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Dauid Kirscbner is creating a uibrant new imagefor Hanna-Barbera

might put


I \. Yogi Bear himself new Hanna-Barbera president and

CEO David Kirschner is smaarrrter than the average studio executive. Ask Kirschner, however, and you get modesty worthy of Boo Boo. "There are MBAs out there who crunch numbers much better than I ever could, and business-affairs people who make killer deals I could never make," he says. ooBut I like to think I've got good street smarts as far as taking an idea, recognizing a void in the market, and going after it." In other words, Basic Business lOl-until you realize that Kirschner is as much a basic businessperson as Yogi is a basic bear. In an unlikely career as a professional dreamer, Kirschner created and produced the Rose Petal Plare children's book series, which spun off a $35-million toy line for Hallmark; devised the characters and concepts of An American TaiI (1986), the most successful non-Disney animated film and a merchandising bonanza; and produced the horror movie blockbuster Child's Play (l9BB), which made a cult star of a murderous doll named Chucky that Kirschner conceived of as a parody oflicensed characters. And all this before

turning 34.

Last October, the Cincinnati-based Creat American Broadcasting (contirutcdonpage64)

By Frank





Kirschner ( con tirurcd, from page 64 ) Saatchi DFS Inc. for 14 years and
about $40 million. But now the doldrums seem ready to exit, stage left. In June the company debuts "The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barberar" a "motion control" amusement park ride through

Kirschner ( continued from page 3 I ) Company tapped the boyish wonder

to revitalize their wholly owned sub-

been," observes Hanna. "You had

sidiary, Hanna-Barbera


tions, Inc. The famed cartoon com-

too many factions pulling in too many directions. It needed one strong person to pull all those ends

pany was still nominally run by co-chairpersons William Hanna, 79, and,Joe Barbera, 79, the animators who gave the world the Jetsons,

the Flintstones, Top Cat,


Like Spielbug, Kirscbnu had grown

up making elaborate Super-B nome mouxes.


animated worlds. The $I5-million attraction puts ooriders" in a room made to resemble a vehicle, where the seats realistically pitch and rock as if you're flying through the cartoon scenes you see out the oowindshield." Part of the new Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, Flor-

"Mr. Lindner brought me in to move Hanna-Barbera into areas it hasn't been into before," says
Kirschner of his mandate. He refers

Tbe Flintstones

ida, it goes head to head with the similar "Star Tours" ride in nearby
Disney World.

mouie will starJohn Goodman as Fred,

Doo, Quick Draw McGraw, and

enough other cartoon classics to warm any baby-boomer's heart. Yet the glory days were over; HannaBarbera hadn't had a hit since The SmurfsTY series premiered in l98l, and those characters weren't even the company's own creation. Kirschner found himself presiding over a leiendary, consistently profitable,
but creatively listless studio.

hen this summer, Universal Pictures releases the longawaited Jetsons animated feature, which inaugurates a serious Hanna-Barbera merchandising blitz. A new sister company, Bedrock

andpossibly Tracqt Ullman, Cindy Williams, and Rick Moranis asWilma, Bett!, and Barnqt.
to Carl H. Lindner, whose American Financial Corp. owns 64 percent of


is producing


"Hanna-Barbera was not functioning as it should have," Hanna himself observes at his office in the company's high-school-like, twostory building next door to Universal

action films for theaters and TV; already in progress are an MGM/UA suspense drama, Canundrurn, starring Sally Field, and The Endangered,, an animated feature HannaBarbera is doing for 20th Century Fox. In development, too, is an inno-

vative live-action/animated series called Wakn, Rattle & Roll, plus a

host of new cartoons.

the NASDAQ+raded Great American Communications Co. (GACC), which bought Taft Entertainment (now Great American Broadcasting) and its wholly owned Hanna-Barbera subsidiary for $1.4 billion in 1987. Taft had owned Hanna-Barbera since 1967, when the cartoon
factory was ten years old. Today, says Kirschner, with new management in place, Hanna-Barbera oois beginning to be taken seriously by the movie community. Fox, Universal, and Disney all are courting us with projects. People want to
make the Scooby-Doo movie, the Jetsons movie, the Flintstonss rnsyis-

Though some of these projects

were under way when Kirschner arrived, the young mogul has brought

"The company had sat on its laurels for a lot of years," Kirschner agrees. "They watched these younger animation companies come up and begin to take over the market." Indeed. The company even leased away its rights to most of the Flintstones car'or', which a couple ofyears

along his own ideas-new characters for licensing, new distribution

channels, new marketing strategies-as well as valuable movie-industry coritacts. But most of all, he's . brought back a sense offun and for-

ago went to the ad agency Saatchi


ward motion. "Hanna-Barbera was not really organized as it should have

all in live-action!" In fact, the latter, which will star John Goodman as

(continucd, on page 69)



Fred and possibly Tracey Ullman, Cindy Williams, and Rick Moranis as Wilma, Betty, and Barney, is undergoing script revisions at a formidable home: Steven Spielberg's production company, A mblin. Kirschner and Spielberg go back a few years. It was Amblin that pro-

duced An American


and. the


is now working


Hanna-Barbera on a TV-series version of that movie. But Kirschner had made his mark even before the two
men met.

