Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Beep Beep

Some things never change. 

I have always loved those Warner Brothers Road Runner cartoons.   Great elaborate sight gags, great character expressions, very cool design.  There are not many things I laugh at just as hard now as I did when I was eight, but Road Runner cartoons are one of 'em.  Thanks to that interweb thing all the kids are talking about, I found this -- Chuck Jones rules for Road Runner cartoon for writers and artists.  So today I thought I'd share them. 


Tom said...

Now, for fun, imagine what the network notes looked like.

The South West is samey, could we have an episode in space?

This is a colour network — could the coyote be a parrot?

Isn’t ‘Road’ Runner a bit restrictive?

Could we give him a sister in Cincinnati?

Instead of ‘beep beep’, which 5% of our test audience found confusing because it sounds too much like ‘tweet tweet’, could the Road Runner say “Cap’n Crunch”?

Jon said...

I remember worrying about Wil E. Coyote starving when I was a kid, because, unlike Sylvester, whom Granny presumably fed daily, making it unnecessary for him to eat Tweety Bird, the coyote had to find his own source of sustenance in the desert. I asked my brother about this once, and he told me that while the coyote could & did eat other things, Road Runners were his favorite. That killed my sympathy for him in these cartoons.

Brent Alles said...

Great stuff... although with all due respect to the genius of Mr. Jones, I would mildly object to the "no dialogue" rule, as one of the greatest WB cartoons brought us "Wile E. Coyote, SUPER GENIUS"... though I suppose that was technically a Wile vs. Bugs cartoon, so the rules were still in effect. :)

McAlvie said...

Yep. You see it coming, but its still funny. Its funny because Wile E. does it to himself; his own fanaticism is his downfall. It's a life lesson that will probably go way over a lot of heads.

Kirk said...

Jones was a genius, but he was aided by another genius, Michael Maltese, who wrote the scripts.

Headacher said...

Wile E. Coyote never talked in the Road Runner cartoons, which was a good thing. He did talk in at least one cartoon. I looked for it and came up with "Operation: Rabbit", from 1952. The Road Runner cartoons started in 1949.

I remember seeing this cartoon as a kid and being surprised at Wile E.'s voice. It was a sort of hoity-toity voice which, to my kid self, didn't fit the Coyote at all. The info says Chuck Jones directed it. I wonder why he allowed the voice and why they decided that the Coyote even needed to speak.

Arlen Peters said...

Warner Brothers cartoons are simply the best! Absolute genius! I never get tired of watching them ... and laughing at them! And when you think of cartoon voices ... it begins and ends with Mel Blanc. If there was a Mt. Rushmore of cartoon voices, it would be Mel ... and that would be it for me! And don't forget his brilliant work with Jack Benny too!

James said...

Thanks for posting.

Roy Huggins wrote a "Ten Point Guide to Happiness for Writing or Directing Maverick." Was there a similar list for any of your shows, like M*A*S*H or Cheers?

Glenn said...

"The coyote is always more humiliated than harmed..." Who knew falling over 100 stories off a cliff was only humiliating?

Troy McClure said...

More thought, effort and creativity went into those rules than goes into most of the films puked out by studios. Yesterday I read news about no less than 5 reboots, most of them of films made in the last 20 years.

It's only a matter of time before an AI algorithm is designed to create scripts. It couldn't be any worse than Fast and the Furious 26.

No said...

"No dialogue ever except for 'Beep Beep'"

Not strictly true. There is at least one episode where Wile E. Coyote is watching film footage, talking it through, looking at it in slo-mo in a film studio, trying to examine his mistakes. He's surprisingly insightful and articulate for a wild dog.

And also, it's Meep Meep, not "Beep Beep".

Roy DeRousse said...

It is amazing that they could create 49 episodes of that show given those restrictions. I must say that they didn't seem terribly successful with rule 9: "The coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures." He was certainly humiliated, but being blown up or flattened seems pretty damaging to me! (He did always recover though.)

Anonymous said...

