Daily Archives: June 23, 2011

How He-Man, Rudolph, Underdog, and Bob the Tomato became Corporate Cousins

I love interesting pop culture stories, and I love interesting corporate stories, and the story of Classic Media rivals TimeLife Warner Bros AOL Turner whatever it’s now called, and Comcast NBC Sheinhardt (ha) Universal GE whatever in the annals of corporate synergy, though on a smaller scale.

Classic Media was started by former Broadway Video executive John Engelman and Marvel CEO Eric Ellenbogen “in hopes of acquiring mismanaged classic properties and giving exposure to them” (Wikipedia).  Unfortunately, the Wikipedia entries have changed over the years, so I can’t double check the exact details, but, basically, Classic started as a spin off of Broadway video.  It made its name by buying bankrupt properties.  This includes the video arm of the defunct Golden Books, which itself includes most of the pre-1974 Rankin-Bass library (hence Rudolph), Underdog and other properties.

In 2003, Classic Media purchased Big Idea, the parent company of VeggieTales, which had gone bankrupt due to a lawsuit.  Ironically, the lawsuit was filed against Big Idea by HiT Entertainment.  HiT had acquired the company that had VeggieTales’ distribution contract, and Phil Vischer for some reason was not morally comfortable doing business with HiT.  He had a verbal agreement with his distributor that opted him to use a different distributor if they were ever bought.  In the long run, Big Idea won the lawsuit when it came before the Supreme Court, but not before going bankrupt in legal fees, especially following overexpansion and the lackluster theatrical performance of _Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie_.
So, Classic Media acquired VeggieTales.  In 2006, Classic sold itself to a company with a similar vision, the UK-based Entertainment Rights.  Entertainment Rights ironically has ties to HiT Entertainment, both as a competitor and as  the companies split some of the rights of certain properties.

Interestingly, Entertainment Rights already owned Lou Schiemer’s defunct studio Filmation, which had a similar history to Big Idea.  Filmation was known for producing advertisements and Saturday morning cartoons but made its name with the 1970s _Star Trek_ Animated Series, which won an Emmy for its sophisticated storytelling (episodes were often written by the same writers as the TV series).  They also had a successful 1970s live action series called _Ghostbusters_ and some adaptations of DC properties, including Captain Marvel and Batman.

When _He-Man and the Masters of the Universe_ came out in the wake of loosened FCC regulations regarding censorship of cartoons, it pioneered both the “toy-based cartoon” of the 1980s and the “made for afternoons” cartoon.  Up until then, cartoons broadcast on early mornings or afternoons were syndicated reruns of old Saturday morning cartoons.  MOTU was the first cartoon to be created specifically for first run syndication in the afternoons, and paved the way for _GI Joe_, _Transformers_ and others series.


When Columbia came out with the movie _Ghostbusters_ in 1984, it didn’t get approval from Filmation, which owned the trademark to the name “Ghostbusters.”  Filmation sued Columbia and suffered a similar fate to Big Idea: Filmation ultimately won the lawsuit, but legal fees combined with overexpansion drove it into bankruptcy.  Meanwhile, Filmation decided to capitalize on its license and Columbia’s violation of the trademark by introducing a _Ghostbusters_ cartoon based on the 1970s series.  Therefore, the animated versions of the Columbia version were known under names such as “The Real Ghostbusters,” “Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters” or “Extreme Ghostbusters.”

He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special

What does the He-Man & She-Ra Christmas Special have over most of the Rankin & Bass specials? It actually mentions Jesus!!

Filmation, again, was purchased by Entertainment Rights.  Entertainment Rights purchased Classic Media in 2006, but *also* engaged in too much overexpansion and went bankrupt.  In 2009, Engelman and Ellenbogen, with a new partner GTCR, bought Entertainment Rights under the new holding company Boomerang Media (how they got away with that name, I don’t know).  Reportedly, they paid less for the whole enchilada than what Entertainment Rights originally paid them for Classic Media and even what Classic originally paid for Big Idea.  They changed the name back to Classic Media and recommitted to invigorating their properties.

Meanwhile, a few years ago, Mattel started making _Masters of the Universe Classics_ (MOTUC), an 8-inch line of highly articulated figures sold directly to collectors online and representing various permutations of the franchise.  So far, figures produced have included characters from MOTU fiction that were never made into figures, characters developed for the original line but never produced, characters from the 2002 version, the original version, _She-Ra: Princess of Power_ and the late 90s “New Adventures of He-Man”.  Originally, Mattel had announced that some character names technically belonged to Filmation, such as Queen Marlena and Cringer.  Recently, however, Mattel has produced and announced a package of those two very figures, which would seem to indicate that they acquired the rights from Classic Media.  They’re also doing a big push for the 30th Anniversary of the franchise, which may include a retail release of the MOTUC line.

