BEAST MACHINES (Mania.com)

By:Steve Fritz
Date: Monday, August 14, 2000

As fans of Beast Machines: Transformers know, the first season of the series ended with one hell of a cliffhanger. The battle between Optimus Primal and his techno-organic Maximals and the evil Megatron and his soulless Vehicons reached a climax in the thirteenth and final episode of the 1999 season, 'End of the Line.' Fearing complete and total defeat that episode, Primal did the unthinkable. He set off a doomsday device that would kill all the robots on the planet Cybertron, including himself. In fact, the last scene was him sitting at the foot of Megatron's control center watching his hand dissolve in front of him.

The payoff to this all-CGI sci-fi spectacular was a following so huge that Fox Kids kept playing the same 13 episodes over and over again, four complete times. The second season, as it turns out, was completed by its producer, Vancouver's Mainframe Entertainment, and began airing in Canada last March. Bootleg tapes of the series are currently so hot that a number of conventions report selling out of them the first day of each con.

None of this activity surprises Bob Skir who, along with partner Marty Isenberg, is the story editor for both Beast Machines and Fox's other Mainframe-produced series, Action Man.

'A lot of it has to do with the core Transformer audience, which has been very, very faithful and very, very fervent,' comments Skir. 'Another thing is just the look of the show. Mainframe is just producing a gorgeous show. You've probably noticed there's been a lot more CGI-produced shows popping up these days. Mainframe has managed to stay ahead of the curve. They have a reputation inside the industry to be always revolutionizing.

'Ace Fipke, our producer, also made an important decision when he decided to go for a very stylized look. He set a very bright color palette against a very dark world. He also went for very comic book designed characters. There're also traces of anime as far as scenes are composed and action is choreographed. Also, instead of going for social realism, which a lot of animated shows go for these days, Fipke went for comic book extremism.

'So, overall, Beast Machines ends up with a very cool sense of style,' says Skir. 'The style not only makes the show look different, but also makes it feel different. So when it came to grabbing its audience, I think all those elements helped tremendously. It made viewers believe Beast Machines was something they couldn't see any other place.'

But there's another extremely critical element to the show's success, and that can be laid squarely on the shoulders of Skir, Isenberg and comic book legend Marv Wolfman. Wolfman came up the basic scenario of the series, which once again pitted Primal against his archenemy Megatron, only this time on their home world of Cybertron. Then he wrote a number of key scripts. Skir and Isenberg then took Wolfman's ideas into areas no animated series had gone to previously.

'One of the great strengths of the series is we worked things out so far in advance, and Mainframe is such an efficient organization, that we were able to show the first 13 chapters, one a week, for a consecutive 13 weeks...without interruption,' says Skir. 'Basically, what you're looking at is a 26-chapter novel for television. It was always intended that chapter 13 would end with a bang so fans would be left wondering for the rest of the season where it's going to go.'

Indeed. Fans of the show got their first answers on Aug. 5, when Fox Kids finally started to air that much bootlegged second season. In that tumultuous 14th episode, what can only be described as a miracle spared Primal and the Maximals. The only other apparent survivors are two Vehicon generals, Thrust and JetStorm. Add a giant head of Megatron floating mutely in the sky. Outside this strange handful of survivors, Cybertron appears to be an almost completely dead world.

But as we learned in last weekend's episode, that isn't quite the case. A totally new, totally organic, Transformer named Noble was discovered. Commercials for the series have also introduced a plant-based robot named Botanica. According to Skir, that's only two of the surprises he has for this season.

'There's a lot about Noble that you just don't know,' says Skir. 'Like another feral character Len (Wein, who also created Wolverine of the X-Men--Editor) created, there's a lot of history about Noble we've yet to uncover. In fact, after he was fully developed, there was a lot about Noble that even Len didn't initially know about until he finished him. We will find out a lot about him really soon.

'Hasbro (holders of the Transformers license) wanted us to come up with a new Transformer who would go from organic to organic. Having a character like that around is so antithetical to Megatron's philosophy and now here's this creature who is completely opposite to it. He's going to have an impact on Megatron that will be far reaching. I think it's very clear that we haven't seen the last of Megatron. He will continue to be a presence in our series. A very menacing factor in the series.'

Another key element to the series harkens back to the days of the original Transformers series of the 1980s. One should remember they were not only robots, but space explorers. It was only a matter of time before those explorers would want to find out what happened to their home world.

'Absolutely,' concurs Skir. 'It will be really important to the series. I should note these other beings that you are going to see have been to very different worlds than Optimus. The way Optimus' transforming abilities are is based on his experiences on Earth. These new beings will be based on where they've traveled to...and they've been to worlds that are as different to Earth as Earth is to Cybertron. They will not look like anything of terrestrial origin.'

This leaves the actual Maximals. As one can imagine, after nearly completely destroying his home world, Optimus Primal is a very different cybernetically-enhanced monkey. 'What happened is that through the course of season one, Optimus Primal became an extremist,' explains Skir. 'He becomes as wrong as Megatron. Megatron is saying 'Thou shall become purely technological,' while Optimus comes back with 'Thou shall become organic.'