These make perfect sense and reveals the dedication to the 'product' that this generation had. It just would be mean and just not funny if the Road Runner ever hit back. It basically teaches a lesson to all kids (and their parents) that you can be your own worst enemy.

So glad you found this.

Pam, St. Louis

Michael said...

Chuck Jones wrote a pair of marvelous books about his life and career, and he talked about rules for his characters. And I think there's much we can learn from that. I'm reminded of my favorite fictional detective, Nero Wolfe, who famously refused to leave his home unless absolutely necessary. Several of Rex Stout's stories have him leave home, and that was part of the point: From reading the books, you knew the character so well that you knew this was special.

Steve Bailey said...

Sorry to rain on your parade. But Michael Maltese, who came up with most of the storylines for Jones' Road Runner cartoons, called B.S. on this list long ago. When Maltese was apprised of it, he said, "What list?" and said they were making it up as they went along.

Brian said...

Thanks for the list. Does anyone remember the Jackie Thomas Show (Well...I thought it was funny)? Wne of the writers quits and goes to work on a cartoon show? She finds out the show-runner (Bill Maher, perhaps as a dig, called, "Mr. Lorre") takes the main character VERY seriously and plops down a show bible as thick as the Manhattan Yellow Pages.

The RR Universe? One page.

I would also add a rule that the Rudy Larriva-era cartoons broke: The Road Runner should not show fear. RR occupies that smart/naïveté space that Tweety Bird lives in: they make the correct move in outsmarting the foe, but ALMOST don't seem to know they're doing it. Since Tweety is so small, it works for him (her?) to be scared of Sylvester on occasion, but it makes no sense to have the Road Runner turn and be shocked. He's about the same size as Wile E. Coyote and it is much funnier to know that WEC is just a distraction to RR and nothing to be feared.

Plus, the budget cuts in the music department really hurt the John Seely/William Lava years.

Mibbitmaker said...

There was one example where a rule was broken. In 1961's "Zoom at the Top" where Wile E. took time to set up a jagged-toothed trap, only to get chomped by it after the Road Runner harmlessly ate the seed and hopped on the springing mechanism, zooming away. We didn't see the coyote get hurt, but we do see him walk away, his body now jagged. An eye glances the audience and he lets out a marvelously underplayed, almost mechanical, "ouch."

That may've been considered just a variation of Wile E. screaming when hurt, which was allowed, thus technically not rule breaking. But it was very funny, particularly because spoken words weren't in these cartoons for 12 years before that (not counting the coyote's cartoons with Bugs Bunny or when he was "cast" as a wolf).

It also happens to be my favorite "Road Runner" gag.

Anonymous said...

From Wikipedia
The roadrunner is an opportunistic omnivore. Its diet normally consists of insects (such as grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, and beetles), small reptiles (such as lizards, collared lizards, and snakes, including rattlesnakes), rodents and other small mammals, spiders (including tarantulas), scorpions, centipedes, snails, small birds (and nestlings), eggs, and fruits and seeds like those from prickly pear cactuses and sumacs. The lesser roadrunner eats mainly insects. The roadrunner forages on the ground and, when hunting, usually runs after prey from under cover. It may leap to catch insects, and commonly batters certain prey against the ground. Because of its quickness, the roadrunner is one of the few animals that preys upon rattlesnakes; it is also the only real predator of tarantula hawk wasps.


The working class Coyote is a carnivore, often extremely hungry, nearly starving.
The ruling class Roadrunner is an omnivore - he is extremely well fed
and needn’t eat meat to survive - he kills for fun, like a Trump son.
His animal killing proclivities are hidden from the working class audience.
Why is this bird the hero ?

With Acme the Amazon of the Cartoon universe,
why doesn’t the Coyote order Roadrunner meat,
or - better still - delicious Gardein meat substitute
items for which I should get 5% per order from this blogsite?

Does the Coyote use money to buy Acme products,
or is he - more likely - hopelessly in debt to Roadrunner Credit Cards?

Unknown said...

Always thought the road runner said meep, meep.

Southwestern accent?

Anonymous said...

Always felt bad for the coyote. That "fanatic" rules explains it all. This was a treat to read. Thanks for sharing.


