Origin of Sonic Epoch
PC vs. GBA
FUS - Epoch Era
Super Sponge Bros.
Ben Hurst and SatAM Behind-the-ScenesBen Hurst worked on many TV shows that many of us have enjoyed in our lives, but this page will focus specifically on his contributions to Saturday Morning Sonic and also touches on Sonic Underground just because that was sort of the anti-Season 3. This page was built by reformatting and reordering the IRC chat logs from an effective AMA that Hurst did in 2005 and 2006 for the SAGE (Sonic Amateur Games Expo) event, combined with newsgroup posts he made, and even some originally limited-released conceptual ideas that became publicized after his death in 2010. Hurst was majorly involved in keeping in contact with fans of the show and was probably the loyalest SatAM fan that existed. He made known attempts up until at least 2006 to get a "Season 3" on-track, whether as another serial, a movie, a direct DVD release, anything.
Everything here will be using as much language as came from the keyboard of Hurst, with some formatting fixes for readability. You can check the IRC logs and newsgroup posts yourself if you must. I've mostly just copy/pasted everything here. This will hopefully paint as complete a picture as is possible based on what communications were made.
Southbird: Unless otherwise noted (like right here) or surrounded by [square brackets], all of the following comes from reassembling things that Ben Hurst wrote to newsgroups, IRC, etc. So this is really straight from the horse's mouth.
SatAM Season 1 and 2
Influences on SatAM: Len Janson was the story editor in season one - and he created the bible. So, he was fed things to put into the series. Some of which he included, some of which he ignored. Thus the power rings. And other elements. He also shielded us from interference in the storylines - and defied the powers-that-be on numerous occasions. To Len, story was first, executives and other opinions were second. Actually, story first, character first and other things second. :)
I was an episodic writer on the first season - with Len Janson as story editor. I'd worked with him on a number of previous series. Then, he approached me and Pat and we decided to become a team and map out the second season as though it were pieces of a feature film. We actually plotted all 11 episodes to work in the second season as though they were a feature film - though each episode also stood alone. Losing two episodes to those comedy 11-minute bits hurt. The first season of SatAM wasn't planned at all. The second season was planned by me. Sorry for the immodesty on that last one, but I laid out the 11 episodes. Then, Len and Pat helped to modify and move things around to make them work better. Two very long weeks. That's my talent. I'm able to see a big picture. I also created the background continuity which was dramatically different from Sega's - and Len Janson defended our continuity against them. Because he felt is was better. Chaos Emeralds - were not a part of our stuff when we were writing.
I want to make sure you understand that the only reason SatAM was as good as it turned out is because of the complete team.The breakdown of who did what in second season - Main storylines and backstory, devices and action mostly came from me. Character development mostly from Len and Pat. Dialogue rough from me - polished by Pat and finally by Len. The director, Ron Myrick, was just the best. Len is a brilliant story editor. Pat writes brilliant dialogue. And it's the only show I've ever worked on where everyone gathered on Friday nights to watch the footage just in from overseas. SamAM was "dear to my heart" because the characters came alive for us. Len's editing, Pat's dialogue and my plotting almost seemed to interweave themselves. And everyone on the team was excited. We all gathered on Friday nights for Pizza and to watch the raw footage come back from Asia. And the only time I've had artists literally drag me from my office to show me artwork. Especially on Blast to the Past. The artists went nuts on Mobotropolis and the Floating Island. The artists on Satam really knocked themselves out in the second season - the best backgrounds I've ever seen on an animated series.
Sonic - as a fantasy - and as a metaphor - resonated in my soul. Freedom fighters facing evil - and not stooping to the level of evil to defeat it. There's a dignity to Sonic that underscores the entire series. Sometimes, the comedy and the flippancy could make you think it was tongue-in-cheek, but I remember getting chills as I sat with a yellow pad thinking of the evil stuff. Dulcy's Mom in chains. Uncle Chuck getting Robotocized. The reveal where we learn that people are still able to think, but unable to act after being transformed. That one really got me. That was the moment that brought the series to life for me, actually.
[What was your favorite episode that you wrote a story for?] I used to think it was Blast. But now, I'm leaning towards Doomsday. I love the interaction between Sonic and Sally - and the kiss at the end. :) And the "You'll always be my hero" line.
