|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
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
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
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
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"
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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