Thursday, July 27, 2000

Network puts too much blue in 'Baby Blues'

        PASADENA, Calif. — Jerry Scott has every right to have the blues, after what WB did to his “Baby Blues” cartoon. They strangled his baby, mangled his masterpiece.

        WB's Baby Blues cartoon, which premieres Friday (8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., Channel 64), is an embarrassment to the newspaper comic's loyal readers, all 60 million.

        It lacks the charm, wit and insights of the daily strip about weary new parents Darryl and Wanda MacPherson, and baby Zoe.

        WB, the teen network, has turned the sweet family musings into a cross between Dennis the Menace and Dawson's Creek.

        Friday's premiere focuses on new characters added by the network: Rodney, the 8-year-old brat next door who drops in for breakfast, lunch and dinner; and Bizzy, the ditzy teen-age baby sitter whose friends like to break into businesses after hours or dig up cemetery graves.

        And that's just in the first two episodes.

        You'd expect to hear the words “slut,” “skank” and “shut up, whore” on NYPD Blue, not on Baby Blues. But that's how the cartoon teens talk.

        In other words: WB blew it.

        “I don't know how people will react,” admits Mr. Scott, who won't say anything bad about the network. He had little influence on the TV scripts. (Duh!)

        “I like part of it, but I don't know how people will adjust to all the different characters,” says Mr. Scott, who writes the strip with Rick Kirkman, and collaborates with The Enquirer's Jim Borgman on “Zits.”

        The truth is: WB doesn't get it. Never did. Never will. It took them four years — four years — to produce this junk?

        Until last month, WB executives wanted to change the title.

        A year ago, WB announced the show had been renamed Bluesville, without telling Mr. Scott. He learned about it from Mr. Borgman, who faxed him a WB press release I had been sent.

        “I was stunned,” Mr. Scott says. “We have like 60 million readers. We're in 550 newspapers. Show me a TV show that has 60 million viewers, except the Super Bowl.

        “When they do these comic strip surveys (at newspapers), it's amazing how well "Baby Blues' does among teen-age girls. They didn't think teen-agers would watch a show with the word "Baby” in it,” says Mr. Scott, who met with WB Chief Executive Jamie Kellner last year to get the title restored.

        Given the final product, maybe that wasn't such a good idea.

        The good news is that Rodney, Bizzy and the nosey neighbors won't invade the funny pages, Mr. Scott says. Because they're not funny? “Because the characters were created for the television show, and are owned by Warner Bros.,” he says.

        Drawing from this experience, Mr. Scott and Mr. Borgman won't make the same mistake with “Zits,” their daily strip about teen-age Jeremy and his parents. They have a deal to make a “Zits” live action film with actors, not a feature-length cartoon, so the movie and cartoon strip can exist as separate entities. They also have story approval for the movie, and casting approval for Jeremy.

        “It's really tough to get a grown-up audience and a teen audience to an animated feature film,” Mr. Scott says.

        “To get a teen audience, you've really got to do Beavis and Butt-head (crude) humor. That we wouldn't allow. Jeremy is not that kind of a kid.

        “I think live action is a safer thing to do than animation. It could be cool.”

        Unless they're dealing with a studio that doesn't have a clue. A Blues clue.

        TV critic John Kiesewetter is reporting from the Television Critic Association's summer press tour.