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TV Preview: 'Robot' survivor?

Friday, August 25, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

This will be a nerve-wracking weekend for Greg Miller, a 1992 graduate of Upper St. Clair High School. The first cartoon he's created, "Whatever Happened to Robot Jones?" will compete with two other seven-minute shorts to be made into a regular series on Cartoon Network for fall 2001.

During "Cartoon Cartoon Weekend," 7 tonight to midnight Sunday, viewers will make "The Big Pick," voting to decide which of three series pilots -- "Robot Jones," "The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy" and "Longhair and Doubledome" -- will become a series. The three cartoons were among the 10 series pilots that premiered this summer.

"Whatever Happened to Robot Jones?" features a young robot learning to get along with his human peers in junior high.

"Whatever Happened to Robot Jones?"

When: Today and tomorrow at 9 p.m. on Cartoon Network.

Miller, 26, has worked on many cartoon television series since dropping out of The University of the Arts in Philadelphia six years ago when an internship with Hanna-Barbera turned into a job working on "Dexter's Laboratory." Since then he's also worked for Nickelodeon ("Cat Dog," "The Angry Beavers"), Disney ("Nightmare Ned") and Hanna-Barbera ("Powerpuff Girls," "Cow and Chicken") a second time.

Hanna-Barberaturned down his pitch for "Robot Jones," so he took it to Cartoon Network, which bought the pilot along with nine other shows for a summer try-out. Executives narrowed the 10 down to the three viewers will vote on this weekend.

"I think mainly they liked the character of Robot," Miller said in a phone interview yesterday. "He seemed like a real character and they seemed to like the style and look of the show. It had its own real distinctive feel to it."

Miller said when he set out to create "Robot Jones" he had "The Wonder Years" in mind as a serial looking back at what happened to Robot in his youth and what made him "the robot that he is today.

"I tried to do a John Hughes, '80s-type, young-angst story of a robot coming of age," Miller said. "Those are the kinds of films I liked at that age. Being in sixth grade is an intense time and a good time to make fun of. So I put some cheesy sci-fi in with it, which doesn't hurt."

Miller considered having the show narrated in a computer voice, but ultimately scrapped the narrator and gave Robot a computer-generated voice.

"I was trying to go for a Stephen Hawking/Speak 'N Spell-type voice," Miller said. "That was actually the big fight."

Cartoon Network executives were afraid viewers might not understand Robot, so Miller tracked down documentaries on Hawking to prove that Robot's speech pattern would be clear.

"It helps out because it gives Robot some character," Miller said.

All three "Big Pick" hopefuls will air tonight at 9, tomorrow at 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. and Sunday at 9 a.m. After each of the four airings, viewers can call a toll-free number to vote for their favorite. Votes can also be cast online at www.cartoonnetwork.com throughout the weekend. The winner and new series for fall 2001 will be revealed at 9 p.m. Sunday.

Until then, Miller can only hope.

"Me and the people who worked on the show are having miniparties and planning some calling campaigns," he said. "I'm just riding it out. I've got no other choice."

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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