Adult Swim, Cartoon Network's primetime programming block, is celebrating a 15-year anniversary. But the original concept for it truly goes back 1993, when the channel's first programmer—Mike Lazzo—was told by his boss, Ted Turner, to use the limited resources he had at his disposal to whip up some original programming.
Lazzo noticed the new Hanna-Barbera library his boss had acquired and, with the then-current Letterman/Leno late night wars in mind, decided to recycle some animation from the 20-episode series Space Ghost and Dino Boy into a new series, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, which paved the way for the absurdist sensibilities that have informed Adult Swim's brand of television ever since. To celebrate its 15th anniversary, here are some facts about some of your all-time favorite Adult Swim shows.
SPACE GHOST COAST TO COAST
'S ANIMATION DIRECTOR LANDED THE ROLE OF ZORAK WITH A SPOT-ON IMPERSONATION.
Space Ghost Coast to Coast
animation director C. Martin Croker was a fan of the original series, and ended up landing the role of Zorak via an impromptu audition, when he did a spot-on voice impersonation of the character. He would eventually get the voice gig for Moltar, too. Croker also came up with the idea of setting the show in space and suggested that Zorak and Moltar should be performing their bandleader and producing duties as unwilling prisoners.
2. THE BEE GEES WERE SPACE GHOST'S MOST MISBEHAVED GUESTS.
3. DANA SNYDER BECAME MASTER SHAKE THANKS TO TWO DRUNKEN VOICEMAILS.
After a night out enjoying some adult beverages with a friend, Dana Snyder followed Aqua Teen Hunger Force (2000-2015) co-creator Dave Willis’ directions and left his audition on his voicemail. Willis loved what he heard, but accidentally erased it and needed to play it for his boss. When Snyder tried it again sober, it didn’t have the same effect for Willis. So Snyder repeated his drunken night out, recorded it again at 3 a.m. the next morning, and won the part.
AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE
HAD A THREE-SECOND BLOOD RULE. THEY RIDICULED IT.
5. THE ORIGINAL SEALAB 2021 PILOT WAS 24 MINUTES LONG AND NOT LIKED BY ANYBODY.
Future Archer creator Adam Reed and co-creator Matt Thompson took the old Sealab 2020 (1972) series footage and turned it into a 24-minute show with new audio. Cartoon Network said no "on the spot," according to Reed. But then, yet again, alcohol came into play. "It was a little while later and Matt and I were absolutely broke and we just got drunk as hell and watched one episode of the old show over and over," Reed told TIME in 2010. "Probably watched it 10 times with the sound turned down to match the lip flap with whatever spewed out. And we re-cut it into this random seven-minute show, and it turned out they were trying to find shorter things for this new Adult Swim concept, and they bought it."
6. THERE'S A LITTLE MIKE BRADY IN HARVEY BIRDMAN.
Gary Cole auditioned for Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law (2000-2007) over the phone. "There was an element of Mike Brady in [the voice], in that I thought Harvey was just as vacant in his head as Mike Brady," said Cole (who, coincidentally, played Mike Brady in 1995's The Brady Bunch Movie and its sequel). "I pictured a little more of a superhero/game-show-host voice, and that's how I read for it."
7. THE VENTURE BROS. IS ABOUT FAILURE.
“It’s about that failure happens to all of us," executive producer Doc Hammer theorized about The Venture Bros., which was created by Jackson Publick. "Every character is not only flawed, but sucks at what they do, and is beautiful at it and Jackson and I suck at what we do, and we try to be beautiful at it, and failure is how you get by ... It shows that failure’s funny, and it’s beautiful and it’s life, and it’s OK, and it’s all we can write because we are big failures.”
That was in season one. By the time Hammer and Publick went back to look at season five, the quote had made the rounds. "I don’t think our failure was ever, 'These people are incompetent,'" Hammer added. "I think our failure was they’re so terribly human in a world of comic book inhumanness, and that’s kind of our long joke. These people are stuck in a world that could only exist in an inhuman Saturday morning show, and they’re real. It’s a big mess."
