershim in the North Hollywood section of the San Fernando Valley. Murray took his team members on "writing trips" to places such as Rocky's, the LaBrea Tar Pits, and the wilderness. If Murray liked the story premises, the writers produced full outlines from the premises. Outlines approved by Murray and Nickelodeon became Rocko's Modern Life episodes. Maestri describes some stories as originating from "real life" and some originating from "thin air." Murray stated that each episode of Rocko's Modern Life stemmed from a personal experiences of himself and/or one or more of the directors or writers. Murray said that he did not intend to use formulaic writing seen in other cartoons; he desired content that "broke new ground" and "Did things that rode the edge," and that could be described as "Unexpected." He did not hire writers who had previous experience with writing cartoons. Murray instead hired writers who worked outside of animation, including improv actors and comic artists. He said that story concepts that "ever smacked close to some formula idea that we had all seen before" received rejection.

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.

Animation style

Murray's animation lacked parallel lines and featured many crooked doors. In an interview Murray stated that his design style contributed to the show's "Wonky bent feel." Jean Prescott of The Sun Herald described the series as "squash-and-stretch. A 1993 Houston Chronicle article described the series's setting as having a "reality that is "squashed and stretched" into a twisted version of real life.

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.

Episodes and comic book chapters

Places and locations

Many of the locations in the television show Rocko's Modern Life have the letter "O" for example O-Town and Conglom-O. When asked about the use of "O" in his show Murray said,
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.

List of places in the television show

  • O-Town is the town in which Rocko lives.
  • Chokey/Chewy Chicken is a favorite restaurant/hang-out place for Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt. Through the first part of the fourth season it was called 'Chokey Chicken.' The name became 'Chewy Chicken' in later episodes because 'Chokey Chicken' was a clear reference to choking the chicken, a slang term for masturbation.
  • Conglom-O Corporation is the biggest company in town; it even runs City Hall. Mr. Dupette, who has very peculiar ways to see if the employees are fit to work there, manages Conglom-O. Conglom-O does not seem to have a specific purpose or product - it is a giant company that manufactures many products. Conglom-O's slogan is always shown beneath its name. The slogan is "We own you," revealing in a later musical episode that they own everything in O-Town. When Ed Bighead was shown to work at Conglom-O in 1961, the slogan stated "We Will Own You" (alluding to the future of megacorporations). The illustration that appears with the logo and on top of the official Conglom-O Corp. skyscraper is a martini glass with the earth in place of an olive.
  • Heck is where "bad people" go when they die. Run by Peaches, it is where Heffer is doomed to eternal suffering. The televisions in Heck do not have remotes.
  • Holl-o-Wood is a town that resembles the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California.
  • Kind of a Lot O' Comics is a comic book store where Rocko works.

List of places in the comic book

  • Bet Your Life Race-Ways - A horse racetrack featured in Issue #4's first story, "Remote Controlled"
  • Cafe Low-Cal - A health food restaurant featured in Issue #3's story, "Eat This! It's Good for You!"
  • Club Seals - A nightclub and concert hall featured in Issue #4's second story, "Beaten by a Club."
  • The Grease Pit - A fast food restaurant featured in Issue #4's first story, "Remote Controlled"
  • Hardening of the Arteries Eatery - A fast food restaurant featured in Issue #3's story, "Eat This! It's Good for You!"
  • Humongo Comicon - Rocko works as a comic book dealer at the 1994 convention in Issue #7's first story, "Conned Again"
  • O-Town is the town in which Rocko lives. In the second story of the first issue of the comic book, a news station van bears "WBUK." The "W" call sign, generally found east of the Mississippi River, implies that O-Town is east of the Mississippi.
  • Pet Paradise Pet Supplies - A pet supply store that Rocko arrives at in Issue #6's second story, "Lice on the Loose"
  • St. Nick O'Time Hospital - A hospital appearing in Issue #1's first story, "Dental Hijinks."

Characters

Murray said that, in Rocko's Modern Life, he matched personalities of his characters to various animals, forming a "social caricature."

