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Plus: Richard Raynis discusses SAMMY; Fox's Animation Schedule

By Steve Fritz     August 08, 2000

Wayne Knight, who many fans may remember as a semi-regular on Seinfeld and 3rd Rock from the Sun, sounds like he's having a ball with his latest project. 'This series represents the classic struggle between good and evil,' says Knight. 'They rule through teamwork and good will, while I rule through edicts and just pure nastiness. It's a lot like Hollywood.'

What's Knight talking about? The new Buzz Lightyear of Star Command series, which is being introduced through a special introductory video that's being released today, Aug. 8. Usually when a major studio releases an original, domestic direct-to-home video, it's a warning sign that the powers-that-be deemed the property too weak for theatrical release. Heck, they might not deem it worthy even for cable. Not so with Buzz Lightyear. Following the video's release, the series will air on ABC on Saturdays, and on UPN during the rest of the week starting in October.

Knight, now an animation vet with such credits as Disney's Tarzan, Toy Story 2 and Space Jam under his belt, voices the Evil Emperor Zurg, Buzz's pop and self-proclaimed ruler of the universe and master of the galaxy. Tim Allen sort of reprises his role of Buzz (previously seen in both Toy Story movies) for the video. Only this isn't the toy Buzz who starred in the two Pixar movies--it's the one from the TV show that the toy was based on. Following the video, Allen will be replaced by Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld, Talk Radio, the M&M commercials) for the TV series.

Oddly enough, Knight didn't voice Zurg in Toy Story 2. He was actually the voice of Al, the mad collector who kidnapped Woody. Knight's Zurg is a totally different critter from its toy counterpart, and the actor appears to be loving every second of it.

'Working in animation is about being able to feel like you're creating as well as embodying the character,' says Knight. 'Zurg is kind of like a very tall cow catcher. That's what he looks like to me. I don't care that he's evil. I just like that he's tall. I've tried to play him as a little of Ming the Merciless and a little of Darth Vader, with an emphasis on being mad with power.

'Zurg's defining characteristics are that he is vain and pompous, in addition to being evil. He loves being the king of all evil. When you mix in his frustration with always being defeated by Buzz, that makes for the funny stuff.'

Knight also plays him with all the vocal smarminess usually reserved for vet voice actors like Mark Hamill and Tim Curry. And in the video, Allen himself goes on a Captain Kirk vamp that makes William Shatner's Priceline.Com commercials look like Grammy nominees. If you don't believe me, just listen to Buzz (Allen) sing the main theme at the end.

What's even better is that the rest of this video is chock full of both loving homages and out-and-out vicious parodies of everything science fiction. Knight himself isn't the slightest bit afraid of taking advantage of this. 'Everyone has a dark side, and I get the freedom to express all those things that you wouldn't normally say in life,' says Knight. 'I get to vent all of that in the sound booth. This allows me to be a much nicer person in life. It's sort of therapy through animation.'

It's also great therapy to watch. This new Buzz Lightyear is nothing short of the animated equivalent of another Tim Allen vehicle, Galaxy Quest. To top it off, it's a heck of a great intro to what looks to be a sterling cast of characters that also include such voice actors as Stephen Furst (Babylon 5), Diedrich Bader (Drew Carey Show), Nicole Sullivan (Mad TV) and many others. Check out this video and get ready for the series. An animated TV project hasn't made me laugh so hard in aeons.

Richard Raynis on Sammy

If you're someone who likes to read the credits, one name that appears all over the animated television world is Richard Raynis. Here's an incomplete list of shows he's had the tag or Executive Producer or Producer credit attached to over the last several year: The Simpsons, Big Guy & Rusty The Boy Robot, Men in Black, Godzilla, Roughnecks: Starship Troopers, King of the Hill, Futurama and Dilbert.

This Tuesday, Raynis unleashes another production, Sammy, a long-anticipated collaboration created by Just Shoot Me star David Spade and master animator Everett Peck (Duckman, Jumanji). One could say that Raynis is a busy man. 'I keep busy,' laughs Raynis. 'This is a business, definitely. I personally like to work on different things.'

Sammy is as different from these previously-mentioned projects as night is to day. It harkens back to one of Raynis' earlier, and still critically well-respected, projects, The Critic. The series revolves around the character of James Blake, a successful TV actor who's mansion houses all of his ne'er-do-well family except his mother. The biggest of these losers is Blake's grifting, alcoholic father Sammy. Sammy basically abandoned James as an infant only to leech on again now that the kid has tons of money.

Spade voices both James and Sammy. While it's a wonder how James ended up successful at anything, one can't help but root for that monster of a father of his. Sammy is both smarmy and charming, too smart for his own damn good and a refreshingly original character. The only pity is the rest of the characters are no where near as interesting as him. On the other hand, and much like The Critic, Sammy does include a number of wonderfully pointed observations on the entire Hollywood entertainment industry. Also like The Critic, that could be Sammy's best and worst point. It just might be too inside for its own darn good.

'Sammy is a terrific show,' crows Raynis. 'It's very character driven and dry. It's a well-written comedy. The characters are really great. There's lots of fun things to do with them. It's about a character that's loosely based on David dealing with his dysfunctional family. I'd like to do more with them.'

According to Raynis, even though NBC is giving the show one of the worst launches in history (I mean August, for crying out loud), the network has also made a commitment to pick it up for a second season if the numbers do well enough before the Olympics take over. Personally, I'm rooting for the show. It's too smart to be dropped.

Fox's Animation Schedule

For those of you who might have noticed, Fox Kids unveiled a new animated series, Action Man, as well as the second season of Beast Machines: Transformers last Saturday. This is not a false alarm. Fox is jumping the gun and launching its new 2000-2001 season this month, at least six weeks ahead of any other broadcast network. The entire new season will make its debut on Saturday, Aug. 19. If it isn't a completely new show, all remaining shows will premiere new episodes, if not new seasons.


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