A discussion with Paul Germain

You may or may not know, depending on how closely you pay attention to the credits, but Paul Germain is one of the co-creators of the show. In 1996, he visited Billy D'Augustine's now-closed Rugrats site, and offered some information to him. Below is a transcript of a dialogue that they had, originally posted on Billy's site. Please note that this material may contain "spoilers" - information that pertains to the real workings of the show, and may affect how you view the show.

Interview is ©1996 Billy D'Augustine.

Paul's original message:

Dear Billy,

My name is Paul Germain. I co-created the series and produced all 65 episodes. If you have any questions, please ask. I'll try to fill you in. Also, the credits list on this site fails to list writers or directors (my guess is, whoever compiled the credit list neglected the opening title and episode credits). I can supply you with these, as well as the bible for the series and other information.

(in here Billy asked several questions that he deemed not worth repeating here)

I'd be happy to supply you with information, but you'll have to ask me specific questions, so that I know what you'd like. I created "Rugrats" along with Gabor Csupo and Arlene Klasky, in the summer of 1989. I wrote and produced the pilot (a six-and-a-half minute short which was never broadcast, but is really something to see) toward the end of that year (I believe production extended into 1990, but I don't remember). The director of that pilot is a fantastically-tallented animator by the name of Peter Chung [he went on to create and direct "Aeon Flux" for MTV]. Peter also directed and personally animated the "Rugrats" opening title sequence, which is somewhat more fully animated than the series.

(more deletions of unnessassary dialogue by Billy)

I cannot speak for Nickelodeon, but I found your "Rugrats" site flattering, if a bit inaccurate in spots -- not maliciously, though. As I mentioned in my last message, you should note that two of the most important elements in the production of the series -- the writers and directors -- are not mentioned in your listing of credits. My guess is you failed to notice those credits on screen because they appear in the opening few seconds of each actual episode (as do the titles). Assuming that you're viewing what we call "textless" versions of the shows -- episodes in which the chyroned text has been "stripped" off for foreign distribution -- it's possible that you never saw those credits. If this is true, it's really quite sad -- those writers and directors deserve credit for their hard work.

First, it's interesting to note that the final paragraph above, dealing with the "textless" versions is apperently exactly what happened when the credits list was created. The person who did the credit lists for Billy's site is located in Austailia.

(Webmaster's Follow-up: After Nickelodeon was launched in 1995, they started using episodes with credits, though one episode (King Tem Pin, I think) was seen on both Nick and ABC with a blank title card. -- SM)

Next follows a question-and-answer dialogue:

Billy: Firstly... in the context of the show, there was never any specific mention of Chuckie's mothers absense. You may have seen my attempt at answering this. Was there any "official" explaination for this? By "official" I would mean just something that would never make it on the show, but something that the creaters et. al. would keep in mind while doing new episodes and the like.

Paul: I'm quite impressed the degree to which you and other visitors to your site have picked up on this issue. Chuckie's mother was always a point of deep confusion on the series. Originally, we simply neglected to worry about the problem. Chuckie was designed to be a contrast to Tommy -- a reluctant, neurotic coward to Tommy's guiless brave hero. At first, we gave Chuckie no parents AT ALL. He would just BE at Tommy's house when we needed him there, and we'd never explain who his parents were or how he got there. Soon, though it became more complicated to leave out parents than simply to include them, and so we invented Chuckie's dad, Charles Sr. (I can't remember what episode he first appeared in, but I'm fairly certain he wasn't in the first season).

(Webmaster's Note: Chazz first appeared as cameos, first in Barbecue Story, and then At The Movies. His first major role was in Touchdown Tommy. All these episodes were seen during the first season in 1991. -- SM)

Charles was a hit right from the start, but Chuckie's mother was a different matter all together. We had decided long before that Charles was a single dad -- it just somehow felt right -- but what we soon learned was that no one could agree on what actually happened to Chuckie's mother. Some of us (me included) felt that Charles and his wife were simply divorced (considering what a nebish Charles is, it seems unlikely that ANYONE would stay married to him), but others felt it wrong to discuss the issue of divorce. Some felt that Chuckie's mother should be dead, but other people felt this topic was too morbid for a children's show. I could have gone either way, but in the end, no consensus could be reached and we decided to avoid the issue altogether (we used to joke that Chuckie was immaculately conceived). Although scrupulously failing to answer the question, we wicked writers couldn't help but bring up the issue. That's why Charles Sr. refers to his wife in the "Chuckie's Imaginary Friend" (My Friend Barney -- SM) episode, which I co-wrote with Peter Gaffney. You'll note that we tantalizingly confirm that THERE IS a Chuckie's mother, but pointedly fail to tell you what happened to her.