8. TIM HEIDECKER AND ERIC WAREHEIM GOT ON ADULT SWIM BY SENDING AN INVOICE TO BOB ODENKIRK.
“They sent me an envelope with a DVD, and usually I throw those things away, but this envelope also had an itemized bill in it,” Mr. Show co-creator and Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk told Variety. “There was a charge for postage, a charge for packaging, for shipping—everything. And it made me laugh." Odenkirk liked what he saw and got the two into a room with Adult Swim executives, leading to Tom Goes to the Mayor and then Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, and other shows they've produced. Wareheim got to quit his job at Urban Outfitters.
9. TWO EPISODES OF THE BOONDOCKS WERE BANNED BY ADULT SWIM.
Both "The Hunger Strike" and "The Uncle Ruckus Reality Show" painted BET in an unfavorable light, and drew the alleged ire of BET executives. They urged Adult Swim not to air them. Cartoon Network agreed after legal action was threatened.
10. ROBOT CHICKEN WAS NAMED AFTER A MENU ITEM.
Robot Chicken is on the menu at the Chinese restaurant Kung-Pao Bistro in West Hollywood, California. Writer/star Breckin Meyer said that neither he nor the creators of the series, Matt Senreich and Seth Green, "know what the hell it is.”
11. CHILDRENS HOSPITAL TOOK THEIR BRAZIL JOKE AS FAR AS ACTUALLY GOING TO BRAZIL.
Co-creator Rob Corddry recalled how the Brazil running gag came about:
"In the first season I have a scene with Megan Mullally and she’s feeling a little insecure and I’m saying, ‘Listen, you’re the best damn administrator in this hospital.’ And just as an afterthought, David Wain [the Childrens executive producer who ran the show with Corddry and Jonathan Stern] suggested we add, ‘You’re the best damn administrator in all of Brazil.’ And then we just decided to expound on that: ‘Which is where we are right now. We are in Brazil.’ And that became a running joke … It was one of those things that everybody on the crew laughed at. And then all of a sudden the next day, in the nurses’ station, little pictures of Pele would start popping up. And we’d be like, ‘Okay guys, let us choose where the Brazil jokes are.’"
For season three, they put $15,000 aside in the budget to travel to Rio for four days and shoot one scene for the episode "Nip/Tug." "It was not necessary, we did not need it, it was not pushing the story along whatsoever, and we didn’t care," Corddry said.
12. JON GLASER DEVELOPED HIS DELOCATED CHARACTER ON LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN.
On Conan, Glaser played a guy who tried to continue his work as an impressionist even though he was now in the Witness Protection Program (all of his voices now sounded the same.) "It was dumb," Glaser admitted, "but it was always fun to do and the thing I liked about it was that he was super arrogant and smug and confident, even though his humor was sh*tty and hacky, and just that archetype of a character, the smug a**hole, was really fun to do and I always wanted to do something with it after I left Conan, so that's where the idea came from for this show."
13. JOHN C. REILLY WON'T TALK ABOUT PLAYING DR. STEVE BRULE.
"I just showed up with my costume and started channeling that guy. I don't know where he came from. I find the less I say about Steve Brule the better. I think of him as real, and anytime I start to analyze him, it just gets really boring," Reilly told Esquire about playing the title character in Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule, before saying he wasn't interested in talking about him anymore.
Tim Heidecker revealed that Reilly cannot see through the glasses Brule wears. "So he does kind of zone out, and there’s a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of thing where he really gets into that character. It’s amazing. He does think of that guy as another person."
14. THE RICK AND MORTY PILOT SCRIPT WAS WRITTEN IN SIX HOURS.
The original concept from Justin Roiland was from an animation he made for Community creator Dan Harmon and writer/director Rob Schrab's nonprofit short film festival, Channel 101. He made admittedly bad impressions of Doc and Marty from Back to the Future for a short called The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti. Immediately after Harmon and Roiland successfully pitched the idea to Adult Swim, Roiland suggested to Harmon they just stay in Harmon's office and write the pilot script right then and there instead of doing it over three months.
THE ERIC ANDRE SHOW
PILOT WAS TAPED IN A "SEMI-ILLEGAL" BODEGA IN BROOKLYN.
"It had crap and piles of broken glass everywhere and it was super nasty and we just cleaned it up a little bit, threw up curtains," Eric Andre explained. "While we were shooting, like six to seven different dudes claimed that they owned the place." Andre ran out of money and taught himself Final Cut Pro to edit it. A bunch of networks said no to him, except for Adult Swim.