“Get over it.”
It was six months after Undergrads, an animated series I helped make, was cancelled by MTV. It was the first project I had worked on soup to nuts as a writer and co-developer that was on actual television and seen (ostensibly) by a national audience.
The network debuted it on a Sunday night, up against a scrappy little cult show called The Simpsons, and then promptly switched its time slot about 4500 times before axing it somewhere around episode six or seven.
We all knew it was coming. We knew a month before the show came out, when the creative team and MTV’s promotional team sat around a big table, and the head of the PR department suggested, without a hint of irony, that we should consider hanging up posters around NYC. Like we were a band looking for a new bassist, or a mini-fridge that was in pretty good condition, will take best offer.
We all knew this was coming. We knew we weren’t getting support from MTV, which in 2002 was transitioning from interesting youth and music-oriented programming to encompassing all 360 degrees of terrible. And you have to give them credit, they ended up sticking the landing on that one.
We all knew it was coming. The ratings stunk. The few people who wanted to watch the show couldn’t find it. Our only real sponsor was Yaffa Blocks, the dorm furniture alternative for college students who wanted to pay money for plastic milk crates.
We all knew it was coming. It didn’t make it any easier.
The 13 episodes we produced represented about four years’ worth of development, meetings, writing, trips to Toronto to work with the animators, and all of the other giant piles of things that have to happen to make a cartoony show go on your television. As I mentioned last week, making TV in general is a preposterous amount of work, and when you add the fact that hordes of people are creating an entire world from pencil drawings, it becomes that much more preposterous-er.
But it was so much fun. We loved this show. We loved every single thing about this show. We loved the characters, we loved working our own college experiences into it, we loved the dumb, dumb jokes we wrote for it, and we loved the silly little Easter eggs we put in there for literally no one but ourselves. (My proudest was naming one of the campus buildings “Ridenhour Hall”, which is rapper Chuck D’s government name.)
We loved the late nights, we loved working with the other writers we brought in, hell, we even loved arguing about things so minuscule that no audience member would ever notice or care about.
We loved this show. I was barely 30, and Pete, the show’s creator, had just turned 21. Our Head Writer, Andy, had worked on a bunch of shows within the Viacom mothership before, but his personal investment in the project was easily on par with ours. It was like we had managed to perpetrate an epic whammy on a major network, and put this goofy, absurd, heartfelt, occasionally profane, occasionally sappy shambling mound of a thing on national television.
We loved this show. And six weeks into its run, it ceased to exist. Eventually, MTV ran the rest of the episodes in a time slot reserved for kitchen appliances the consumer is encouraged to set and forget. Comedy Central aired some episodes in a similar time slot, but pretty quickly thought better of it.
There was some vague talk about the show maybe popping up on Adult Swim, but now that I think of it, I might have just said that to myself wandering around my apartment wearing a beer-stained t-shirt while endless episodes of Law & Order blared in the background.
Six months after the show was cancelled, I was home in Connecticut, hanging out with my mom and some friends. I was both unbelievably bitter about its untimely demise, and a tiny, tiny bit hopeful that the thing could somehow come back. As a result, I was talking about it. A lot. It had been a part of my life for four years, I had put everything into it, and it was still very fresh on my mind.
So when I brought up the possibility of it returning, yet again, one of my friends rolled their eyes, looked at me and said, “Get over it.”
I knew they meant well, in an aggressively blunt fashion. No need to wallow. Shows get cancelled all the time. Life marches on. Go run a few laps or something, kid, get out of my face.
I was pretty devastated by that. Didn’t they know how hard we’d all worked on that show? Didn’t they know it was pretty much gone forever? Like it had never happened? All of that effort, all of those characters, all of those jokes, just GONE FOREVER.
And that was true at the time.
And then an odd thing happened over the course of the next decade. Teletoon, the Canadian equivalent of the Cartoon Network, pretty consistently ran the same 13 episodes once or twice a year, year in and year out. The fact that it had the requisite amount of Canadian content in it helped its case, and the fact that it pulled pretty decent ratings for a show that basically cost nothing to broadcast did as well. The whole weird tale of it is well covered here, albeit by someone who found the show only moderately more entertaining than Small Wonder reruns.
The bizarro journey culminated in 2012 at the Calgary Expo, where myself, Pete and Andy met hundreds of our fans, got to tell a bunch of old stories, and generally received the high-five from the universe that had been lost in the mail for about 10 years. Because all of the work that we did years ago, it wasn’t in vain. It didn’t change the world, it didn’t cure cancer, and truth be told, it wasn’t that big of a deal. But damn it, it mattered to a bunch of people who also refused to get over it.
Concurrently to all this, I was lucky and privileged enough to break into writing movies. I managed to get a movie into theaters, which promptly tanked. In the ensuing years, I have worked on two web series that did not return for a second season, and just last week, a show that I’ve been working on for the past year was cancelled. As of this writing, I haven’t really “gotten over” any of these things, and to varying degrees, I never will.
Because I know I don’t need to. And when I say I don’t need to get over them, I don’t mean that I wander around in beer-stained sackcloth, lighting candles for all of my precious departed joke stories. I don’t need to get over them because I am crazy stupid proud of them, and because they are still here.
What Undergrads taught me is that nothing we make is GONE FOREVER. The things I worked on, the projects that crashed and burned, they may never, ever return. But damn it all, somebody saw them. Somebody’s day was brightened. And who knows, somebody a year, five years, ten years from now might stumble across something online that I helped make, and they might smile. Or they might find it moderately less entertaining than a rerun of Small Wonder. Doesn’t matter. It’s still there.
And so am I. And so are the friends I make things with. The things we make may not return. But we will.
So let’s make more things. Let’s make more things that spectacularly crash and burn, and let us watch the fabulous Viking funeral from afar, content in the knowledge that a few kindred souls will see it as well. Let us carry the memory of the exploded things we made in our hearts and minds, let us learn from them, and let us hold them dear.
And then, let’s make more things.
It’s September. School is in session. Go make things.