Barry Traylor said...

Thanks for sharing this. When I am feeling a little down (and who is not theses day?) I watch a Road Runner cartoon.

iamr4man said...

From an early 70’s interview with Chuck Jones:
Barrier: In your interview in Psychology Today [April 1968 issue], you mentioned the disciplines you imposed on yourself, the very sparse leeway you allowed yourself on what the Road Runner and Coyote could do. Would you describe those disciplines?

Jones: The basic one, right away, was the Road Runner was a road runner, and therefore stayed on the road. You make up your own rules as you go along ... but having made them up, you must adhere to them. I think the same thing was true of Chaplin's movies, in that his costume did not vary. Marcel Marceau allows himself nothing on the stage except a couple of blocks. So, allowing it's a road runner, the first rule is that he only leaves the road when he's lured off, by the simple device of drawing a white line, or a detour, or something of this kind.

Second, the Coyote must never be injured by the Road Runner, he always injures himself. The Coyote is what all of us would like to be, a perfectionist in whatever we'd like to accomplish, and yet in the Coyote's case there's always a slight error; that's what usually happens. The Road Runner never enters into it, except perhaps coming up behind him and saying, "Beep, beep," which seems not too violent.

Third, the cartoons were set in the American Southwest desert, and although we used a lot of different styles in the pictures, in the backgrounds and such, it always had to be in that context. As we went along, the Coyote's primary enemy became not even explosions, but gravity. Since we were in an area where there are plateaus or mesas, we could give him all kinds of gravitational problems. Speed and gravity soon became basic factors in our series.

Fourth, the sympathy always had to be with the Coyote. The Coyote was never hurt or in pain, he was insulted, as most of us are when we suffer misfortune. I had my house broken into yesterday, and a couple of things were taken. I thought about it afterwards, and they didn't steal any of my drawings. Kind of a reverse insult. If they had stolen the drawings, I might have felt better ... although I had an artist friend once and his burglar carefully cut all the paintings out and stole the frames, which is even worse.

Of course, timing is very important, and I discovered that eleven gags seemed about right for a seven-minute Road Runner cartoon, except for what you might call a "cumulative" gag. I hoped when I left Warner's that I'd eventually be able to do a cartoon where you'd start at the beginning with just one gag and simply keep going, all the way.

DBenson said...

Another rule I noticed: The Road Runner is always happy. Never frightened, never scheming, never aware the Coyote is doing anything but playing tag with him. It doesn't register that the Coyote means him harm, or that the Coyote is getting hurt.

And he never questions "Free Bird Seed" or any other obvious trap.

There are a very few violations in the Jones-directed cartoons. Once, after a virtuoso series of gags involving the same catapult, we see it was built by the Road Runner Manufacturing Company. Another time, the Coyote has clawed his way up from one of those insanely long falls off a cliff. He looks down into the abyss, panting. The Road Runner zips up behind him, and you expect the "beep beep" that will send the Coyote over the cliff again. Instead, ever-smiling RR holds up a sign for the audience -- "I haven't got the heart" -- and zips off silently, revealing he DOES know the Coyote gets hurt.

It was the easily identifiable post-Jones cartoons, produced on the cheap, that would regularly break the rules.

Jones also favored a rules formula for Bugs Bunny. The usual setup was Bugs minding his own business when some bully provoked him. Then it was "Of course you realize this means war!" If the offender was Daffy Duck, Bugs took a laid-back approach, calmly triggering Daffy's self-destructive explosions ("I say he DOES have to shoot me now!").

Rob D said...

Those rules are from Chuck Jones’ book “Chuck Amuck”, of course. Informative, hilarious... highly recommended.

Janet said...

That's got to be the shortest show bible in Hollywood history.

I've got another FQ for you, one with the fall season around the corner in mind: What are you hearing in terms of network series going back into to production? Is that restarting in any real way or is still largely on ice?

DwWashburn said...

The coyote could take all of the money he spent on Acme products and feed himself for life.

blinky said...

Seems to me that in later years Wile E. Coyote did talk. Probably after Chuck Jones left.

