Friday, 11 April 2014

The Duck Factory: How Jim Carrey got his start

The cast of "The Duck Factory". Clockwise, from top
left are Nancy Lane; Jim Carrey; Dippy Duck; Jay Tarses;
Julie Payne: Teresa Ganzel; Jack Gilford; Don Messick;
and Clarence Gilyard,Junior.
What would have happened if a struggling sitcom about a struggling animation studio making a cartoon called “Dippy Duck”, starring a promising young Canadian comedian had been given a chance? After all, NBC had shown patience with other struggling shows that would go on to have long runs.

In 1984, NBC had tested two sitcoms. One was a little show called “Night Court”, which the network finally chose. It would go on to a successful nine-year run as part of NBC’s powerhouse Thursday night lineup. The other was called “The Duck Factory” and would have been relegated to the dustbin of TV history except for one thing: it starred a very young Jim Carrey.

Promising talent
Back in the early 1980s, Jim Carrey was a stand-up comedian best known for his impressions. He often drew comparisons to Rich Little, another Canadian, who, at the time, was the greatest impressionist around. The CBC used to have a show called “The Journal”, which followed “The National”. On Friday nights, they spent more time on stories about the arts.

One Friday night, I saw an extended piece on Jim Carrey. It went into his history, and showed clips of him on stage, doing impressions of the likes of Leonid Brezhnev, the premier of the Soviet Union at the time. What they focused on was how he was able to use that face, which seemed almost made of plastic, to not only imitate the voices of famous people, but to contort his face to become those people.

It was only a matter of time before he would get his big break.

The main actors from "The Duck Factory". From left are
Teresa Ganzel, Jim Carrey, Jack Gilford, and Nancy Lane.
The Duck Factory
There are TV theme songs that linger in the mind. For whatever reason, whenever I see Jim Carrey, the theme song for “The Duck Factory” plays in my mind.

The show was based on an animation studio that produced a show called “Dippy Duck”. Carrey plays Skip Tarkenton, a na├»ve and aspiring cartoonist from Minnesota who comes to the big city to pursue his dream. He winds up at Buddy Winkler Productions, where Buddy Winkler has just passed away. He gets a job working on the show’s main product, “Dippy Duck”, and meets a strange cast of characters. Jack Gilford and a very young Clarence Gilyard Junior played artist Brooks Carmichael and Roland Culp respectively, and Teresa Ganzel, one of the blonde bombshells of the 1980s, played the widow of Buddy Winkler (in an era before Anna Nicole Smith). Real-life comedy writer Jay Tarses played comedy writer Marty Fenneman and long-time cartoon voice actor Don Messick played the voice of “Dippy Duck”. 

The show debuted in July and lasted just 13 episodes.

It played on CTV, Channel 13 on peasant vision in the summer.

Parting thoughts
“The Duck Factory” had potential, but NBC obviously made the right choice in “Night Court”. Besides, had Jim Carrey had a similar run as Harry Anderson and "Night Court", perhaps he would not have been contractually free to assume his breakout role in FOX television’s “In Living Color” which led to his motion picture break through in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”, “Dumb and Dumber”, and “The Mask’, all hitting the theatres in 1994.

However, the show was Jim Carrey’s first lead role in a Hollywood production, and undoubtedly helped him along his career path.

“The Duck Factory” may not have lasted, but it was an interesting premise, which leaves me wondering what could have been.

(You can see for yourself because a good chunk of the episodes are on YouTube)

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