What I liked most about Robotropolis? I think the dark look in such contrast to Knothole. And the pathos of what the Roboticization did to the residents.
I loooooooove chili dogs. :)
["If Mr. Hurst was a mobian, what species would he be? He could cameo."] I would be whatever species that would be compatible with Sally because I'm in love with her.
Sal's also one of my favorite characters - although Dulcy will always have a special place in my heart. The wonderful thing about Sal is that, not only is she strong and capable, she can give as well as get in any exchange with Sonic. She doesn't order him around - she cajoles, persuades, convinces him to go in the direction she suggests - but as we all know - if Sonic really doesn't want to go in her direction - it just plain old ain't gonna happen. To me, what truly sets Sally aside is her heart. She has a deep well of compassion she draws from - and though Sonic is equally compassionate, Sally has the ability to articulate her heart-felt feelings (which Sonic will then agree to with a, "Yeah, that.")
I fell in love with the characters. All of the characters. But my favorites were always Sonic and Sally - and the relationship between them was a joy and pleasure to keep alive.
One of the things that Len Janson always insisted on was that we would have wins and losses in each episode. Thus those touching scenes in the grotto with Sonic depressed at the end and Sally cheering him up. Wins and losses: There had to be things the freedom fighters won - a new piece of information, the freeing of a character - or the loss of a character or major plan.
Uncle Chuck invented the Roboticizer as a way to allow older people to have mechanical, strong and pain free bodies. Robotnik stole it and perverted into a "slavemaker." It was originally designed to replace just parts of the body - but Robotnik modified it into the monstrosity. Robotnik didn't realize the people were still conscious, but helpless within. ["So is there ANY organic material in a fully roboticized person?"] Good question. We never really addressed that, but it would need to be addressed at some point.
Sally was a fox/squirrel. At least that's what we told ourselves. There was a bit of ambiguity around the office on that one. But we were so preoccupied with the master storyline, that those kinds of questions sort of fell by the wayside. the important thing was the character, not the design. She's one of my favorite characters. Not half and half, just nebulous. We weren't really sure either, but it didn't seem important at the time. In hindsight, we probably should have decided. Her father, I think he was a Fox. So - mom might have been a squirrel.
[Where did the decision come from to change Rotor's appearance?] That was Len, Len and Len. He went on about it a bit to the lead design artist, who listened intently, looking like he was going to argue... But simply shrugged and said, "Okay."
I lost the development of Tails that I had done. He would have had a much bigger role in Doomsday. If you remember - he was training with Sonic in one of the episodes (where the excavation for the power stones was taking place - episode name slips my mind.) And I was going to bring him along into a vibrant, insane adolescent with an attitude.
I created the doomsday machine - as I did most, if not all of the "devices" in SatAM that I didn't inherit from the first season. I had a fairly elaborate description of the machine, but there's only so much room in a 22 minute script. So the artists took it upon themselves to fill in the gaps.
Just for the record: Ken [Penders of Archie comics] has often said (paraphrasing here) that "Ben Hurst says the torch has been passed to me for Sonic the Hedgehog" - usually expressed in a way to make it appear that I passed the torch to him. Not true. I was just trying to be nice. What I said was that since the comic was ongoing and the animated series was over, the torch had been passed [by default] to him. I was just trying to prevent a flurry of inquiries from fans pitting his opinion against mine on how the Sonic Universe should be sculpted after SatAM ended. The way he has expressed it in the past seems to convey the impression that he has my approval of his work. He doesn't. I've not read a single comic.
"Suits in My Way"
There was a question about continuity from Sega. They did have a continuity, but it was not clearly articulated and pardon the expression, it didn't "hang together." Even fantasy worlds have to make sense. Suits in my way? Yes. I had a forty-five minute "discussion" with a suit at ABC who wanted to kill Rosie out of Blast... because they didn't want to add new characters. Rosie was the Nanny who Sonic saved with a warning - thus "changing the past" against Sally's admonitions. So the gain for that episode was Rosie. But the exec at ABC was "sure" that the audience would have an expectation of seeing and hearing from Rosie again. And wanted me to remove her and that part of the storyline. But I wasn't letting go without a fight. And I cajoled, whined, pleaded and finally just dug my feet in.