Brian said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: Do you have any recollections about the first time you worked with James Burrows?

Joyce Melton said...

Road Runner cartoons are like sonnets. The rules give them shape and their poetic force.

Good sitcoms have such rules. You could draw up such a list for Andy Griffith, Dick van Dyke, MASH, Cheers, Mary Tyler Moore, etc.

Good serial drama also has rules. Twilight Zone, Have Gun Will Travel, Hill Street Blues.

Rules are what define art and knowing how and when to break the rules is how great artists create new rules.

Mike Bloodworth said...

The critics of these cartoons that think they are too violent miss the main point. When one character perpetrates violence against another character it always backfires. Not just with Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, but also with Bugs and Elmer, Tweety and Sylvester, etc. The lesson is to use your wits not your fists. Out thinking your opponent is just as effective as blowing him up.
I don't know who controls these things, but when the powers that be decided that cartoons were for children (Even though they were originally produced for adults) they lost a lot of their meaning. When you think of cartoons as just mindless entertainment you tend to ignore the subtleties and deeper meaning of the animated shorts.
Granted, some cartoons are just violent for violence sake. But the Warner Brothers cartoons always seemed to be working on a higher level.

And before you go there, yes, I acknowledge that many of these cartoon couldn't be made today because of racist, sexist and/or xenophobic elements. But that wasn't the main focus of the majority of the W.B. cartoons.

Finally, I agree with Ken. They are still very funny.


Tony.T said...

For me it Bugs, Daffy, Porky and Foghorn (and the dog). I'm 58 and still use heaps of their expressions.

Kevin from VA said...


You didn't mention that the Road Runner cartoons had one of the great cartoon theme songs. Credit goes to Barbara Cameron, who not only wrote the theme but sang it as well. An ear worm classic.

404 said...

I love the Road Runner, too.

It's interesting that, at some point, the rule about dialogue was broken and they started to talk. (at least, Wile E. Coyote did. I can't remember if the road runner ever did). Clearly, that rule was there for a reason, as those particular cartoons don't do much for me at all.

-3- said...

Thanks for that.

Such simple rules, but so much avoided by sticking with them.

Andidante said...

The road runner has always been my favorite cartoon!

Anonymous said...


JeffinOhio55 said...

The first 26 Road Runner cartoons, all directed by Chuck Jones, are wonderful. Later ones, without Jones' involvement, are distinctly poorer in quality. Stay with the first 26. They'll still make you laugh.

Greg B said...

This is great, had never seen this before. Thanks for sharing Ken!

Anonymous said...

Is this the guidelines for the Coyote or for our illustrious President?

Bill Smith

julian said...

hi Ken,

thanks for reminding me of this great premise. so effective.
figuring out the internal logic of creative stuff can be difficult, but this is inspiring.
hope you and yours are well.

Troy McClure said...

Hope you're OK, Ken. I was a bit concerned when you didn't publish any comments.

I don't blame you for switching off comments for today's post. All I'll say is that Kimberly Guilfoyle seems very angry with Democrats. If there's anyone she should be angry with, it's her plastic surgeon.

Unknown said...

I always liked the Road Runner cartoons too. Great theme song.

Charles Bryan said...

Chuck Jones not only provided hours of fun, he also provided a very concise series bible.

No said...

And call me a hopeless pragmatist, but if I were dropping of the edge of the Grand Canyon falling 10,000 feet, I think the "immanent death" thing would be the primary concern on my mind, with humiliation being a very distant second. But that's just me.

DBenson said...

The Coyote actually played three characters, two of whom talked:

-- The Coyote, the classic mute pursuer of the Road Runner. A few early cartoons set him up as desperately hungry, casually grabbing and eating a buzzing fly, or attempting to make a dinner from clay using a kiln. Then it became more a matter of principle, with traps that would effectively render the Road Runner inedible. Also, the Coyote appeared to have endless access to ACME products, including such edibles as super leg vitamins and tons of bird seed. He clearly could have ordered pizza and the like.

-- Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius, was the talkative "hoity toity" one -- a Frasier Crane, if you will. He'd be pitted against Bugs Bunny, and instead of obsession his fatal flaw was hubris. He'd usually begin by politely inviting Bugs to surrender now, as he was intellectually outclassed. Then, with great smugness, he deploy clever traps and Bugs would effortlessly defeat them. There was a featurette/pilot in which the Road Runner's Coyote suddenly became Wile E., explaining to television viewers why the Road Runner was so appealing to a gourmet. After that he was the mute, obsessed Coyote again.

-- Ralph Wolf, who punched a time clock each day along side Sam, a deceptively laid back sheep dog. Ralph would try to steal sheep and Sam would frustrate him with minimal expenditure of energy. Most of the time there was no dialogue except for a few pleasantries before and after work. The rules and their relationship were a bit fluid, but the one immutable rule was that they both knocked off at five, regardless of who had the advantage.

-- In comic books the Coyote and Road Runner talked; the latter in rhyme. RR also had kids. For the record Tom and Jerry talked in comics too, while on film only the diapered Nibbles ever spoke.

-- Long after Termite Terrace Jones did a half-hour Raggedy Ann and Andy Christmas special, featuring a Wile E. clone who wanted to encase all dolls and teddy bears in plastic blocks so they couldn't be hugged or played with. His intention was to protect them from wear and tear.

J Lee said...

Late to the game here, but Jones also gave credit to Frank Tashlin for the basis of Wile E. -- before leaving for live-action films, Tashlin directed two cartoons, "The Fox and the Grapes" while he was at Columbia, and "I've Got Plenty of Mutton" at Warners. The first set up the obsessive 'blackout' gags, where the Fox (with Mel Blanc's voice) tries various way to get grapes being dangled by a crow, while the latter cartoon was the template for some of the absurd efforts the coyote would go to to find something to eat, to set up his pursuit of food ("Mutton" is closer to the sheepdog cartoons Jones did, but is also includes a sexual chase that's a forerunner for Chuck's Pepe LePew cartoons).

Unknown said...

I wonder if they do more Road Runner car-tunes, instead of Acme, it would say Amazon on the side. Same day delivery would be beneficial.

Mike Doran said...

I wonder how many of you might be familiar with the humorous writings of Ian Frazier.

In 1996, Mr. Frazier published a collection of 21 short pieces, carrying the title Coyote Vs, Acme (published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

The title piece, as you can probably infer, is the text of a legal action brought by Wile E. Coyote (plaintiff) against Acme Company (defendant) in the United States District Court, Southwestern District ...
... well the whole thing - seven packed pages - is written in flawless legal boilerplate, and is one of the funniest pieces I've ever read.

There are many other pieces in here, on various subjects, every bit as pointedly funny, and all are worth your attention.

estiv said...

I always liked the idea that structure in writing is like a skeleton: you never see it directly, but if it weren’t there you’d just have a mess.

ScarletNumber said...

These are very Asimovian.

Maurice M. said...

The other rule Jones claims was each cartoon was made up of 11 gags.

I've long assumed Jones codified these long after the fact, because many of the actual cartoons he did routinely violate one or more of them, i.e.:

—the Road Runner does go off the road at times

—the Road Runner did occasionally directly harm the coyote, notably in the very first cartoon, Fast and Furry-ous, where the Road Runner picks up a Coyote-discarded metal lid just as Wile E. lunges at him and thus goes CLANG into it, and, seconds later, when the Coyote throws "One Genuine Boomerang" he is immediately hit by "Another Genuine Boomerang" clearly thrown by the Road Runner.

—The Coyote is often mangled, not humiliated

—Wile E. occasionally got products from other companies, like the ACE Electric Motor and Fleet-Foot brand Jet-Propelled Tennis Shoes in Fast and Furry-ous, and the Excelsior Electric Fan in Going! Going! Gosh!.

Also, the 2nd cartoon in the series is titled "Beep Beep", and the Road Runner goes both "Beep Beep" and "Meep Meep" over the course of the series.

All that said, Jones' cartoons in the series held to the general form of those "rules" much of the time. Rules are a good thing.