Like Spielberg, Kirschner had

grown up making elaborate Super-B

home movies. "I'd put together a model of the Cutty Sarfr, sculpt my sandbox to look like a lagoon, and
then set the ship on fire," he recalls. "My friend would push me around on

makeshift camera dolly while I filmed with my dad's camera." This was in suburban Van Nuys, California, where Kirschner and his sister were raised. Their father was in middle management with a photography company, and Kirschner enjoyed what he calls ooa Norman

Rockwell childhood." That ended

when his father, a severe diabetic, died when Kirschner was 13. The tragedy gave life to a children's book years later, after Kirschner had dropped out of USC's film school and gotten a job illustrating

Muppet characters for the papergoods company Stuart Hall. At nights and on weekends, the 23year-old created Rose Petal Pla.ce, about a little girl whose tather had died. She magically shrinks to the size of a flower and inhabits a world explored in 14 books, two TV specials, and more than 1,000 licensed Hallmark products. 'olt wasn't Cabbage Patcho"




Kirschner reflects, 'obut at a pretty

young age it did real well for me. Hallmark had basically said to me, 'Here's your l0 percent, go have a great life,o and I said, 'I want 50 percent plus the copyright.' And they

Kirschner next conceived of a project about the turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrant experience,
as seen through the eyes of what he

day-Kirschner and his wife, Liz,

met the vaunted producer-director at

his Malibu home. "And


hoped would be a marketable little

pretty much told me to forget it. Then they came back and said, 'If you'll pay for half the TV specials
and the promos, we'll do

mouse. Hallmark, he says, didn't think anyone would be interested in

a Jewish rodent, no matter how cute.

Steven Spielberg with a baseball hat on, wearing a pair of shorts, sitting on a big round Looney Tunes rug, all these [animation] cels all around

it.' " Rather than walk away as ex-

pected, Kirschner "remortgaged my home, cashed in my bar mitzvah bonds, and borrowed from every relative I ever heard of to play this game

He broirght his Fievel Mousekewitz to Disney, which also passed, and to TV producer Norman Lear and film studio Warner Bros., both of whom showed interest.

this room-I felt like I was at home!" To help sell the project, Kirschner brought out a steamer trunk with

with them." After raising about a quarter-million dollars, he says, he

wenl back to Hallmark and secured
the deal he wanted.

arners asked me, oHas Steven Spielberg met you?'I said no. 'Can we introduce you?' I said yes." On July 4, 1984-he remembers the exact

"Ship to America" stenciled on its side. He opened it up, an American flag popped out ("I'm very theatrical," he says sheepishly), and inside were various mice figures Kirschner had sculpted. Spielberg loved it. 'iAs I explained the whole thing to him," Kirschner still marvels, oohe said, 'What excites me more than what I



see before me is what you



up there [in your head], and how it will come out as you mature in this business.' Well, I thought I'd died
and gone to heaven. And then Steven said, olet's make a movie.' "

160, anyway-to produce the R-rated horror fllm Child's Plg.y. The "star" was an animatronic (ro-


point, he recalls, former ABC-TV

children's programming head Squire Rushnell was being considered. But eventually, GAB chairman and CEO Charles Mechem Jr. and president

bot-puppet) killer-doll named

Chucky, which Kirschner dreamed up and an animatronics expert designed and built. A caustic satire of the merchandising biz, the $11-million film grossed more than $65 million worldwide from theatrical and video distribution.

and COO Ceorge Castrucci chose

Kirschner. What they have in the intense but

Spielberg had been hunting for a

project to do with animator Don

Bluth, who led
a team of


ex-Disney people. He brought Bluth in as director of what came to be

called An American Tail, and the movie (which Spielberg released through Universal, to Warner Bros.' dismay) netted domestic rentals of over $50 million-more than S5 million ahead of the next highest
non-Disney animated feature.

exceedingly good-natured Kirschner is a frantically creative mind who has the rare ability to realize his

ll this

dream projects and see them

success brought
through to completion. And he combines that with an almost too-keen knowledge of what the public will

Kirschner to the attention of Korn/Ferry, the Los Angeles head-hunting firm Great American Broadcasting had hired to find a new

Kirschner next turned 180 de-

Hanna-Barbera chief. Joe Barbera says the search took a year. At one

fascinating about our generation," he muses, ttis what I call the Barbie ethic, which is that




help you earn a hout mandatory
'degree for work

Barbie dolls sell so well today because, aside from being a good toy line, Mom grew up with Barbie. Same with Mickey Mouse, same with the Flintstones or Snagglepuss or

Huckleberry Hound. These are characters who make you feel as if

you're living your childhood again." And again: "By the time we're 65 years old, we will have spawned an-

:rofessional, vor mind. Register nts as rapidly as

12 months.

:mic accomplish-

other two generations that, if I've done my job," he says smiling, "will have grown up on Hanna-Barbera characters being exploited through
the most powerful medium this world has ever known: television."

irschner and his wife have two young daughters: Jessie, B, and Alexis, 9. Is he worried about a different exploitation-that of children taught to be voracious consumers of licensedcharacter merchandise, no matter how bad it may be for them? "It's a good question," he allows.

"As long as licensing is handled well, I don't have a problem with it.
It's an extension of a child's world. It's what built Disney. But I won't do projects that are toy-driven," he insists. o'Three toy companies have


come to me since I've been here and said, 'This is our toy, would you do

will soar with

cartoons for us?' And that doesn't


rours guaranteed for


interest me at all.

" (without


to height 20/30 or better

rations: Houston. TK d. OH or Seattle. WA

"To mer" Kirschner stresses, "it all starts with the story. If there's a great story and if the entertainment is working, I have no problem with a
toy. But I don't start with a toy. I'm a ooGuys from storyteller," he asserts.
Madison Avenue are not."

ndant Recruiting


is a nationally syndicated, enJertainment writer and is

o/ Hailing