The World's Finest Presents

Interviews - The World's Finest talks to Series Writer, Joseph Kuhr

Joe Kuhr's name should be familiar to viewers of The Zeta Project. While a freelance writer in the first season, he became more involved in the show's second, and final, season. He would play a large role in the fate of the main characters, Zeta and Ro, and would help guide their adventures. Kuhr's work has also appeared in Justice League, The Batman, and Krypto the Superdog to name a few. Here, he discusses his work on The Zeta Project.

What attracted you to this series?

Several things. A) The opportunity to work with Bob Goodman, whom I had known for years but had never worked with (well, we had crewed the same student film years earlier, but that's really not the same thing). B) The opportunity to work in the animated DCU, of which I had been a long-time fan. C) The opportunity to work.

On the purely creative side, of course the show itself was intriguing for many reasons. Action shows are fun and challenging, but a show set forty-or-so years in the future meant that on top of the normal action show challenges, we had to constantly push ourselves to figure out how things might turn out in the near future -- or at least how they might turn out in the future of our fictional DCU. Coming up with believable and interesting future-tech, terminology, locations, etc., that could serve as backdrop and play into the stories was HARD. But fun. And of course the stories must both serve the characters and make entertaining use of Zeta's abilities. Put it all together and you have just the kind of mind-warping exercise I enjoy.

Was Zeta ever a tough sell to the networks? With the lead character a  robot, I'm sure it must have been hard to get the go ahead from the  network execs? Is that were Ro, Bucky, and Zeta's child hologram image  come in?

Wouldn't know. I only came in as a freelance writer part-way through the first season, then was invited on as staff writer during second season. I had nothing to do with selling the show to the network.

Did you find difficulty in writing for a series where the main  character was a robot? Does that present any challenge, or does the  robot have to be approached like any other character to make it  relatable?

I'll take the second part of your question first. No two characters are alike -- or at least they shouldn't be. So approaching Zeta "like any other character" actually means approaching him like no other character.

As I said above, making good use of Zeta's powers was always a challenge, but, aside from a little inconsistency regarding whether his hologram was solid or intangible, I think we (the collective "we" meaning all the folks who worked on the show before and during my time on it) rose to the challenge, working from Bob's strong concept for the character and the show.

Spiritually and emotionally, Zeta was an innocent -- okay, a really powerful innocent who regularly assassinated people for his government handlers, but an innocent nonetheless -- and that's really where the fun of putting him together with Ro comes in. She's fairly tough and streetwise, but put her in a situation where she can take complete advantage of a naive government infiltration unit -- and she just can't bring herself to grab what she wants and walk away. Okay, maybe she could have at first, but once she realized that Zeta was really good, and what the odds against him were, she started to care about him. Just couldn't help herself. Sure, she benefited from his friendship (he saved her life the first time he saw her, and she wasn't staying in 4 star hotels or eating in restaurants when they met), but, hey, he's got his own unlimited cred card, so what's the harm, right? Oh yeah, and one of these days he'll use his powers to help her find out what happened to her folks, so there's that.

As the series progressed, the driving force behind it was Zeta's  freedom. How did you make sure that the plot stayed at the forefront without getting too dominating or stale?

I believe the real trick to keeping any show from getting stale is to mix up the stories so that it's not always about the same thing -- in Zee's case, having to dodge Bennet while looking for Selig in the next town. There are lots of characters in our ensemble and there's always some new and interesting combination of characters and situations to explore. Put the fugitive and pursuer in a situation where they have to help each other. Explore the backstories of the characters to give new meaning to what the characters are going through in the present, etc. And always be on the lookout for interesting conflicts for our characters.

Were there any ideas dropped because they may be too far fetched for a series taking place 40 years in the future?

I don't know. From what I recall, the challenge was in coming up with new cool things, not in having to dial back on the good stuff. But I wasn't there at the beginning and I may not have perfect recall of the time I was there, so ask Bob.

Among other episodes you are credited for "Taffy Time" as well as "Ro's Gift," on which you have a teleplay and co-story credit. Take us through the process of the creation of these episodes.

I originally pitched "Taffy Time" as a hunter-hunted story (e.g., Most Dangerous Game) where Zeta and Agent Lee were captured and hunted by a big game hunter for sport on his private reserve. Then Bob Goodman, Rich Fogel and I met and one of them came up with the idea of using the Stalker from Batman Beyond as the villain. Then the network nixed using Stalker and suggested we use Krick, a character Bob had created who was in the show's bible, but whom they hadn't yet used. I was asked to find a "kid friendly" environment in which to set it. I gave them a list of possible locations (abandoned toy factory, futuristic amusement park, water park, museum, etc ...) and Bob liked my suggestion of the abandoned Koala Candy Factory. Bob suggested saying they had packed up and moved to Canada a few months back. We'd seen a lot of jobs shipped overseas, both in and out of our industry, and I believe this was meant as a sly comment on that phenomenon.

I have a sole teleplay credit, but I am proud to share a co-story credit with the late Hilary Bader on "Ro's Gift," although we didn't technically work on the story together. During the first season, before I was on staff, Hilary had pitched a Zeta/Terry McGuinness Batman team-up where the heroes saved some kids from the villains known as the Brain Trust from Batman Beyond. For reasons to which I am not privy, that pitch didn't get approved, but in Season 2, after Hilary had moved on to other things, Bob decided to salvage the Brain Trust part of the story and assigned me to rework it and remove Batman and add a bigger part for Ro. This is because the network was no longer interested in a BB/Zeta crossover since Batman Beyond had already ended, and Bruce Timm and company had already moved on to Justice League.

Now we have to know - who's hand was that in "Hologram Man" (Episode #26)?

That regenerating robotic hand -- in case you couldn't tell, that's what it was -- at the end of episode 26 belonged to (drum roll) Andrea Donoso, Dr. Selig's assistant. If you want to know more about where that story was headed, ask Bob. I think he'd be willing to discuss it at this point.

And, to top it off for now, what are some of your favorite  episodes/moments from THE ZETA PROJECT?

I love the pilot episode, "The Accomplice." It really set up the characters, situations and tone for the show nicely.

I'm proud of the fake out where Zeta has switched places with Agent Lee on the taffy stretching machine in "Taffy Time." Whenever I've heard from people about that episode, that's always a moment they mention as a plausible yet unexpected twist. When your robot can morph, but that kind of switcheroo still works as a surprise for the audience, it's okay to feel like you're doing something right.

I love that Ro's nickname when she was a kid was "Little Bulldozer" because she knocked down any obstacle in her path.

I like the Dark Owl and Squirrel Girl bit from the beginning of "On the Wire." Oh, and I'm not sure whose idea this was, but the guys watching the picto of Dark Owl and Squirrel Girl are caricatures of me and Bob. However, they made me tall (I'm not) and they made Bob short and squat (he's not).

I love how cranked the action is in the second season ender, "Hologram Man." But neither Bob nor I were happy when the powers-that-were forced us to end the episode as a cliffhanger since it was doubtful that the show would be back for a third season. Believe me, that's just as unsatisfying a way to conclude a show for the creators as it is for the viewers, and we were sad that we had to leave the fans in the lurch like that. So thanks, Jim and Toon Zone, for the opportunity to let us answer some of the questions that were left hanging at the end of "The Zeta Project."

The World's Finest would like to thank Joseph Kuhr for this interview!

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