10 Questions for the Original TMNT Series Writer
We had an opportunity to catch up with the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series writer David Wise. David is an outstanding writer and now you can learn about his time in the television industry.
What inspired you to get into writing? And what drew you to writing for animation as opposed to feature films?
I was always fascinated by animation, and started making my own little animated experiments when I was five. By the time I was eight I had collected them into a 13-minute film called “Short Circuit,” which was shown all over the world. From then on until I was fifteen I made more films, lectured at colleges, universities and film societies, appeared on local and national television, and was written about in Time, Variety, even The New Yorker. By the time I was sixteen my projects had gotten too complex and expensive to produce on my own, and being sort of a loner and a control-freak, I decided to take up writing because, like animation, you have total control when you’re sitting at a keyboard. When I was seventeen I sold several science fiction short stories, and the following year, when my friend Russell Bates was having difficulty selling an idea to Dorothy Fontana for the animated Star Trek, I came in with him on it. The new idea we came up with sold, and our episode went on to win the Best Children’s show Emmy. So it was probably inevitable I’d end up writing for animation, though I always felt like I sort of stumbled into it.
What has been your favorite project/script you have worked on in your writing career?
A tie between that Star Trek script with Russell and the TMNT five-part pilot miniseries.
We understand you were not interested in writing animated shows at the time Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came around, what was your decision maker to join this project and stay on for 10 years?
Well, I was familiar with Eastman & Laird’s comic (which astonished the producers — the comics were THAT obscure at the time), and while I was hardly a fan of them, I was deeply into independent comics at the time, so that kind of lit a fire under me. Also, I felt the property had SO much potential that the comics seems to be completely oblivious to, and I was intrigued with digging deeper and mining it. Also, the pay was not bad.
You created a monumental character and story with Kraang, how did the idea of a giant brain who is also a warlord from Dimension X? Was it something you looked for in the original comic series?
The story behind the bad guys (Krang and Shredder) HAD to be monumental because there had to be enough material to potentially support 65 episodes (nobody dreamed at the time it would go on to six-zillion or whatever it wound up being). I always try to pull as much material from the original subject matter as possible, to maintain a feeling of fidelity to the original, but mainly because I’m lazy, so naturally I looked to the comics for material. But I didn’t find much, beyond “the Shredder” and the visual appearance of the Utroms, who inspired the look of Krang.
Was was the process like working with Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird?
I never had any contact whatsoever with them. They had no input on my scripts. Six or seven years into the run of the series, they started insisting to Fred Wolf that they contribute to the stories. From then on they would occasionally submit ideas. I turned them all down. They were terrible stories and would never have worked for a children’s series even if they had been any good.
Would you ever work another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles project again and why?
If they paid me enough I might. But I really feel like I’ve made my “statement” with the Turtles already.
What are your thoughts on Nickelodeons newest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles television series?
I haven’t watched it. Why would I? I have no financial stake in it, and my emotional stake in the original series is quite high: I’ve often said that I broke my personality into for pieces and gave a piece to each of the Turtles — Leonardo is my serious side, Raphael my sarcastic side, Donatello my geeky side, and Michelangelo my fun-loving side. Seeing other iterations of TMNT mess with that can be sort of painful for me.
I will say this: I don’t hear any kids in my neighborhood running around yelling “Booyakasha.”
Did fan feedback have any influence on writing for TMNT during your time on the series?
No. The fans were all eight years old, and there was no Internet yet.
If you didn’t get into writing, what other hobby/profession would you see yourself doing?
Do you prefer a serious dark gritty tone or a comedic fun feel when writing for a superhero television animated series?
It totally depends on the series, and what’s appropriate for it. Either tone has its challenges. But I’m at home writing both. (Yeah, I came up with “Cowabunga, dude” — but I’m also the only writer on Batman: The Animated Series to have a story get killed for being “too dark.”)
There you have it folks, tell us what you think or feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.