I think that there is a lack of continuity in Sega's marketing. And they need to take a broad overview of where they've been - and put some real work into planning out where they're going. It seems to me that they're always just shotgunning semi-related ideas. Very corporate - Not creative. And you know the result. But it made me realize the difficulty of working with executives who are too literal and not creative.
[Do you think you have any more plans for working on any more Sonic the Hedgehog projects in the future?] I've heard rumblings hear and there, but I only comment on that which is signed, sealed and delivered. So far, Sega has not approached me.
Attempts at Resurrection
As you have heard, I had a meeting at DiC to start the process towards possibly re-awakening interest in a third season of Sonic in some incarnation. I met with Robbie London, one of my favorite people. It was an interesting conversation and helped to crystalize my thinking on how to proceed. I also learned a little more about syndication and the thought-processes of network executives in selecting shows to be produced.
I am proud of the efforts of many of the Sonic fans in assembling petitions to try to return SatAM to the air and I will utilize these petitions as I continue my quest. But the problem with Sonic all along has been a lack of popularity. Though there is a core of steadfast fans, Sonic has never generated the big numbers that keep a show on the air. There are a number of reasons for this. Poor airing schedules, shows preempted by sporting events (at least in the U.S.), tough competition (Power Rangers) and perhaps even lackluster marketing (think about it: did you ever see mass-marketing tie-ins for Sonic Underground? A heavy wave of commercials?)
Whatever the reasons, Sonic has never had the kind of "groundswell support" of mass numbers, has never generated a "Ninja Turtles" or "Power Rangers" type of popularity required to keep network executives interested in continuing the show. Sonic fans, please note the words "mass numbers." Again, your efforts have been Herculean and your devotion has been unwavering, but the big numbers simply haven't been there to make "bottom line-conscious" executives sit up and take notice.
At this time, it would be terribly difficult for me to pursue a third season of Sonic as a network show. Too many hurdles, the aforementioned lack of mass numbers and a general industry inertia are formidable arguments against that course of action. Direct-to-Video is slightly more likely, but again, there has to be a known demand before any company will risk the many millions required to produce this kind of product.
I did consult with DiC to see if there was a way to generate some enthusiasm for a feature film to be the "Third Season" of SatAM. I was given the name of a SEGA executive and had a most pleasant conversation. She had to go to a meeting, but said she would like to talk to me more about the idea. The next day, I got a call from Ken Penders, who had been alerted by his contact in their office that I was interested in getting a Sonic movie going. I generously offered to include him in the effort and told him my strategy. Get SEGA to become invested in the idea by hiring us to interview their creative game designers, execs, etc and see if we could develop a story line that would fulfill the third season - and simultaneously give them creative ideas to develop new games. A win-win, situation.
Then, I called SEGA back, but I was shocked when the exec "lit" into me, telling me, "People pay US to develop Sonic product, we don't pay them!" Then she hung up on me. Obviously, Penders had related my strategy to them in a less-than-flattering way. Thanks for the knife, Ken. So, I gave up. Later, I was informed by friendly fans that Penders had written in his message board or some such place that "Ben Hurst doesn't know how movies are made in Hollywood." (Hey Ken, read "Adventures in Screenwriting" by William Goldman and get some humility) Then he dropped hints that HE would be the writer for a big Sonic Feature Film. That was three years ago. So, if you're reading between the lines, you can see I don't hold out much hope for seeing the third season of SatAM - or being the one who does it if it happens. And that makes me sad. Because if it were to happen, those 13 episodes would sizzle.
But this I've learned: Never leave a series on a cliffhanger unless you have a contract for the next year.
Season 3 / The Unwritten Story
Unused Season 2 Content
I had ideas for other freedom fighter group discoveries and interactions. absolutely more freedom fighter groups. Some had to be cut when the 11-min dual episodes were enforced on us. You remember those goofy two per half-hour things? There were some good moments, but it really messed up our plans. We had to do some fast juggling. We had a jungle freedom fighter group. And you would have seen more groups if ABC hadn't decided to saddle us with those four goofy shorts.