'In the beginning of season two, Optimus comes to realize how wrong he is, but now it's a matter of whether he can undo the damage he's done. When he realizes the full breath of what he's truly supposed to do, he becomes no less determined to complete his mission, but much less an extremist in his position and what it is he's fighting for.

'This was something I was very passionate about when we first were developing the show,' admits Skir. 'I wanted to see the hero make a major wrong decision and lead his troops the wrong way. In the second season, it is now up to him to redeem himself. To me, if he can do that, Optimus is that much more heroic.'

This still leaves the rest of Primal's Maximal teammates--Cheetor, Black Arachnia, Nightscream and Rattrap--unaccounted for. Skir has plans for them as well.

'Cheetor's grown a lot already. The whole point of this show is this is where he finally gets to grow up into his own. When we first met Cheetor in the original Beast Wars, he wasn't much more than a callow child. He was Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: A New Hope. He was young, energetic and very earnest. Now he's more like the Luke of Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back, where he's got that adolescent frustration about what he wants to be. He wants to rush in and be that ideal, but he's not quite there yet. It put him at odds with Optimus regarding who should be the true leader. He still had a lot of growing to do. I will admit that he went through the worst of it during season one. Now he knows a lot more about what he doesn't know. From now on he and Optimus are going to get along better.

'I think another important point is Rattrap may not be the most physically imposing character he once was in Beast Wars, so he becomes more and more resourceful, and thus more useful to the group. Black Arachnia has a lot coming up. After all, she's not going to let something like her lover Silverbolt being reprogrammed and reformatted in JetStorm's body just go. She's on a mission and she's not going to turn her back on it. Sometimes she's going to find herself in crossed purposes with the mission of the group as a whole. I would expect some conflict from that.

'As for Nightscream, he now represents the young person's point of view,' says Skir. 'It should be noted that he isn't the new Cheetor, his background is far darker and much more tragic. He didn't just lose everyone he knew, he lost his whole world. Still, he's there for a lot of the younger people in our audience.'

It should be noted that the first one to actually make friends with Noble was Nightscream. Don't be surprised if the series takes advantage of this.

As for the ultimate future of Beast Machines, Skir states that after the final 26th episode airs, that will be the end of that particular series. On the other hand, according to sources inside Fox, Hasbro and Mainframe, that doesn't mean there won't be a new Transformers series after it.

'If Fox wants to do that, I would absolutely love it,' is all Skir will say. 'I may have said my piece regarding the Beast Machines story, but that doesn't mean I've said everything on the entire Transformers story. I can think of a dozen different stories I'd love to tell. I definitely have a lot more to say.'

Then again, Beast Machines was the top domestically-produced series on Fox Kids. Only Digimon beat it out ratings-wise, and the Transformers series actually pulled in larger numbers among older kids. So we shouldn't be surprised if Fox Kids does go ahead with an all-new Transformers series for 2001. Believe me when I say that based on what I've seen of Beast Machines so far, it's a sure bet.

Fox affiliates want Fox Kids Weekdays off the air

On Monday, August 8, The New York Daily News reported that a number of Fox-affiliated stations are moving to have the Fox Kids weekday programming removed from the network. Citing unnamed sources, the Daily News stated the weekday block was currently being beaten by not only the Kids WB! block, but the afternoon programming of Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.

Sources at Fox Kids were unavailable for comment as of press time. It should also be noted that Nielsen Media Research, the main tracking agency for all program ratings, does not issue cable channel ratings to the public or the media. As such, the affiliated TV station claims can not be cross checked as of this time.

It should be noted the Daily News reported that a compromise might be reached, reducing the Fox Kids afternoon block from two hours to one. Otherwise, the newspaper states the stations want to replace the programs with more adult-oriented fare.

This column will keep abreast of this situation as it develops.

Kids WB! starts new season on Aug. 18

The Kids WB! announced it will launch its Fall 2000 Season on Friday, Aug. 18. The network original stated it wasn't going to start until September. That probably changed when Fox Kids beat them to the punch, announcing in late July that their new season would start on, Saturday, Aug. 19.

Back at Kids WB!, the main truth is that while it may be the start of the new season, that doesn't mean we will see any new animated series at that time. Instead, we are looking at a shuffling of the already existing programming, many of which will be injected with new episodes at that time.

It should come as no surprise that the most prominent of those shows getting new episodes is the Kids WB! current ratings king, Pokemon. The third season of this series will start off with a slightly new title, Pokemon: Orange Islands, and focus on Ash Ketchum's finally getting to the Orange Island tournaments. From there, the third season will continue with Pokemon: Johto Journeys, which will air later in the fall and focus on Ash's adventures on a totally new world.

The only other major announcement was the first new series, GENERATION O!, will start airing on Saturday, Aug. 26. As for other new series such as Jackie Chan Adventures, Static Shock! and X-Men: Evolution, their start-up dates will probably come later in September, if not moving on to October.