Animaniacs: The Book That Almost Was

Way back in 2012, I wrote an article for Mental Floss called Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Animaniacs. I worked for about two weeks on the story, not only because it was a deep dive into the history of one of the best animated shows of the ’90s, but also because I was working closely with the creator of the show, Tom Ruegger. I reached out to Mr. Ruegger through his website just to see if he could verify some of the information I’d found online. Instead, he offered to give me access to his collection of artwork from the development of the show, personal photos, concept art, as well as some anecdotes about putting the show together. It was a truly amazing experience and one I will never forget.

When the article ran, it was a pretty big hit for about a week. It appeared on a lot of websites that curated links like Boing Boing, Neatorama, Digg, Fark, and Reddit, received over 10,000 Likes on Mental Floss’ Facebook page, and was shared on Twitter countless times. Tom was very happy with the article, I was very happy with the article, and for a brief period after it ran, we emailed back and forth a little to celebrate it’s success. During one of those emails, Tom made the point that we were coming up on the 20th anniversary of Animaniacs, so maybe the time was right for a book about the series. And maybe we should write it together! Obviously I was very excited about the possibilities.

To get a book published if you’re not already a best-selling novelist or a celebrity with a troubled past, you have to first come up with a book proposal that you send to a book publisher. Proposals differ depending upon the type of book you’re pitching, but for something like an Animaniacs book, it would require a lot of legwork on our end. I won’t go too inside baseball, but essentially I had to pitch the basic concept, talk about our vision for the book, talk about why our book would be better than a similar book written by someone else, and talk about what we would be willing to do to market the book.

With the creator of the show being a co-author, Mr. Ruegger would have brought access to his archives for exclusive artwork and notes from the development, as well as made it so much easier to interview people who worked on the show. It seems like it would have been a pretty easy sell. Of course there still would have been some hoops to jump through with getting the rights from Warner Brothers, but I’m sure that would have all been worked out for the right price.

Long story short, I wrote up a rough draft proposal and sent it over to Mr. Ruegger. After a few back-and-forth attempts over the next few months to make our schedules align to talk on the phone about the book, Mr. Ruegger finally said, “I just can’t do it right now.” Even back before I had interviewed him for the Mental Floss article, Mr. Ruegger was deep into production on a new cartoon from Disney called, The 7D. If you’re not familiar, it was a pre-K show that ran on Disney XD that followed the adventures of the Seven Dwarfs prior to meeting Snow White. Understandably, because he was so busy working as one of the Executive Producers for the show, he simply didn’t have time to also work on the Animaniacs book. Obviously I was disappointed, but I absolutely understood where he was coming from.

Honestly, I was wondering if I’d bitten off more than I could chew at the time anyway. To write the book, I was essentially going to take all of the material Mr. Ruegger had about Animaniacs, sift through it for the best stories, insights, and anecdotes, and do a lot of the heavy lifting as far as getting things down on the page. He would use his contacts for us to interview the cast, crew, and other people involved, and, I was hoping, would be able to convince the show’s Executive Producer, Steven Spielberg, to write the foreward. The book wouldn’t have existed without him, but I would have also been the one in the trenches writing on a daily basis, with Mr. Ruegger editing my drafts. At that time, I was the lone breadwinner in our house taking care of my wife and our four-year-old. I needed the money I was making from Mental Floss just to pay our bills, so unless I got a decent amount for a book advance, I simply couldn’t have afforded to work my day job and write this book on nights and weekends. So, as much as I would have loved to have written a book about Animaniacs with the creator of the show, it just wasn’t meant to be.

Now that another decade has passed and the show has reached it’s 30th anniversary, I feel like it’s ok for me to reveal parts of the book proposal I sent Mr. Ruegger. Anything in red text was meant as a placeholder for Mr. Ruegger to rewrite or tweak with additional information. Some of that red text is there in order for him to tell me, “Yes, this is something I can make happen” or “No, that’s not going to happen.” I won’t bore you with everything in the proposal, but I’ll give you the elevator pitch and the vision for the structure of the book, which I think would have been really fun.

The working title was The Really Brainy, Totally Insaney Animaniacs Book!

Unfortunately, the book was just never meant to be. I don’t know how I would have been able to work my full-time job, take care of my wife and kid, and still write this book, but I would have made it work. It’s one of those “almost” moments that, had it happened, would have probably completely changed the trajectory of my life.

And yet, it didn’t happen.

What are you gonna do?

But I hope you’ve enjoyed this little glimpse into what might have been.

And, Tom, if you’re out there and want to start working on this for the 35th anniversary…hit me up!

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