This gets us to the news that inspired this blog post: Classic Media is launching a partnership with Mattel to “reinvent” various classic properties.  Mattel will produce toys based upon some of Classic Media’s other properties (i.e., Voltron), and Classic Media will be not only amping up the distribution of the classic cartoons but is also planning new productions based upon these properties.

What Andy Warhol and Susan Lucci have to teach us about being Catholic.

I just learned from Father Joe’s blog that Andy Warhol was a practicing Byzantine Catholic his entire life.   As his personal life goes: he was raised Catholic, buried Catholic (with a prayer book in his hands), and reportedly attended Mass at both Byzantine and Roman Churches his entire life.
While people claim he was homosexual, those closest to him also say he was perfectly chaste.  His work was intended to draw out the hypocrisies of America’s blend of commercialism and faith; works which superficially seemed sacrilegious  were intended to show how much of our treatment of religion in America is sacrilegious.  Now, I don’t really know much about Warhol except the infamous Campbell’s Soup can and the “15 minutes of fame” quotation.  I’ve learned more abut him from this article than I’ve ever known.  Whether the article is correct about interpretation of his works, or whether Warhol was successful in what he tried to do, that’s a matter of opinion.  However, it strikes me that the article discusses how Warhol is often criticized for works that put Da Vinci’s _The Last Supper_ in secular contexts, which he intended as a symbol of how that’s done all the time in our culture.

In any case, it strikes me that it also gets to the relativism of what constitutes sacrilege.  Byzantines, after all, are very disdainful of Western religious art–not, as many Westerners think, because of iconoclasm but because they think Western art is not properly religious.  Iconography is a sophisticated code of theological meaning, and an Ikon has to follow a particular set of rules, or else it just isn’t an Ikon.  In Byzantine theology, the Ikon is itself a kind of “Real Presence.”  If we can equate  the Presence of the Host to being physically next to someone, and the Presence of the Bible to talking to someone on the phone, then the Presence of Ikons is that of a video conference.  Icons are Windows into Heaven.  Western religious art, by contrast, expresses an author’s perspective.  Increasingly, as Western art has diverged from iconography, it has come more and more to embody personal perspectives of artists, allowing their personality to skew the theology and prayer aspects of the work.  Put simply, to a Byzantine,
The Statue of "The Blessed Virgin" in Cardinal Mahony's Cathedral in LA

Is the natural result of this:

A cheapish picture of Our Lady of Grace

.  Whereas, this
Our Lady of Perpetual Help

is not just a “work of art,” not just an artist’s rendering of his subjective views but a theological lesson, a spiritual lesson, a prayer, *and* a very real means of accessing the Reality of Jesus and Mary.
So while Warhol  may have seen the Last Supper, for example, as worthy of reverence as a work of art, if he was a properly catechized Byzantine, he may not have seen it as particularly worthy of reverence as a work of religion (not saying I agree, just pointing this out).


That said, the keynote of the article is that Warhol remained a devout Catholic his whole life.  However, he did not advertise it, for fear that, while he intended his work to send a prophetic message, it might scandalize people if they knew he was Catholic, so he sat quietly in the back of church and didn’t go to Communion where he might be recognized.  While the latter is perhaps a bit extreme, it also gets into Western versus Eastern views of receiving Communion.

This all reminds me of an article I read recently about 40+ year _All My Children_ star Susan Lucci (Erica Kane).  She recently came out with an autobiography called _All My Life_.  In that memoir, and interviews related to it, she tells the story of what it was like in real life for her when she performed in the infamous story where her character had the first legal abortion on television.  (Interestingly, they’ve recently done a story where it turned it was a “botched abortion”, and the baby survived and recently returned as an adult–this inspired a column that argues how abortion is the cause of the death of the daytime drama, since not as many women are stay at home moms anymore.)  Anyway, Lucci says she performed in the story to show how horribly abortion hurts women, how she felt a certain level of guilt about it and confessed it sacramentally, and how people reacted to her.  Again, like Warhol, she began being discreet about her Catholicism because people were scandalized by the character she portrayed on television.  (I’ve also seen Lucci listed as a “pro-choice Catholic” today, but can’t find any corroboration of where that comes from).

In any case, it should be a sobering lesson that these celebrities tried so hard to reconcile their faith with their work, but also showed great humility in practicing their faith quietly given their potentially scandalous circumstances.