I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Bob’s Burger table read of “Long Time Listener, First Time Bob” at the North Hollywood Studio on Friday, May 11th. It was my first table read, so I was very excited and it was also my first time at Bob’s Burgers studio office! After the entertaining reading with H. Jon Benjamin (Bob Belcher), Kristen Schaal (Louise Belcher), Dan Mintz (Tina Belcher), John Roberts (Linda Belcher), Loren Bouchard (creator), and guest stars Ron Fuches (Patrick), Nick Offerman (Clem) and Rob Huebel (Vance). I was able to have a one-on-one conversation with Jim Dauterive, writer and developer of Bob’s Burgers. During the interview, we discussed the process of creating an animated show for Fox.
Originally, when Jim came to Hollywood, he had no ambitions of becoming a writer for animation. He wanted to write for films, but the opportunity to presented itself when he wrote some spec scripts for a few television shows. By 1996, he was hired for King of the Hill to bring a more realistic portrayal of Texans in the series. Jim treated writing King of the Hill as writing for a live action scripted series, which wasn’t hard for him to do since it’s such a naturalistic setting. In that way Bob’s Burgers is similar to King of the Hill. Both shows are pretty realistic, discounting the occasional fantasy scenes. The Bob’s Burgers character work in a restaurant and they have natural, organic dialogue. Jim even jokes that Texans call King of the Hill a documentary. Fox has used The Simpsons as the seed to grow the animated series with teaming up experienced staff with new creative talent. Simpsons as an established series is a template for their other animated series. They take an established Fox series showrunner and pair with a new talented creator to establish a winning team who can navigate the business of TV while allowing them free reign to make a unique show that fits the lineup. That’s how Jim and Lorne teamed up after Fox ordered Bob’s Burger. For Family Guy, David Zuckerman of King of the Hill was paired with Seth Macfarlane. Even before the start of Fox animations, The Simpsons showrunner Matt Groening was paired with James Brooks and Sam Simon.
It takes about nine months after the table read for the animators to finish an episode and have it ready to be viewed on air. Sometimes they will save five or six episodes that will air the next season. Jim said there is no linear schedule they follow, but they do make holiday episodes like the Halloween episode “The Wolf of Wharf Street” follow a schedule. The most recent Bob’s Burgers episode, “Boywatch”, was written a year and a half ago, but Jim wanted to wait until it was summertime-ish to air it. There is truly no strict order they follow when it comes to releasing episodes.
For “Long Time Listener, First Time Bob”, Scott Jacobson pitched the idea, and Loren approved it. The episode idea then goes through the writers who will help Scott structure the story. Scott will make an outline that must be approved, and once it was approved he wrote the script. Then following Loren’s notes, the writers will edit the script. The final script rewrites always occur the night before the table read. According to Jim, the voice actors will be recorded Wednesday, and the animators will listen in to see how the animations will work in the episode. This process is obviously long and very collaborative, so episodes are not finished until they are about to be aired.
Jim describes the show as a family environment, where for the most part the staff have been together since the beginning. The writers are always in a great mood, and their work environment is very conducive to doing a great show. It shows in the quality and tone of the show. The lightheartedness and positivity in each episode is a also a reflection of the work room. I believe that has contributed to the longevity of this show, and I’m excited to see what they plan to do next season.
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