(Webmaster's Note: The truth was brought to light in Mother's Day, when we learned, in a way, that Chuckie's mother did die. -- SM)

Note also that in the first season -- and the first half of the second season -- Angelica, too, had no mother: Charlotte first appears, I believe, in the Christmas episode which was the 27th show of the series.

Billy: Secondly, again, you may have seen my section on this - what about the kids talking? I realize in the context of the show, the kids would have to talk, otherwise there wouldn't be much of a show! Outside of what is visible on the show, are there any specific "rules" that you followed? There are several times when Tommy talks in front of his parents, but the parents (understandably) misunderstand him.

Paul: The answer to this question is very much like the answer to the last one. When I originally conceived of the project, "Rugrats" was about what it would be like if small babies were cognizent, talking people who simply hid this fact from those bigger than them. The idea was a metaphor about what children really feel (or at least what I felt when I was a kid), which was that adults just don't have a clue. So the rule was, the babies really can talk, and they simply hide this fact from adults -- an elaborate conspiracy. If you ever see the six-minute pilot for the series, this is easily apparent. The kids literally wait for the parents to leave the room before beginning to talk.

But very quickly, the concept -- and therefore the rules -- began to evolve. By the time we wrote the first half-hour episode of the series ("Tommy's First Birthday," which I co-wrote with Craig Bartlett), both theory and practice had already changed. We were beginning to see that the conflict between adults and children was not the key to the show. Instead, the babies had begun to be a metaphor for children of all ages. We had decided to use the show to discuss what it's like to be a kid, so the issues of subterfuge and adult stupidity, while still part of the series, had taken a back seat. So now, the kids weren't actively trying to hide their talking, they just DIDN'T do it in front of the adults (the one exception was Angelica, who did not appear in the pilot. She was always allowed to talk both to the babies and to the adults, as she's supposed to be three years old -- a bridge between the two worlds).

But very soon, things began to get even murkier. We writers began to argue among ourselves as to whether the adults couldn't understand the babies talking, or whether baby communication just never occurred when adults were around. In the first season, we basically did a little of both, as for example in "At The Movies," where Tommy tries to tell his dad about Reptar, but Stu just dismisses it as baby talk. By the middle of that season, we actually had the kids talk with the adults in the same room, as long as there was a great deal of space between them. By the end of the first season, we allowed the kids to talk in their strollers as long as the parents were not in the same shot. The folly of all this became apparent at the end of the "Reptar's Revenge" episode when Tommy, sitting in his stroller says to Chuckie in his stroller, "LOOK!" and points screen left. Immediately, all the adults TURN AND LOOK TO THE LEFT, as if responding to him. This was an error on the part of a negligent animation director, but we never had time to fix it so the shot remains in the episode.

In the end, whether the kids are speaking an incomprehensible language, or simply speaking when the adults can't hear (whether intentionally or not) became a secondary issue in the show. We kept them apart when we could, cheated when we couldn't, and just let it become a secondary issue. For me, it was a lesson on how shows evolve, becoming wonderful things one never imagined.

Billy: On the possibility of new episodes as well as a movie; would the original cast and staff be doing this? There are times when a show goes out of production, and when it is brought back, many of the original cast is missing, and this renders the new version somewhat unfaithful to the original. I know some of the cast members, as we all others, are involved in "Real Monsters", and I don't know specifics about television production. I know this above would be speculation, since as far as I know, there hasn't been any "official" word of new episodes and/or movie. The article I read talks about the possibility.

Paul: I left Klasky Csupo, Inc. (the company that produced "Rugrats") in 1993, after completing the writing, voice-directing and pre-production of the last episode. Production continued into 1994, and then ended. There has been no film or television production on the series since then. I have heard rumors and read stories about further episodes, and I know Nickelodeon is planning to produce and feature movie, but until now, I have not been involved with any of this. Most of the staff have moved on to other productions (though some remain at Klasky Csupo). My guess is that only a fraction of the original crew will ever work on any of these new productions, and I believe that, given these circumstances, it is unlikely the new productions will be faithful or capture the essence and quality of the series.

(Webmaster's Note: Paul Germain was actually fired by K-C, though all parties are legally bound not to discuss the matter with anyone. Also, new episodes and The Rugrats Movie were produced, but without the participation of Paul Germain. In 1997, Germain and another former K-C co-worker, Joe Ansolobehere, created Recess for Disney.-- SM)

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