It’s Been A Great Summer- An Interview With Jeff “Swampy” Marsh & Dan Povenmire #PhineasAndFerbEvent
“There’s 104 days of summer vacation
And school comes along just to end it”
Way back one night in the early nineties, Jeff “Swampy” Marsh and Dan Povenmire were having dinner in a Pasadena restaurant. At the time, the two were working together on the Nickelodeon series Rocko’s Modern Life when Dan doodled a simple cartoon on the butcher paper covering his table- a triangle-headed boy. Povenmire decided that his sketch “looked like a Phineas”, and named Ferb after a friend who “owns more tools than anyone in the world.” Povenmire recalled that he tore the piece off and told his wife, “This is the show I’m going to sell”. And it did-eventually- when Phineas and Ferb finally had its premiere on the Disney Channel nearly 16 years later. After 126 episodes, five one-hour specials and a record-breaking Disney Channel Original Movie, the day that Phineas and Ferb fans have been dreading since the show first hit the airwaves back in February of 2008 will happen on Friday, June 12, when The Last Day of Summer-– an hour-long episode of Phineas and Ferb airs at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Disney XD with a simulcast on Disney Channel brings it all to a close.
A few days ago I was lucky enough to have the chance to talk to both Dan and Jeff about the series, their lives and what the future holds. Their enthusiasm and commitment to everything they do is evident from the moment you meet them but what was even more heartfelt was the obvious connection and passion they feel for not just the series but for the fans and families whose lives have been touched through it.
Going effortlessly from talking to Dan and Jeff one moment to Heinz Doofenshmirtz and Francis Monogram the next and finishing each other’s thoughts and sentences that only comes from a great partnership and trust built up over the years, the duo had us listening, laughing and yes, shedding more than a few tears as we came to know up close and personal the men that had given so much joy to thousands of families, just like mine as Phineas and Ferb became a part of our own lives over the years.
So from that simple doodle on a piece of butcher paper, where did the inspiration of Phineas and Ferb come from?
“Most of our inspiration actually comes from our own childhood. Swampy and I were both sort of creative kids and we had creative parents that would allow us to do ridiculous things. We were always building things like tree houses and I was the king of my neighborhood. I did things like jump 31 pines cones on my bike and some of my buddies and I took sticks and flashlights one day and crawled all the way through our subdivision in the drainage pipes that were about 4 ft. tall. You’d see light ahead and you would come up and we’d look out through the drainage thing on the side of a curb and we’d suddenly realize, “Oh wait that’s Overlook Church. That’s like a mile and a half from my house. We should go back.” There was a manhole right there that we could have easily gotten out of but instead we went back through the drains. A lot of it started with us putting ourselves back as a 10 to 12 year old boy and thinking if you could do anything what would it be? That’s pretty easy for us to do because we’re pretty close to that maturity level -ask anyone who knows us. I look at some of the go carts that we’ve built out of old wheels and stuff and it’s really amazing that I’m not only here but that I have all my teeth, most of ‘em.”
The two went on to further explain the thinking that originally went into the creation of Phineas and Ferb and some of the motivations and their deliberate decision to make sure the show never talked down to the children who would be watching.
“Phineas and Ferb was never conceived primarily as a show for children, but rather mainly something to make each other laugh. When we got together to really start writing episodes of this show, which had been in our brains for years, we made a very definite decision to make it kinder and gentler. We wanted to create a show that was funny and edgy without anybody being motivated by meanness. I remember noticing when I started watching it with my daughter, Phineas and Ferb don’t enjoy defying Candace. It’s not something they’re seeking to do. They’re just trying to have a great day. Candace is just going for fairness. She doesn’t want to hurt them. She feels like, If I did this, I would get in trouble, so it’s only fair that they get in trouble. Nobody’s ever motivated by meanness. I’m for treating kids as smart and clever and everybody that we started hearing from in the early days got that and that was so rewarding. It’s a show we can sit down with the whole family and they’ll feel really comfortable with the kids watching it and they’re inspired and in turn, I’m inspired. I think it’s a lot of why the show caught on, because I think parents feel very safe having their kids watch it. It just has this positive energy about it that I think is really infectious. We have never backed off of a joke because we thought it was over the kid’s head. The only things we ever cut were stuff that was inappropriate. Our rule was: If it makes the parent laugh, and the kid asks why, that can’t be an uncomfortable conversation. It should be expanding the kid’s world, not taking them into a world you don’t want to take them into.”
So what were some of Dan and Jeff’s favorite moments from the 126 episode run of the show?
“I have several episodes that I love ‘The Fast and the Phineas,’ the race car one. I love “That Sinking Feeling,” the Love Boat episode. To me, maybe the best thing we’ve ever done is the second half of ‘Summer Belongs to You,’ which was the big hour-long special. I think that the last 11 minutes of ‘Summer Belongs to You‘ is maybe my favorite thing we’ve ever done. It was our first hour long special and it had the ‘Phineas and Isabella in Paris’ where Isabella’s trying to get him to see how romantic it is and Candace and Jeremy decide to be boyfriend and girlfriend.The next thing you know, they all get stranded on the desert island and the last 11 minutes of the special was maybe the best thing. The song is one of my favorites because it really says a lot about the series. I literally can’t watch it without tearing up. When it was playing I actually purposely took my phone out and answered e-mails so that I wouldn’t be red- eyed. It was so nice doing the first pilot episode, ‘The Rollercoaster.’ We hadn’t worked together in 13 years. That one is by far is a sentimental favorite. But I still go back to how much I enjoy ‘Getting the Band Back Together.’ It was the first time that we let Phineas and Candace work together on something and they have this very small moment, a fist bump. And it really lets you know that they love each other.”