Cast and crew

  • Cast

* Carlos Alazraqui as Rocko/Spunky/Leon/Granny Rocko
* Tom Kenny as Heffer Wolfe/Chuck/Mr. Smitty/Really Really Big Man/Peaches/Various males
* Mr. Lawrence as Filburt/Peter Wolfe
* Linda Wallem as Dr. Hutchison/Mrs. Virginia Wolfe/Grandma Wolfe/Cindy Wolfe/Tammy the Pig/Various females
* Charlie Adler as Ed Bighead/Gladys/Mr. George Wolfe/Grandpa Wolfe/Bev Bighead/Mr. Dupette/Mr. and Mrs. Fathead/Various males

  • Crew

*Joe Murray: Creator, Executive Producer, Writer, Story Editor (Season 1 - 3)
*Andy Houts: Project Coordinator
*Stephen Hillenburg: Producer, Storyboard Director, Writer, Creative Director
*Derek Drymon: Storyboard Artist, Writer
*Mr. Lawrence: Storyboard Director, Writer
*Dan Povenmire: Storyboard Director, Writer
*Swampy Marsh: Storyboard Director, Writer
*Timothy Berglund (aka Timothy Björklund): Storyboard Director, Writer
*Martin Olson: Writer
*George Maestri: Writer
*Vince Calandra: Writer
*Tim Hill: Story Editor (on Season 4 only)
*Mark O'Hare: Storyboard Artist
*Robert Hughes: Animation Director
*Antoine Guilbaud: Storyboard Artist
*Tom Yasumi: Animation Timer
*Danny Antonucci: Storyboard artist
*Jeff Myers: Storyboard Director
*Kevin O' Brien: Storyboard artist
*Alan Smart: animation director
*George Chilatas: animation director
*Nick Jennings: storyboard artist
*Pete Michels: animation director
*Chris Savino: animation artist
*Tom Yasumi: animation director
*Howy Parkins: animation director
*Roger Chiassen: writer/storyboard director
*Robert McNally Scull writer/storyboard artist

Music

There are 3 versions of the Rocko's Modern Life theme song.

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.

The third version of the theme song was performed by Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider from The B-52's. They performed the Rocko's Modern Life theme song from Season 2 onwards.

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."

DVD collection

Fans have requested that Nickelodeon produce a DVD collection of the series for years. In 2008 Nickelodeon partnered with Amazon.com to allow new and old programming to be made available on DVD through CreateSpace. As part of the deal Amazon.com is responsible for producing the discs (on one time burnable media) on-demand as well as cover and disc art. Two DVDs were released on September 16, 2008.

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.

Select episodes from the first season of the show have been released on iTunes as part of the Nick Rewind releases. iTunes has a "Best of Vol. 1" collection of 6 Rocko episodes

DVD name Release date Discs Episodes Cover art
Best of...
Volume 1
September 16 2008 2 Disc-1 01x09 Carnival Knowledge
01x09 Sand In The Navel
01x08 A Sucker for the Suck-O-Matic
01x08 Canned
01x11 Rocko's Happy Sack
01x11 Flu-in-u-enza

Disc-2
01x12 Who's For Dinner
01x12 Love Spanked
01x13 Clean Lovin
01x13 Unbalanced Load
01x02 Leap Frogs
01x02 Bedfellows

Best of...
Volume 2
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

Disc-2
01x06 The Good, The Bad, and the Wallaby
01x06 Trash-O-Madness
01x05 Power Trip
01x05 To Heck and Back
01x07 Spitballs
01x07 Popcorn Pandemonium
01x10 Cabin Fever
01x10 Rinse And Spit

Together, these two DVD releases contain the complete first season.

Reception of the television show

On September 19, 1993, the series's first night of airing, it received a 3.0 in ratings. By January 31, 1994 the series's audience grew by 65%.

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.

Awards and award nominations

Timothy J. Borquez, Patrick Foley, Michael Giesler, Michael A. Gollorn, William B. Griggs, Tom Jeager, Gregory LaPlante, Timothy Mertens, and Kenneth Young of Rocko's Modern Life received a 1993 Daytime Emmy Award for "Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Editing.

George Maestri was nominated for a CableACE Award for his Rocko's Modern Life writing.

The series won an award as part of the Environmental Media Awards in 1996.

Reviews of the television show

Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly described the series as "a witless rip-off of Ren & Stimpy: mucus jokes without the redeeming surrealism or contempt for authority." Tucker rated the series "D."

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."

Broadcast of the television show on other channels in North America

In 1994 the series aired on MTV.

It aired on Nicktoons TV on several occasions.

Broadcast of the television show outside of North America

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.

Marvel Comics series

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.

John "Lewie" Lewandowski wrote all of the stories except for one; Joey Cavalieri wrote "Beaten by a Club," the second story of Issue #4.

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.

Merchandise

By January 31, 1994 Nickelodeon received ten "licensing partners" for merchandise for the series.

Hardee's distributed Rocko toys.

Video games and software

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.

Nick.com created two online games featuring Rocko: " Match Master" and " Slider"

Nickelodeon's website safety guide: "A Byte-Size Online Safety Guide"

In the late 1990s and early-to-mid 2000s Nickelodeon used Rocko's Modern Life characters in several short comics collected under the title "A Byte-Size Online Safety Guide" explaining netiquette, internet security, and internet safety to readers of Nick.com.

See also

References

External links

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