[Did Robotnik roboticize almost the entire population of Mobius, or were the regions aside from Robotropolis kept under martial law?] When Len decided to bring Pat and me in on the second season exclusively... we had to sit down and decide the final details of the universe. It had just been an unconnected series of episodes up until then. So, we watched all 13 from the first season, then brainstormed. And I don't know if we specifically addressed that issue, but it would have been R's intention to spread his tentacles far and wide. But the freedom fighters had kept him confined to a large degree - and least so we decided. I think. The direct answer to the R question - is that it wasn't important in the greater scheme of the original 11-episode arc of the second season. Now that you mentioned it, we had freedom fighter groups around the planet - so they must have been fighting him off.
[In one episode, "The Void," there is a brief mention of a command meeting. It's also mentioned that Robotnik has "Lieutenants". Who or what are these Lieutenants?] Due to lack of space and time, we never could get into the entire backstory. So, the command meeting was never fully explored - and Robotnik's Lieutenants were sort of left by the road.
Robotnik / Snively Backstory
I wrote an elaborate backstory before I plotted out Blast to the Past. I shared that backstory once and got pilloried. It involved how the sentient animals came to be - why Robotnik and Snively were the only humans and the backstory of the King. Interestingly, I shared it when it was fresh with one fan. And he dissed it, The fan I shared that with felt it was cliche. Was pretty rude about it too. Because it involved the nuclear destruction of humans. Which triggered the genetic mutations of sentient animals. Anyway, they came back to the planet - and according to Einsteininistic stuff - many years had gone by and now he was the only one - along with Snively. We never got to go into really deep detail because we lacked time. And Sega wasn't too happy with that continuity. But the fun part - is that left a colony out there that could discover a faster way to return - and that could remain as a possible story element. Never explored that far. Because animals exist in the non-human populated areas that would have been spared the blasts. And that doesn't mean there aren't humans somewhere on the planet in some form. [Remains of human civilization] would have been addressed in season 3.
Bearing in mind that we were given no history of the Sonic characters when we came on board, we created a "White Paper" that created a history for the characters. This doesn't mean that what we created is the definitive backstory. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find the document, but as I recall, Julian and Snively were part of a space expedition from about 2200 (or thereabouts). Julian attempted a takeover of the colony, but his technology got out of control and he wound up destroying everything, narrowly escaping with his (and Snively's) lives. Meanwhile, back on Earth, a nuclear holocaust had destroyed human life as we knew it - and the animals who survived mutated into sentient beings and built the society which you see in the form of Mobius. Einstein's ideas of the passage of time during faster-than-light space travel kick in and thousands of years have passed by the time Julian and Snively returned to find this "Animal" world. Well, Julian's thought was that in the land of the four-pawed critters, the two-handed man is king and so he set about to take over - as outlined in Blast to the Past.
[Did you ever think of possibly having Sonic or Tails roboticized?] Of course. But we would have to build an entire story around that - and there would have to be a very good reason to do so. But it's too easy to go that route. I like subtleties. I could do it in a heartbeat. Twenty different ways. Sleep, betrayal, special equip by Robotnik. Like I say, that kind of stuff is easy to come up with. Coming up with a story to support it is the hard part. And if the story doesn't support it, I won't go there. That kind of thing leads to devices taking over the script. Yuck!
I can't read fanfiction for legal reasons. And I've never read the comics. Though I do read some of the reviews of them. And the legal reasons are because if I read other works - then I can't use anything they come up with. If I keep my "hands clean" - so to speak, then I'm free to just create. If there should be a new incarnation of Sonic, I can just go in the direction I was going to - and not worry about what anyone else has done because there's no paper trail to me. This way requires no permission. I make my own decisions. The path of permission is one of lawsuits and messy things. I'd like to work with my original team, Pat Allee and Len Janson.
Southbird: Hurst did eventually release some of his planning notes later on to a limited number of folks, and this became public after his death. This section is based on what he said publicly, the document is in the "Movie Idea" section below.
Robotnik didn't flip a switch and get away. No. He was captured. And the scenes with him and Naugus were going to be highly entertaining.
