Monday, October 6, 2008

Arlene...


I've just learned from pal muppeteer and writer Joey Mazzarino that Sesame Street Exec. Arlene Sherman has just passed away.

I am sad.

Many people have great fun deriding TV execs, myself included, but Arlene was the exception that proved the rule. Kind, smart, but mostly enthusiastic, if anyone can be said to have discovered and fostered me, it would be Arlene along with Nickelodeon/Cartoon Network/PBS' Linda Simensky and Curious Picture's David Starr.

At the time, Arlene was in charge of booking live-action and animated interstitials for Sesame Street, the only show on television that fostered independent animators. No one said 'no' to the chance of making a Sesame Street short, even after they saw the budget.

I had wandered the halls for a few months drawing for the research department and dropping off tapes of my films, when I was asked to audition as a writer for the show. Leaving one of my story sessions (which were always frightening), I literally bumped into a lady who stopped me, asked if I was Mo, told me she admired my films, and hired me to make a few shorts. What a great person to bump into at age 25.

Now, I could pay my rent.

Over the years Arlene gathered a stable of filmmakers such as Karen Aqua, William Wegman, Joey Alhbum, Sally Cruikshank, and myself and let us go wild.

I made over 40 shorts for Arlene, ranging in length from 10 seconds to about 4 minutes. At the beginning of each season, I'd pitch ideas that I knew would fill the needs of that season, then try to sneak in a few experiments. Arlene always dug the experiments the most. It was because of her that in addition to my traditional cel animation, I first worked in stop-motion, xerography, live-action, used gigantic costumes, and directed real-time CGI. Arlene also let me create my first continuing animated character, Suzie Kabloozie, which led to my subsequent television series work.

Arlene and I didn't always agree, but her enthusiasm and her quirky love of weird experimental stuff were infectious. The last time we chatted she enthused about weird new shows and the potential for technology to make funnier and cooler looking television.

Arlene was sassy and didn't take BS, but she never gave it either. Her one thought was for her audience. Determined to entertain, educate, and challenge the kids who trusted us with their time, Arlene always sounded like that far-out college student artist who believed weirdness could change the world.

In her case, she was right.

I wish the best to her family.

(This lengthy conversation 11 years ago between Arlene, MTV's Abby Turkhule, and myself for AWN might give you some of the flavor of her enthusiasm.)