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Backstage - Interviews

Semper on Static/Superman in "Toys In The Hood"
by Jim Harvey

Episodes for any series, animated or otherwise, rarely come out exactly as planned, and Static Shock's "Toys In The Hood," which airs this Saturday at 10:30am (ET) on Kids WB, is no exception, says John Semper, the story's co-writer.

Image"It was the usual combination of happenstance and circumstance," says Semper. "Alan Burnett wanted to have Shaquille O'Neal come on as a guest star again this season. Shaq had done an episode in an earlier season (before my time on the show), so Burnett wanted to bring him back. I thought it would be fun to bring in Superman and have Shaq and Superman meet for the first time. That would make it a bit of history, since Shaq is such a Superman fan. This took a bit of convincing on my part, but finally Burnett seemed okay with the idea."

Easier said than done, it proved. "Well, it all seemed good in theory," says Semper. "But we could never connect up with Shaq. No matter how hard we tried, he was totally unreachable during his off season. The most ironic thing was when he unexpectedly turned up at the Tower Records right next to where Warner's Animation is located. He was buying CDs, just like any other customer. Somebody in our studio who was over there spotted him, came back and told Burnett. Burnett went racing over to see if he could find him, but Shaq had left before he got there. So, again, no Shaq."

So the creative team decided to continue without the famed basketball player. After all, going ahead with the most iconic superhero of all time did not seem like a problem.

Image"Of course, that was the right thing to do, which you always get to no matter how circuitous the route," Semper reflects. He notes that it's happened before. "I recently attended a tribute to the TV show Columbo. Richard Levinson, the co-creator, was there, as was Peter Falk. Levinson revealed that the original choice of actor to play Columbo was Bing Crosby! And, as we know, that didn't happen, for which we are all thankful. So no matter how bizarre your choices are in the beginning, things have a way of making themselves right in the end."

While the animated Superman may have a wide-array of villians to choose from, choosing one who could pose a realistic threat to both Superman and Static Shock was a bit difficult.

"Burnett and I were trying to decide on suitable villain to use," recalls Semper. "We'd already used Braniac in the Justice League two-parter, so he was out. The brilliant Paul Dini, whose office is right next to Burnett's, popped in for a visit and we asked him for suggestions. He recommended Toyman. The rest is history.

"Burnett and I plotted the episode, which was pretty straighforward and fun to do. Burnett is a great producer to work with in that respect."

ImageOther surprises were in store for Semper. While working on the episode, producer Dennis Cowan brought in author and screenwriter John Ridley for a visit, as both share the same agent and were discussing doing potential projects together. Ridley's latest novel is the noir thriller The Drift, and he also wrote the screenplays for Three Kings and Undercover Brother. Ridley created and is currently producing the television show Platinum on UPN.

"We got to chatting and it turned out that what Ridley really wanted in his career was a chance to write a Static Shock episode!" says Semper. "Who knew?

"So we gave him this one to write. Ridley did the first draft, which was great, and then Burnett and I did rewrites.

"By the way," Semper says. "Ridley and I got along really well because his little boy's favorite TV show is a preschool show called Jay-Jay the Jet Plane which I developed for TV, story-edited, and for which I've written most of the scripts. He nearly fainted when I told him I was the guy who did Jay-Jay. It's a small world."

Other pleasures cropped up when it came time to record the episode.

Image"The high point of the recording session was meeting and chatting with Bud Cort, who does the amazingly creepy voice of Toyman," says Semper. "I remembered from years past that Bud was a close friend of Groucho Marx's, so we talked a lot about Groucho."

"As I look back on this," says Semper, "I realize that I lead a strange life."

Originally posted on TZN on 05-01-2003.

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