How did Povenmire and Marsh know it was time to move on from something that was so much a part of them?
“Well we’ve been doing this for a decade and we felt like this is a good time. We feel like this show is still really good and really, really fresh. I’m really proud of most of the 4th season just as much as I am of the first ones. We felt like let’s go out before we start really feeling like it starts feeling tired.’ There’s a whole new batch of kids that could start in episode one and discover it all for the first time.”
After 126 episodes, were there any stories they heard from fans that were some of their favorites about how Phineas and Ferb touched their lives or inspired them?
“I don’t have a favorite, but you would be shocked at how many letters we get of people telling us that we got them through a really dark time or that the show inspired their kid to be more creative. Somebody sent us this letter that said before their kid was watching Phineas they would sort of get through art class to go out and play and would never draw anything. She sent a picture that had been drawn from before Phineas and it was like one line on a piece of paper. And then she sent a picture that he drew after he started watching Phineas and all the creativity that she saw coming out of him – that makes me proud, but we get a lot of stuff like that. We’ve known the show’s been over for a while. We’ve sort of been over it and a couple of weeks ago when they announced it I was waiting outside the courtroom for Jury Duty Selection. Cecilia had sent us the link. ‘Oh hey it’s finally announced.’ I knew it was being announced that week, but I didn’t know what day so I went ahead and I tweeted it because you know people on Twitter also sort of suspected the show was over for a while. I said, ‘Okay it’s finally been announced. It’s been a great summer.’ Once I tweeted it there were hundreds of people saying wonderful things about the show. Some of them were things like, ‘This is the show that got me through PTSD. This is the show that got me through chemo with my kid because it was the one thing that would make him smile.’ They’re all these kind of things. I started crying like I’m doing right now. (as a side note, during this point not only were Dan and Jeff crying as Dan was recounting what happened, but there wasn’t a dry eye in the room-a testament as to just how deeply they both care about the show and their fans) There’s all these lasts that happen in animation. And we’ve been through all of those, but it was a couple of weeks ago when she sent me that it didn’t occur to me that there is this whole community of people out there that it was the first time they realized it was over. It’s been a great thing. It’s been a huge thing in our lives, and the kids themselves, the animated kids, these guys that we created, we feel like they’re our children. So it’s very sad, it’s bittersweet to say goodbye to them. But I feel like we’ve done a good job.”
Once Povenmire and Marsh knew that they had an end date two years ago did that change the way they approached the stories or gave them a sense of needing to add in their wish list of items that up until then, may had no place to go?
“Well the big thing for us was people have always asked if Phineas and Isabella were going to get together. And so we penned the ultimate episode called ‘Act Your Age’. It takes place 10 years in the future and we get to see Phineas and Isabella get together and that was really the emotional finale to the show. For us, that was the end of the emotional arc for show. And that was the finale for everything emotionally that we had done.”
What is it that both Povenmire and Marsh want people to come away with about the show as it comes to a close?
“The thing that we want people who are making programs to get out of this is that you can never go wrong over estimating the intelligence of kids. That’s what we hope people get. You can make shows that appeal to everybody from adults, to teenagers, to middle kids, all the way on down without being mean and without having shows filled with jerks and idiots. You can put big words in and it’s okay. You can do classical music and jazz music and folk music, and rock and roll, and rap, and all of that and kids will get it. If you can just stop people from dumbing down the subject matter that they feel they need to put in front of kids this whole thing will be a success. That’s what I want people to go away with because that’s what we fought for.”
So just what is the final episode of Phineas and Ferb about? As you might guess, ‘The Last Day of Summer’ revisits classic themes from this show:
“The summer season is coming to a close and it’s Candace’s last chance to bust her brothers. She is quickly foiled, but is presented with an opportunity to redo the day when she sets off Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s Do-Over-Inator, which results in other consequences like rips in the space-time continuum, the shortening of days and the disappearance of her brothers.” But wait-there’s good news on the horizon! Just because the ‘Last Day of Summer’ airs on Disney XD & Disney Channel on June 12th doesn’t mean the end for Phineas and Ferb. The animated series will continue to air daily on Disney XD and not only that but the “Last Day of Summer” won’t even be the last official Phineas and Ferb–related show that Disney XD airs. Later this Fall, ‘The O.W.C.A. Files’ -a standalone hour-long special that focuses on Agent P (AKA Perry the Platypus) and his fellow animal agents – will premiere on Disney XD.
And for those dreading the fact that they’ll no longer be able to enjoy Dan & Swampy’s unique take on the world, fear not. Povenmire & Marsh have not only decided to continue their association with Disney Television Animation, they’ve already got a new animated series for Disney XD in the works. This animated comedy – Mikey Murphy’s Law – will be built around a brand-new character: Mikey Murphy, the fictional great-great-great-great grandson of the Murphy’s Law namesake. Povenmire and Marsh are the creators & executive producers of this Disney XD series that is scheduled for a 2017 premiere.
Thank you Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh for bringing yourselves, your insights and your talents into our lives and into our homes. Phineas and Ferb and the entire crew will live on for generations to come.
PHINEAS AND FERB’s “Last day of Summer” on Friday, June 12th at 9pm ET/PT on Disney XD
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Disclosure: I have been invited by Disney to cover this media event. All material and expenses for this event have been provided courtesy of Walt Disney Studios but all opinions my own