Toonarific Interview – Michael Paraskevas

Originally posted: 8-11-2003

The man behind “Maggie and the Ferocious Beast”, “The Kids from Room 402”, and much more!

Great Googily Moogily!! What an opportunity! We actually interviewed the man behind Maggie and the Ferocious Beast and several other cartoons on television. There are even a few new shows that we got a chance to talk about before anyone else! That’s right, you heard it here first!

What made you decide to become a producer?
Well…I always wanted to do something in the entertainment field. I grew up seeing every Broadway show (Betty, my mother, worked with broadway producer Harry Rigby on a number of shows). I was always very good at drawing and at first wanted to design sets for the stage, but I switched to an art school when I realized I wanted to paint. I became an illustrator and worked for years for most of the major magazines around the country. I finally asked my mother to write me a children’s book. She is very funny and can write. We sold the first book rather fast. It’s a tough business to crack into, but we have managed to publish 14 books with various publishers…at present we love ‘Simon and Schuster’. Go check out One of our earlier books published by Harcourt was ‘Junior Kroll’. There are three of them and it was Determined Productions (Connie Boucher…the Queen of Licensing, Snoopy, Peanuts, Felix) that wanted to make a Junior Kroll doll. FAO Schwarz loved Connie’s toys and they made an arrangement to sell Junior at FAO. It’s was very successful for us and Determined. It was from here the Nelvana found us. It was a good mix. Nelvana loved to adapt books and we had plenty of material. A deal was made with the company but alas no one has found the right deal with Junior Kroll. Canadian Content limits my mother’s ability to write scripts and we are not giving in on this one. It gets kinda complicated from here… TV animation is a tricky business.
How long have you been working with cartoons and animation?
‘Maggie and the Ferocious Beast’ was first shown to Nick Jr. about four years ago. Nick is very good at really working on a show…They worked with us and made us work hard on seeing this through. They have a very clear idea of what they want for preschool and Maggie is a better show becauce of their deddicated work.
In producing a show, what exactly is the your role and the duties involved?
Well it varies from show to show. On Maggie I designed almost every thing…from rocks to trees to characters. Betty (my mother) actually did get to write this show (15 scripts) through a deal with Canada that let her write on the first season (lucky for Nelvana …we have trouble finding good Canadian writers…I hope the Mounties don’t come beating down my door). I attended voice records…gave tons of notes on boards..We did have an excellent director on Maggie: Jamie Whitney of ‘Bob and Margaret’.
The new show, “Maggie and the Ferocious Beast”, is really great for younger kids. It teaches them many things they need to grow up with,like getting along and forgiveness. Did you jump at the project when it was presented to you or were you hesitant on whether it would do well or not?
Well…. we had a vision for this show and Nick only made it better…but we did a ton of work on this one..see above.
Would we be able to have some of the Beast’s spots, being that he gives them out so frequently?
With the budget of this show running into the millions each spot roughly costs us about $6000. and that’s US money not Canadian…if it was Canadian no one would be about to afford it.
I’ve also watched many of the “Kids from Room 402” cartoons. What were your thoughts about that one when it was offered for production?
This show was structured a bit different. We did create this one however. Betty didn’t write any scripts. We acted as producers on this notes and designing the show. The writers that Fox found, Lesa Kite and Cindy Beagle were unreal..script after script came in and everyone was better than the last. They took a great idea for a show…which was based on our book ‘Gracie Graves and the kids from Room 402’, and made it even better. But this show was in development for two years before a new executive was found at Fox who really knew how to make it work. Brian Casentini deserves a ton of credit for believing in this idea of ours. Cinegroupe did the animation and in the beginning we had a lot of problems with the design…I knew what I wanted and finally it all worked… but the second season is much better…
I’ve noticed that some of the characters have a hint of the Peanuts personalities in them. Was that done on purpose or just happened during the production?
Holy smokes…thats not fair… it’s not peanuts… I mean Peanuts is ok…but we like to think of it as Seinfeld for kids.
The other two shows you listed for me; “Marvin the Tap-Dancing Horse” and “Tangerine Bear Christmas” are unfamiliar. Are they shows for future airing, or have they already been shown? Can you tell us a little about them?
Marvin is also based on a book of ours and again it’s a Nelvana Project for PBS. It looks great and I must say…even with Canadian writers it’s very funny. The voice work is great…but man…it was a ton of work making it come together. Betty had a great idea for this one and it really came from her love of Broadway. It will be on this fall on PBS saturday mornings.
‘The Tangerine Bear’ is another book of ours that we turned into our first home video. Artisan is distributing and Hyperion did the animation. We had a great team at Hyperion that put this together. Artisan is unreal at marketing….you should see what they have planned. It will be on ABC this coming fall as a Christmas special. Betty wrote a wonderful script (you should have seen the first draft turned in by someone who will remain nameless…it was awful and not at all what we wanted). I again got to design the characters and worked with the storyboard artists and the director. It was a class act all the way.
I would like to add that Maggie and the Ferocious Beast should be a big cult hit. Give it a look and tell me if I’m wrong…but it’s not even remotely like Barney or any other type of preschool show that I’ve ever seen. The characters are very rich and emotional…and I just think that one of these days the college crowd is going to catch on to this one. It’s very quirky.
What future projects do you have in the works?
Ohhhh wouldn’t you love to know that…. I will say two words… Green Monkeys. We will also be doing a follow up project with Artisan…and Hyperion.
What kinds of projects would you like to work on in the future? With anyone in particular?
I want to direct a feature film…Hey FOX are you reading this.
What was you favorite cartoon growing up?
Bullwinkle and Foghorn Leghorn.
What kind of things do you like to do on your spare time?
Who has the time…..? but when I’m not working…I love a good cigar (boy that goes over big in the children’s business) and going to the movies…
How many degrees of separation are there between you and Kevin Bacon? Please outline 🙂
Oh god… hasn’t this game died yet… here goes.. Me to Rick Heinrichs (production designer of Sleepyhollow and the new Bedazzled with….Brendan Fraser was in Twenty Bucks (1993) with Elisabeth Shue.
Elisabeth Shue was in Hollow Man, The (2000) with Kevin Bacon
I think that works….I haven’t tried anyother way… I’m sure there are more…I do know a lot of people.
Thank you very much for being able to do this interview for us. We really enjoy speaking with anybody and everybody we can in the business that have made significant contributions to the genre.

Thank you…let me know if I can answer any more…and I’ll let you know how everything is going here…oops there’s the door…oh no…it’s the Canadian Police…. I better hide. See you in Mexico.

I might add, I do believe Mickey is right when he says that Maggie will be a cult hit. The show is wonderful and I watch it every day that I can. Give it a look-see and find out for yourself. Maggie and the Ferocious Beast on Nickelodeon (check you local listings for time). Do it now!!

Find out more information at The Official Maggie and Ferocious Beast Site.