Disney’s Tasty Time with ZEfronk!
The Wiener Dog with A cooking show!
In January of 2007, a voice in my head woke me up in the wee hours of the morning shouting "I am ZeFRONK!" in a pseudo-French accent. Before my eyes were even open, my body popped out of bed and into my studio where my hand drew a chihuahua into Photoshop, as quickly as possible. In the morning, when my wife, Heather, saw the drawing, she said “He should be a dachshund, since his name is "ZeFronk". She was right, so some adjustments were made. Weeks later, Disney called requesting some show ideas, so my idea about a wiener dog with a cooking show was the first one we discussed. The pitch was essentially a one sheet showing ZeFronk rambling on about how great his cooking is. They loved it. From there it just snowballed. Disney asked for additional characters, a "world" for our characters and of course, stories.
It started with the characters. Since ZeFronk was a dog, naturally, he needed a cat foe. After a few quick sketches directly into Photoshop, his look and style started to develop. Then, he needed some personality. My animation friend, Dom Carola, who is one of the funniest guys in my circles, happens to be from Long Island. Since my Jersey/NY Tri County Area accent was pretty decent, that's what we went with. It was a perfect fit.
Next, up was Sue the bird, who would help ZeFronk make his food. Her name is Sue because she is Zefronk’s "sous" chef. The idea was that she wouldn’t speak, but instead talk in music notes. Later, Jeff Zahn decided her voice should be a flute, which was the perfect decision.
Next, Disney wanted to see ZeFronk's "world". As a visual gag, ZeFronk's doghouse is small from the outside, but when you enter, it transforms into a big gourmet kitchen/tv studio. It went over really well with the Disney folks and that decision ended up setting the tone for the show.
A line sketch of the kitchen was created. Then my daughter, Katherine, who was 13 at the time, chose the color palette. Interestingly, Katherine went on to study Interior Design and Architecture at Florida State University and now works for HOK in Los Angeles, CA as an Interior Designer. Funny how those things work. From there, the kitchen image was completed, but not without some needed tweaks.
At that point, Disney was sold on the project and made an offer to make twenty (20) 5 minute episodes. Gotham Group, who was my agent at the time, made what turned out to be a decent deal for a first-time creator. It wasn’t Sponge Bob money, but it paid some bills for a while.
From there it was a blur. They got Oddbot animation involved. They hired voice talent which just happened to be the great Rob Paulsen for the voice of ZeFronk and Mark Hamill (yes, THAT Mark Hamill!) for the voice of Dom. They brought in Robert Ramirez to direct. Disney let me sit in on the phone meetings and recording recording sessions. They sent art, revisions, animation tests. It was all so cool.
My goal was to learn how to write scripts and, thankfully, Disney let me give it a try. It did not turn out well. My specialty is book writing, not TV writing, which is way different as far as pacing goes. In the end, they brought on Craig Shemin, a veteran tv writer for the Muppets, and creator of his own show Lou and Lou Safety Patrol. He did such an incredible job with the scripts.
Watch Tasty Time With Zefronk: Ze Pancakes!
It took a while to complete but once they were done, the shorts looked amazing. Disney planned a premiere for the shows in November 2008. What an exciting time it was to sit with my family and see Tasty Time with ZeFronk appear on the tv screen in our living room.
Later, Disney submitted it for the Daytime Emmy Awards and it was nominated! The Award Ceremony was fabulous, even though it didn’t win. What an experience!
To everyone involved in the production of this funny wiener dog show that has given so much joy to children and adults around the world . . . THANK YOU!
If you haven't seen the show before, or want to watch it again just to get some laughs, you can currently find episodes on youtube. Ze Pancakes is one of my favorites. Bon Appétit!