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Films > The Real Ghostbusters > Books
Return Of The Ghostbusters
by Brian Lowry
(Starlog, October 1986, issue #111)
(transcribed by Lanny White)

*Back Off Man They're...The Real Ghostbusters!! Venkman, Spengler, Stantz, & Zeddmore are back to tackle animated apparitions in sophisticated Saturday morning shadowplay.*

If you see something strange in the usually bland neighborhood of Saturday mornings this fall, you may have just called the Ghostbusters.

"The Real Ghostbusters", that is, not to be confused with the "Original Ghostbusters", an animated series based on the short-lived children's Tv show starring Larry Storch, Forrest Tucker, and Bob Burns. When a movie makes $200 Million, and there's no sequel in sight, anyone with a spare ounce of ectoplasm will look for a way to profit from the phantom-smashing sensation.

What "The Real Ghostbusters" hopes will set them apart, however, is the adult format, picking-up in the scary-comic vein where the 1984 hit film left off.

Once again, we follow the exploits of Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler, and Winston Zeddmore, four blue-collar guys who don't say, "This Buds For You", until the vapor, spirt, or poltergeist in question has been safely slapped into a containment unit.

Patterned after the characters played by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson - but unable to use their voices or exact likenesses - the show also features Janine, their efficient secretary, and a most unusual mascot: Slimer, the green floating torso with the voracious appetite who "slimed" Murray the first time around.

But if the real Ghostbusters struggled against Gozer to save the world, story editor J. Michael Straczynski - a self-proclaimed "fifth ghostbuster" - sees an equally daunting challenge awaiting: the effort to bring adult storytelling to kidvid.

"Studios are watching this series very carefully", Straczynski says, sitting in his offices at DIC enterprises, the Encino, CA-based company that also produces "Heathcliff" and "Inspector Gadget". "If this works, they'll have ammunition to turn to the networks and say, 'Look it does work to have sophistication and intelligent writing in your shows. Let's do the same thing".

"If the show fails, everyone will say, 'See they tried to do intelligent shows, and no one's watching.' a lot is riding on this series".

ABC and Columbia Pictures have both provided a vote of confidence, approving a Saturday a.m. network Tv this month and a 65-Episode syndicated run for 1987.

But can "The Real Ghostbusters" escape from the stigma of Saturday morning, where most of the shows have less to do with telling stories than selling toys? Straczynski claims the gold's in the writing.

A number of "Twilight Zone" alumni, including Michael Reaves and STARLOG's David Gerrold, have contributed teleplays. Experienced SF and comic-book pros - among them Marv Wolfman, J.M. DeMatteis, Steven Barnes, Arthur Byron Cover and Steve Perry - have also been solicited to write the show.

Straczynski, late of "He-Man" and "She-Ra", has committed to luring the best to script the Ghostbusters' exploits. "I felt if our show worked, it would work because of imaginative thinking", he explains. "Having writers who know the canon of science fiction helps tremendously". There are, in fact, only two prerequisites to write for the show: A) a liking for the original movie, and B) a knowledge of science fiction.

"Ghost Stories"

The result, Straczynski claims, is a lineup od stories unlike anything ever seen on Saturday morning, and some of the plots (And titles) seem to bear him out. Some samplings:

[Short summaries of "The Collect Call Of Cthulhu", "Adventures In Slime And Space", "Station Identification", "Knock Knock", "Night Game", "Haunted Animal House", and "X-Mas Marks The Spot"]

Some other, equally bizarre offerings are planned for syndication, which allows for a bit more leeway than the networks.One proposed script, reminiscent of an old "Howard The Duck" comic, involves were-chickens - normal-sized cluckers who go crazy when the moon comes up. Straczynski calls it "a sick, twisted idea - the kind that gives the animators room to play".

Unlike other Saturday morning fare, "The Real Ghostbusters" revels in that sort of irreverence. The approach, it producers fervently hope, will appeal to adults, as well as children on various levels, "the same way the old Warner Bros. cartoons used to", Straczynski says.

The writing hinges on the broad story parameters, which tell the writers, essentially, to let their minds run amok. "We don't have a formula", Straczynski says proudly.

"By not having a formula, you avoid repetition. In the average animated series, you have the "bad" guy - Skeletor, or whomever. You have to take the bad guy each week and keep finding new permutations for him. You can go nuts that way".

"We can play with a whole wide range of things, so now two of our shows are alike. We're doing an episode where there are no ghosts, there's nothing to do, and the Ghostbusters have to go out and get 'real' jobs".

It isn't always just fun and games either, when you make your living zapping free-floating ectoplasm. While Straczynski acknowledges that there's little actual violence shown, "Their is some implied violence. These ghosts, given the chance, would and could kill you. Some shows are very scary, some are full-tilt gonzo".

When it comes to unbridled terror, the story editor says nothing will surpass "The Boogeyman Cometh". The episode, which will air on network Tv, focuses on a real boogeyman, who lives in the In-between place.

Each wall, floor, and ceiling in the Boogeyman's realm leads to a different child's bedroom closet. The character himself is a nasty, hooved, horned demon.

