So, This Dentist and His Family Get in an RV ‘

Michael Eisner and Eric Fogel team up to bring viewers Glenn Martin DDS, a claymated sitcom about a dentist and his family, which premieres this month on Nick at Nite.

When it comes to natural ideas for a claymated summer TV series, a family sitcom about a dentist doesn’t exactly spring to mind. But when the show is exec produced by former Disney boss Mike Eisner and claymation veteran Eric Fogel (Celebrity Deathmatch, Starveillence), you know it’s going to be something to keep an eye on. Add Canada’s top stop-motion animation studio Cuppa Coffee and a killer comic voice cast (Kevin Nealon, Catherine O’Hara and Judy Greer) to the mix and you may have a cure for the summertime blues.

Eisner and his production company, Tornante, made big news last spring when he announced that his new show (titled Glenn Martin DDS) was going to premiere on Nick at Nite’rerun home of shows such as Home Improvement, Malcolm in the Middle and The George Lopez Show.

‘The show was pitched to us with a stop-motion presentation tape,’ recalls Marjorie Cohn, Nickelodeon’s exec VP of original programming and development. ‘We fell in love with the characters and the style immediately’as it was unlike anything we’d seen before. The combination of sophisticated writing, amazing voice talent and state of the art puppet animation helps make the Martin family feel real and accessible, while still delivering on the outrageousness of the animation.’

Cohn says she believes Glenn Martin DDS is a good fit for Nick at Nite because it’s a family comedy. ‘Glenn takes his family on the ultimate road trip in order to bond and have adventures together,’ she notes. ‘It’s relatable to each and every member of families viewing at home who will be very entertained by the Martins’ experiences. It’s funny, outrageous and smart, but it also has heart.’

Inspired by a Disney Exec’s Dog

Last month, Eisner told The New York Times that the Martins’ family pooch was inspired by a Swiss mountain dog belonging to Thomas O. Staggs, Disney’s chief financial officer. ‘The dog is the funniest-looking dog I’ve ever seen,’ he told the paper. ‘Every time I see him, I tell him his dog’s going to be a star!’ He added, ‘The show is inspired by the idea of a comedic look at what it’s like to see America.’

The way exec producer/writer/director Fogel tells the story, Eisner had been thinking about producing a sitcom about a dentist for quite a while. ‘The first time he pitched it to me there were two criteria: The family had to live on the road in a mobile dental office and they had to have a dog that was self conscious about his large butt,’ Fogel says. ‘I thought, ‘Yeah, this is going to be fun.’”

Fogel says the team launched the production about a year ago. It takes about three to four months from the time the script is locked until they see a rough cut of the animation’and close to four to six weeks until they have the final picture.

Helping bring the show’s clever scripts to claymation life is the team at Toronto’s Cuppa Coffee, which has amassed an impressive list of credits in recent years, including Life’s a Zoo, Bruno, Rick and Steve and Celebrity Deathmatch. Cuppa Coffee’s founder and exec producer Adam Shaheen points out the show is one of his studio’s biggest projects. ‘With each episode set in a different U.S. state, our crew has been designing and building and animating a massive world reflective of the literally hundreds of locations the show takes us,’ says Shaheen. ‘This episode-specific build lends an added authenticity and ‘cartoon’ realism to the places Glenn and his family go and the people they meet, giving the series a unique comedic tone that we really think viewers will respond to.’

Of course, to the outside observer, the reasons for producing this sitcom in stop-motion rather than using a one-camera live-action format with Nealon and company are not that obvious. However, Fogel explains that Eisner was a big fan of a previous stop-motion show he had created for the E! Channel called Starveillance. ‘The show had a very rich, textured look and the puppets had a lot of detail in their faces,’ he explains. ‘One segment in particular spoofed the Olsen twins. We gave them a very funny, rapid-fire banter. Michael Eisner really responded to this piece and decided stop-motion was the way to go.’

The show strikes a good balance between dialogue-driven humor and over-the-top visual gags, he says. ‘A lot of the stuff we do would be impossible in live action. For example, in the pilot, Glenn gets his finger bitten off by an irate patient and then he must go fishing around for it. We actually put a camera inside the patient for a stomach POV! Also, the stories we want to tell would be difficult in a live-action series. In our show, if we want Barack Obama to make an appearance when the Martins visit Washington D.C., all we have to do is build him!’

Fogel and the Tornante team, which also includes exec producers Michael Jamin and Sivert Glarum, are working hard to make sure the hand-made quality of the stop-motion really sets the show apart from the overcrowded landscape of homogenous sitcoms about families. As he points out, ‘There is a charm and an energy in stop-motion that is unlike any of the other animated art forms. That, plus hilarious scripts and an incredibly talented group of actors will, I hope, draw people in.’

With veteran comics such as Nealon and O’Hara on board, it’s possible to assume that there’s a lot of adlibbing and improv allowed during the voice recording sessions. But Fogel says they often stick to the original scripts, but the actors are always encouraged to find ways to make the lines their own. ‘Those little nuances of performance always help make the characters more believable,’ he adds.

New Clay Faces and Places

Apart from the tight production schedule, one of the toughest aspects of the show was its changing environment. After all, each week the doc and his family travel to new locations in their RV, meeting new characters and surviving all kinds of misadventures. ‘Aside from the family and the RV, each episode is a totally unique world’new sets, new characters, new environments,’ says Fogel. ‘It’s a huge amount of build with hundreds of tiny details to keep track of. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to make sure every episode looks and sounds fantastic.’

Fogel says he’s very proud of the fact that the show is one of the first original animated series to air on Nick at Nite (Bill Cosby’s Fatherhood was the cabler’s first toon). ‘It’s always nice to be first’scary, but nice!’ He believes that viewers will be able to get invested in the trials and tribulations of Glenn, his wife, their two children (described as a hormone-addled 13-year-old boy and a power-suit-wearing 11-year old girl), the daughter’s assistant and the family dog named Canine. ‘They’ll want to see what kind of lunacy the Martins have gotten themselves into each week,’ he says optimistically. ‘And maybe they’ll want to see a dog with a gigantic butt!’

Glenn Martin DDS premieres on Nick at Nite on Monday, August. 17 at 8 p.m.