Always love talking to Dave Thomas. Besides his certified, Canadian comedy icon status, the SCTV firebrand has an informed opinion on just about any subject.
Spoke with him recently about his latest venture, Bob & Doug, which premiered Sunday night at 7:30 on Global. The 22 half hours reintroduce lovable hoseheads Bob & Doug McKenzie to a whole new generation of fans.
Thomas hopes it takes off, eh? The flash animation idea came about kinda by accident (Thomas experimented first with promotional films), but he thinks it should add years to the life of the characters.
Thomas said he was jolted into reality a few years ago when he re-teamed with Rick Moranis for a CBC 24th anniversary ("2-4," get it?) salute. Shooting the special in high-def seemed like a smart move until he took a closer look. "Getting old doesn't look pretty in HD," he says.
Vanishing entirely from the new series was Moranis, who has to be dragged before even an analog camera these days. The New York resident simply did not want to travel to Thomas' L.A. base to shoot the series, and when a satellite recording hook up proved too cumbersome and costly, Moranis quietly bowed out of the project, giving Thomas his blessing to find another voice.
Thomas laughed when I suggested Moranis is in his "I vant to be alone" Garbo phase. "There’s a little of that," he conceded. "He's fully open to not dying to do showbiz stuff these days. It was not something that surprised me," says Thomas, who passed the toque torch to former Full House comedian Dave Coulier to provide the voice of Doug. "I’ve known Dave for a long time, and when Rick said he didn’t want to do it, I asked if he would step in." says Thomas, who says Coulier pretty much nailed it. Friends hear the show, he says, and ask him how he got Moranis to do the voice.
The voice switch reminded me of the animated Abbott & Costello series from the mid-'60s. Bud Abbott, broke for years after the IRS came down hard on the boys at the end of their film careers, made a few precious bucks by adding his voice to 156 episodes of the Hanna-Barbera series. Costello had already passed away (he died at 53 of a heart attack in 1959), so Stan Erwin was hired to speak for Lou. Check out the intro to the series, below:
As a kid, I just assumed it was Abbott & Costello talking. I'm sure kids today won't miss Moranis. Thomas says he was more of a Bugs Bunny man growing up near Hamilton, Ont. "Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, that world," he says. "Bugs was Bob Hope, there’s no question about it. He was a celebrity. He was a funny guy, he was a coward—bunch of similar traits to Bob Hope. I guess that’s why I ended up liking Bob Hope, too."
Thomas, of course, does one of the best Bob Hope impressions ever. I still crack up every time I think of him, dressed in a leather jacket and swinging a golf club, doing Bob "Andrew Dice Clay" Hope at Just For Laughs "Club Nasty" in Montreal 20 years ago. The outrageous routine was a shocker at the time.
Hope's name came up again when I asked Thomas for his take on the current revolution in the TV business. Networks say the business model is broken, but Thomas says it is even more fundamental than that. People just don't want to watch commercials anymore.
He sees things swinging back to radio and early TV times when shows like The Buick Berle Hour or Texaco Star Theatre were entirely sponsored. "The only way a sponsor could be sure people were watching his show is if the show is called his product," says Thomas, who used to study old radio shows and recalls Hope saying things like, "Hang on, I'm brushing my teeth with Pepsodent toothpaste." (Read here for one account of just how persuasive Hope's sponsored show connection was in radio.)
"They built the product into the show as a character," says Thomas. So who'll sponsor the animated Bob & Doug? Some beer company? Maple Leaf back bacon? "There's a call from Global's product placement people about that already," says Thomas.