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'Robot Chicken' Flies the Coup For DVD

14 Mar, 2006 By: Brendan Howard

Actors and actresses always marvel at their first action-figure likeness, but how many actually do something with it?

Enter Seth Green and his tale of the strange birth of “Robot Chicken.”

“I had to do ‘Late Night With Conan O'Brien' to promote Austin Powers [as Dr. Evil's teen son], and I didn't want to do a regular interview,” Green said. “Conan had an action figure, and I had one for Austin. So I went to my friend Matt [Senreich, who used to work for Green magazine favorite Toy Fair], and said maybe we can do a sketch of toys coming to life.”

The pair poked around for animation help and made the small skit about Conan and Green saving the world. Sony heard about it and approached them to do shorts for their pre-broadband entertainment site ScreenBlast.

“We did 12 shorts for them, and eventually those became the pilot for ‘Robot Chicken,’ Green said.

“Robot Chicken” uses stop-motion animated toys — with new heads or heads wrenched off real action figures — to mock celebrities and pop culture, or just crack jokes. The show made it to Cartoon Network's late-night “Adult Swim” block and provides plenty of work for Green and Senreich.

“It's one of the most creatively intensive shows,” Green said. “We've got 60 people working in our main studio, and more in recording. We've got the people who do sets for movies, top-notch sculptors.”

Robot Chicken: Season One (two-DVD set $29.98) streets March 28 from Warner Home Video.

In addition to coming up with the gags with co-writers, Green goes the extra mile: He acts out the gags “to demonstrate timing” and lets animators work off of that. A couple of those tapes will show up on the DVD set, along with behind-the-scenes stuff — “almost a how-to of the show,” Green said — and a pee reel of toys relieving themselves at the end of skits.

In addition to helping expose toys' bathroom time, Green also uses his star connections to snag celebrity voices.

“The best thing is, most people have a great sense of humor about it, and the more we make celebrities comfortable, the more word gets out,” Green said.

Green said Elijah Wood came out of the recording booth with a big smile and said, “This is the most fun I've had in a job.”

“We take some big swings,” Green said. “We went after George Clooney and Brad Pitt. They both passed.”

But Green was happy with appearances by Scarlett Johansson, Rachael Leigh Cook, Paul Rudd and Sarah Michelle Gellar, as well as reunited pairs Burt Reynolds and Dom Deluise, and Corey Haim and Corey Feldman.

To save money — and because he knows what he wants — Green does most of the voices himself, a good 90 to 100 characters so far.

When it came time to record commentaries for every episode, Green and Senreich realized the trouble wasn't coming up with things to say.

“We started talking in depth about the segment, which is just a few minutes, but before we were done, it was over,” Senreich said.

“After that, we'd try to pick the key things we'd want to discuss,” Green said. The two also love seeing the reactions in commentaries from actors and actresses. “On one commentary, we just wound up getting into a conversation with Mark Hamill,” Green said.

A lot of the shows on “Adult Swim” appeal to young men, but Green and Senreich swear “Robot Chicken” crosses age and gender lines.

“People come up to me on the street, white kids under 12, black guys over 40,” Green said. “But there's content people in their 60s really get, like our Benny Hill funeral. And we've gotten Don Knotts and Phyllis Diller doing voices.”

“My parents are always saying, ‘You're getting paid for this?’ Senreich said. “My dad's a doctor, and a lot of his patients come in and ask if he's related to me. He finds it so bizarre.”

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