Straczynski submitted the show, certain that it would never pass the network's standards and practices committee. Sure enough, the ABC liaison called and requested two minor changes. "After that, there was a long silence", Straczynski recalls. "Then she said, 'OK, that's it'".

"The censors have been remarkable with us. They have let things go through I thought would never make it. 'The Boogeyman Cometh' is a frightening, frightening story, and they let us do it! It's going to have kids traumatized all over the country", Straczynski says gleefully.

"We're doing things that are completely deranged. We fry the Easter Bunny. I've always wanted to fry the Easter Bunny, and I finally get my chance".

"We also have surrealistic humor. In one show, people's dreams come to life. There's a postman sleeping, and you have a post office mailbox arguing with a huge letter. The mailbox is saying, 'You must go where you're addressed', and the letter is arguing in favor of free will".

"Ghost Stars"

Straczynski apologizes, in fact, for the first few shows, which don't push as hard against the limitations of Saturday morning. "Don't be discouraged by the first three shows", he warns. "The first three shows are soft because we didn't realize how much we could get away with".

Nevertheless, for all it's absurdity, ebullience, and ambition, there's a certain irony about "The Real Ghostbusters" - namely, that it's being done without any input by the real Ghostbusters.

Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, and director Ivan Reitman have moved on to other projects. Reitman, Straczynski says, has seen some scripts and responded favorably, and Michael Gross and Joe Medjuck, the film's associate producers, are serving as the cartoon's executive producers.

In order to keep things fast and funny, writers are told to treat the characters exactly as if they were Ramis, Hudson, Aykroyd, and Murray. "There is only one Bill Murray", Straczynski admits. "As a consequence you'll never get as hip or sharp of a delivery, no matter how good the actors are".

"You just have to write it as if you're writing for Bill Murray and the others, and hope the actors can pull it off".

Lorenzo Music, a familiar voice in commercials, and best known as Carlton the Doorman from the sitcom "Rhoda", has the unenviable task of following in Bill Murray's vocal chords. A deft ensemble of unknowns provides the rest of the voices.

Faces have also been altered, since, notes Straczynski, "We can't show Bill Murray's face, because he owns that". So Peter has a more boyish look, Egon turns up with blondish hair, and Ray and Winston look a tad different.

Slimer, at least, resembles his earlier incarnation. Apparently, free-floating, three-foot-tall green potato heads don't have Bill Murray's clout.

Straczynski, for his part, is unconcerned. "We figured after the first couple of episodes, you won't even notice", he says.

The series makes light of it's link to the movie. One episode features the Ghostbusters, due to their fame, being brought to Hollywood where a movie is being shot about them. In the cartoon, the characters come to Columbia Studios, and meets Rick Rosen - an executive of the film written into the episode. The segment ends with the cartoon characters watching a rotoscope of the movie, cutting to Peter, who says, "That guy doesn't look a thing like me".

"Ghost Guard"

Producers of the animated series are also undaunted by "word on the street" that Aykroyd, between his other projects, is working on a script for "Ghostbusters II". "If there is a sequel, we have no problem with it", Straczynski maintains.

"We'll work it into the continuity. We'll find a way to say - as Star Trek often did - here's what happened it 'our' universe".

"I'm really big on continuity", he adds. "One show, which is done in flashback, ties together the movie's end, and our series' beginning. We figure, let 'em wonder, let the questions arise. Then we'll say, 'We haven't forgotten: here's how this happened, here's how that happened, nyah nyah to you".

In addition to battling to save the world, "The Real Ghostbusters" will struggle to distinguish themselves from "The Original Ghostbusters", a cartoon based on the earlier Filmation Tv series.

Columbia settled a lawsuit with Filmation for an undisclosed sum in order to use the title in the film, but that didn't preclude Filmation's own animated attempt to capitalize on poltergeist popularity.

"Original" debuts in syndication, featuring two guys and a gorilla battling the occult. "Just by coincidence", Straczynski says slowly, "the very first episode of our show, 'Ghosts R' Us', has to do with a rival trio of ghostbusters who are, of course, frauds."

"We aren't worried. We're going to take a little potshot at them in our first episode and then leave it at that".

Encouraged by ABC's strong support, the folks at DIC are using revolutionary jargon - talking about overthrowing the structure that has made Saturday morning cartoons the black hole of animation. "If it works, they'll have to make new shows", Straczynski contends. "The ones that are on now are too straightjacketed to break that format".

"There are so many shows which are toy commercials that are trying to get writers to do the original thinking, without a story guideline telling them what to do, is very hard".

"A writer came in who wanted to work on the show and who had worked for some other animated series", Straczynski recalls. "I told him we do have a toy company involved, but it doesn't have story approval and it doesn't tell us what characters to use, in what order, or how often".

"He looked at me for a long moment, thinking about something and said, 'Well, how do you know what to write?'". Now it's Straczynski's turn to take a long pause: "He will not be working on this show", he says firmly.

The flag is up (With a Ghostbusters decal, of course), all of ghostdom is being assembled and the accelerators are loaded. J. Michael Straczynski and company, eager to assault traditional sensibilities, ain't fraid of no failure: the rebellion has begun.

"We may miss, we may make a direct hit", he observes. "Our hope is only that this will be the first volley fired in that revolution".

(c) 1986 Starlog