Disney’s Tasty Time with ZEfronk!
The Wiener Dog with A cooking show!
In January of 2007, I woke up in the wee hours to hear a voice inside my head shouting "I am ZeFRONK!" in a pseudo-French accent. I ran to my studio and drew a chihuahua into Photoshop, as quick as I could. In the morning, I showed my wife. She suggested it should be a dachshund, since his name was "ZeFronk". So I went with it. Weeks later, Disney called to see if I had some show ideas, so I pitched them my idea about a wiener dog with a cooking show. It was essentially a one sheet showing ZeFronk rambling on about how great he is. They loved it. From there it just snowballed. Disney asked for additional characters, a "world" for our characters and of course, stories.
I started with the characters. Since ZeFronk was a dog, naturally, I thought he needed a cat. So I drew a cat a couple of times directly into Photoshop and came up with the look for Dom. He needed some personality and I could do a pretty good Jersey/NY Tri County Area accent so that's what I went with. My animation friend, Dom Carola, who is one of the funniest guys I know, happens to be from Long Island, so . . . Dom the cat was born.
Next, I came up with Sue the bird, who would help ZeFronk make his food. I decided that she would talk in music notes. Later, Jeff Zahn decided it should be a flute, which was the perfect decision. Her name is Sue because she is a "sous" chef. Disney loved the idea.
Next, Disney wanted to see ZeFronk's "world". I thought it would be funny, as a visual gag, to show ZeFronk's tiny doghouse from the outside, but when you enter, it transforms into a big gourmet kitchen/tv studio. It went over really well and it really set the tone for the show.
I did a line sketch of the kitchen, then commissioned my daughter, Katherine, who was 13 at the time, to choose the color palette. Interestingly, Katherine has gone on to study Interior Design and Architecture at Florida State University. Funny how that works. From there, I went ahead and did the finished kitchen art, 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. I got an agent involved to make the deal, which turned out to be a decent deal, but not Spongebob money or anything. But it was a good deal for a first time series creator.
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. I sat in on phone meetings during the recording sessions. They sent art, revisions, animation tests. It was all so cool."
They needed some stories written and I asked Disney If I could take a whack at it. Thankfully, they let me give it a try. It did not turn out well. I am a book writer, not a TV writer, which is way different as far as pacing. So they asked Craig Shemin, a veteran tv writer for the Muppets, and 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, they looked amazing and 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! I flew out to Los Angeles for the award ceremony and had a blast. It didn't win, but what an experience!
I am forever grateful 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. 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!