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Buzz Potamkin, R.I.P.

Animation producer Buzz Potamkin died recently (I heard April 28) following a long battle with cancer. Buzz was like the Johnny Appleseed of animation companies, running, founding or co-founding many over the years including Perpetual Motion, Southern Star Productions, Visionary Media and Buzzco. His tenures with each outfit were highlighted by innovative, acclaimed production, much of it in the area of advertising but plenty in the category of TV series and specials. As one example, he received credit and praise for a lot of the splashy animation that the cable channel MTV employed in advertising and imaging when it debuted.

Though I worked with Buzz and considered him a good friend, I'm not up to itemizing all his credits. I'll have to leave that formidable task to someone else and just write about the work we did together in the eighties. We met when I wrote a prime-time animated special that one of Buzz's companies in New York (I was never sure which one) animated for CBS. Shortly thereafter, Buzz relocated to Hollywood for a time and you might be interested in the story of how that happened. I guess this is okay to tell now.

Hanna-Barbera was doing shows for CBS in the eighties and at one point, they delivered a string of notably substandard shows, well below the level that was expected of them. Angry CBS execs told H-B, "We're not buying any more shows from you!" H-B execs understandably panicked at the thought of losing about a third of their marketplace. They begged, pleaded, cajoled and promised to do much, much better next time if CBS would grant them a next time. In particular, they pledged to not send any more CBS shows to a particular lousy subcontracting firm overseas.

CBS gave them one more chance and bought another show from Hanna-Barbera. For reasons which were never clear (I heard a half-dozen explanations) H-B sent that show to the particular lousy subcontracting firm overseas.

When the first episodes were delivered, CBS exploded. They said that not only would they never buy another series from Hanna-Barbera, they weren't even going to accept or pay for that one that was currently in production.

Again, there was much panicking and grief in the executive offices on Hanna-Barbera. There was more pleading, more cajoling and a lot more promising. When it all settled down, CBS agreed to continue with that series if (big, expensive IF) H-B would pour megabucks into producing the show and if they would hire an animation producer CBS trusted to spend all that money, spend it wisely and deliver a quality show. That producer was Buzz Potamkin.

He moved to L.A., set up an operation, finished that series and produced several others, mainly for H-B but some also on his own and a few in co-production with CBS. Probably the best one he did was The Berenstain Bears, which was on from 1985 to 1987, winning much critical praise and several award nominations. He was later involved in several of the more popular shows developed for Cartoon Network including Johnny Bravo, 2 Stupid Dogs and Dexter's Laboratory.

Someone else will have to list all the other shows he did. I just wanted to tell that story because it speaks of the Buzz Potamkin I knew, who was a man of utter integrity both in handling money and in handling the creative reins of a show. I wish we had more like him and am sorry to lose the one we had.