Put your favourite TV shows in a blender and hit purée.
- I created and executive produced Liquid Television for 3 seasons and 22 episodes from 1991 to 1995.
- A (Colossal) Pictures Production for MTV and the BBC.
- Earned an Emmy Award and an additional Emmy nomination.
- Best known for spinning out shows like Aeon Flux and Beavis & Butthead.
- I’m most proud of the impact the series has had on aspiring animators and other filmmakers. I regularly meet people who were inspired to pursue their ambitions after seeing Liquid Television. There are few greater rewards than this.
The start of something new
People sometimes describe LTV as a compendium of animated shorts, a kind of animation festival, but that always disappoints me a little. From a commercial point of view, the series was designed as part fun house, part laboratory. A series in its own right like an animated sketch show, but with the potential to showcase characters and talent that could become stand alone successes. We wanted to build an environment in which we could try telling different kinds of stories, use techniques rarely seen on mainstream TV, and see what new kinds of characters and stories emerged. I had to give animators a clear brief – an editorial line to follow, or it would have been just a cartoon festival. The original pitch for LTV described it thus: put your favourite TV shows in the blender and hit purée. If you watch any episode, it starts with a piece of ‘normal’ tv, like the Robert Palmer video that starts the first ep , which melts into a video brew inside the LTV bottle. And then many of the segments are spoofs, particularly in the first season, animated sketches of existing TV genres – a soap opera starring bars of soap, a puppet biker movie, ‘Stick Figure Theater’, ‘Cut Up Camera’, ‘Ms Lydia’s Makeover to the Stars’. And that includes ‘Aeon Flux’.
THE BIRTH OF AEON FLUX
Peter Chung and I had been developing a noir animated feature set in the world of Dashiell Hammett when I got the funding to develop LTV. I asked Peter to develop me a Spy vs Spy concept for the series, knowing Peter would create some intricate and astounding visual and narrative puzzles in his signature style. But he came back instead with a single image of a mountain of dead soldiers and one amazing woman standing beside them, gun raised. Aeon Flux.
It was way beyond my expectations, but at the same time totally consistent with the LTV editorial line. Peter was satirising the action hero who we cheer on as they slaughter indiscriminately. Look at the first two Aeon shorts. In the first, we showed Aeon heroically blasting her way through an enemy army. In the second we show the same action from the point of view of one dying soldier. And of course, Aeon dies at the end of the series. For the second season, as she was already dead, we turned the convention on its head again – not how will traditional spy James Bond defy death this time, but how will Aeon manage to die today.
Every voice belonged
Over the seasons, LTV’s focus on parody became less apparent, but persisted in Joe Horne’s ‘The Specialists’, a pastiche of late 60s action TV, and Jon Dilworth’s ‘Smart Talk with Raisin’. The second season’s episodes were curated around themes – my favourite is the final episode of season 2, the Love episode, exemplified by the use of ‘Amore Baciami’ as a spine, Bette Davis in ‘Of Human Bondage’ for Stick Figure Theatre and the finale of Winter’s epic search for Crow in ‘Winter Steele’.
I think one thing that maybe has gone unnoticed about LTV is how diverse and inclusive the series was, especially in the political climate of the early 1990s, featuring creators like Cintra Wilson, Peter Chung, Joe Horne, and Ed Bell. Our cornerstone characters Aeon Flux and Winter Steele were female at a time when men ruled cartoon hero roles. ‘Art School Girls of Doom’ featured transgender actors in the lead roles. None of this was deliberate – we had simply generated a context in LTV that demanded diversity of ideas and styles, a big tent where any voice could, and did, belong.
NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION
The budgets for LTV segments were tiny by traditional TV animation standards. In order to pay for fully animated segments like Aeon Flux we had to find other pieces that cost much less to produce – its part of the reason why we used so many different mixed media techniques to keep production costs down. The ultimate example of this is the ‘Psychogram’ postcard segments from series one. We still needed to fill a few minutes of screen time and had virtually no budget left. There was a vintage postcard shop called Quantity Postcards in San Francisco’s North Beach, where I lived at the time, and I knew the owner from around the neighbourhood. I built sequences out of the images, and came up with a secret agent character reporting on his surreal assignments to tie them together. John Payson from MTV worked with me on the scripts, and I recorded the voiceover under the stage name Jasper Heath, an anagram of my name. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention – the Psychogram segments became a signature of the show and remain one of my favourite pieces.