Q&A: Dan Povenmire

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Disney is about to announce a third season of "Phineas & Ferb" and a musical CD based on the hit show. Co-created by four-time Emmy nominee Dan Povenmire, a veteran of "The Simpsons" "Family Guy" and "SpongeBob SquarePants," "Phineas & Ferb" is the No. 1 primetime animated show this year in two demos: children 6-11 and 9-14. He spoke to THR's Paul Bond.

The Hollywood Reporter: What inspired this wacky creation?

Dan Povenmire: My writing partner Swampy (Jeff Marsh) and myself were looking to do something together. I was in a restaurant in Pasadena where they put paper in front of you and crayons, so I sketched character ideas. I did this triangle-headed kid and I liked it so much that I took it home and called Swampy and said, "Hey, I think we have our show."

THR: Why does the show include a pet platypus -- one whose a spy, no less?

Povenmire: It's just the most bizarre animal on the planet and one that no one else has used. It's a mammal but lays eggs, and it has a beaver tail and duck bill. It's this weird hodgepodge thing.

THR: Is this show just for laughs or are kids supposed to learn something from it?

Povenmire: We try not to be didactic. But we hope that kids get from it an enthusiasm for doing something creative -- getting them off the couch and out of the house.

THR: Why is it always summer vacation for Phineas and Ferb?

Povenmire: Partially because we didn't want to draw a bunch of desks. But we also wanted to celebrate the fun time of year. We thought, what if you took the imagination of a 9-year-old boy and it was completely unhampered by reality? What would that kid do?

THR: You did a whole show about the plastic tips of shoelaces.

Povenmire (laughs). That started as just a discussion in the writing room, and I brought up that it's called an aglet. And I joked that maybe Phineas and Ferb should tell everybody it's called an aglet. Swampy said, "No, we should really do that."

THR: How long did it take you to get "Phineas & Ferb" on the air?

Povenmire: Fourteen years. I'm not very good at getting out and pitching. About every five years I'd take it to a studio. Everybody liked it but didn't know what to do with it, because it was a complicated show. Disney was the first to say, "Let's see if you can do it." Then they wanted to see if we could do it again, so they made us do two more episodes before they gave it a green light.

THR: Now that you have a hit show is it easier to pitch other ideas?

Povenmire: There's a couple things Disney is interested in, but they have let me know that Phineas is the priority.

THR: Which was better to work for, "Simpsons" or "Family Guy"?

Povenmire: I had more fun on "Family Guy" because they gave me a lot more creative freedom. Seth MacFarlane would say, "We've got two minutes to fill. Give me some visual gags. Do whatever you want. I trust you."

THR: Is hand-drawn animation still thriving?

Povenmire: It is on TV. For the budget you have, 3-dimensional stuff ends up always looking like a kid's show. Maybe in the future you could make something that looks as good as "Up" on a TV budget, but not now.

THR: Of your competitors, which shows are you a fan of?

Povenmire: I still think SpongeBob is funny. I let my daughter watch it. She's three-and-a-half.

THR: You ever freak her out by doing the Phineas & Ferb villain's voice?

Povenmire: She's starting to understand it's really just my voice, because she has me do it to impress her friends. I chase them around doing Dr. Doofenshmirtz and they think it's cool.

THR: What shows did you like as a kid?

Povenmire: What turned my crank as a young artist was the old Chuck Jones Warner Bros. shorts. Every drawing he did was beautiful to look at and had so much energy in it. When I work, I ask, 'how would Chuck draw this?'

THR: What's your favorite animated film?

Povenmire: "The Incredibles." There was so much heart in it, and the heart story resolved in the middle of an action scene. The disaffected family found each other and became a family again in the middle of being chased by bad guys, and it didn't let up for a beat. It was brilliant.

THR: So you're a fan of Brad Bird.

Povenmire: Yup. When we were doing storyboards on "Simpsons" we'd get notes from everybody with a producer title. We'd get five different notes on each page. They told us, "Do the Brad Bird notes and any others that make sense." It wasn't that he was more important than the others: It was that they were always smart notes.
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