There are no third season scripts. The only thing in existence is the sketch that I did of the third season. Third season would have been tight as a tick. And would have launched a major fourth season. Now, the specifics of what will happen in Season 3 will have to remain unknowns, but I can tell you a few things. There's a season 3 in my mind - either feature film or episodes. And I'm trying to turn it to reality, but that's happening behind the scenes. Snively becomes supreme... for a while. Sonic will go through a character transformation - a temporary one, only, but will become quite different for a time. And Sally will be romanced by someone other than Sonic. Finally, Dulcy would mature and come into her full powers and prove to be a dominant force. Big surprise in store with Antoine.
Snively was Robotnik's relative. In season 2 we were building his resentment...And in season 3 there was going to be a dramatic transformation. That's as much as I will say about Snively at this point. I wouldn't want to spoil it for you.
Knuckles would have figured prominently into season 3 - towards the end - and would have been the pinch or turning point for season 4
Pardon me for fudging, but until all hope is extinguished - I'll not spill the beans on the (who knows if it will happen?) third season. There's always hope.
If given the opportunity to do either the movie or the third SatAM Season - it wouldn't suck. It would simply pick up where SatAM left off. Same writers, same continuity - but incredible new developments because, unlike writing a script-a-week during a deadline-driven season of television animation, I've had years, YEARS, to think of what would happen next, how the characters would develop and how the stories would unfold. I am as much a fan of SatAM as all of you, if not more. I have written on numerous shows, created large outdoor spectacle attractions for special events and theme parks, written and served as concept developer on exhibits for the Smithsonian Institution (with another one currently in development) and for entire museums - and I've served as consultant to develop storylines for theme park attractions and museums around the country and around the world. In short, my life has been an amazing adventure filled with incredible experiences - but - and I emphasize this - of ALL the storylines I've had the pleasure to participate in, the one that has captured and held my heart is the saga of the little blue Hedgehog.
Although the odds are stacked against my participating in another incarnation of SatAM, don't ever for a moment believe that I have given up hope. Don't ever for a moment believe that ideas aren't percolating inside me every day. Not a day goes by that I don't jot another post-it to add to the very large pile (big thanks to the incredible fan who provided an entire box of them imprinted with an image of Sonic).
It tugs at my heart everytime I hear people lamenting the lack of a third season of SatAM Sonic - because, like many of you, I became deeply involved in the lives and adventures of the Sonic characters. It is my dream to bring the story lines which were left unfinished in the second season to their final conclusion - and I'm working now to bring that to pass - though it is an uphill road and I'm afraid my chances of success are slim. Nonetheless, I'm going to give it my best shot. Believe me, I want to see this as much as all of those here who share the love of SatAM Sonic. I'm happy to see so many sharing a passion for a simple blue hedgehog.
Sonic UndergroundSonic Underground was a sad, sad story. With the opportunity looming large for the third season of SatAM, DiC made a creative decision to trash that continuity and strike out in a new direction. The reason: because they could add songs with the whole Sonic, Sonia and Manic thing and collect extra residuals from ASCAP/BMI (the group that pays song royalties - DiC makes deals with songwriters to split or sign over the rights to their compositions - exactly the same way that they force the writers and story editors to sign over all rights to their stories.) Here's how Sonic Underground happened. After SatAM was canned because of a change in leadership at ABC and low ratings caused by multiple preemptions caused by sporting events and finally - being placed up against the red-hot "Power Rangers," (now there's some genius programming strategy) - a new version of Sonic was created: Sonic Underground.
In the early days of the company that became DiC, people at the head of the company discovered they could make as much or more money from song royalties as they could off of animation. And the songs were the driving force (monetarily) behind Sonic Underground. The people who created the continuity for SU just slapped it together without a great deal of thought - and with no regard to SatAM. Pat Allee and I wound up as story editors after we wrote the first episode. It was so much better than the existing story editor's episode that they fired him and hired us. And put us on a two-script a week schedule. (SatAM had a typical production time for an episode of two weeks from start to finish.) The reason the series is any good at all (not being humble here) is because Pat and I wrote a bunch of them - and Len Janson wrote a bigger bunch (if you remember, he's the story editor from SatAM.) The first I heard of it was after the development was already done.
They didn't consult me for SU - they just laid it on me after it was underway. Pat and I were brought in as an afterthought - after all the creative development was done. We were "summoned" to a cattle call of writers and we refused. But then one of the mucky-mucks at DiC promised us two episodes, so we went. I wanted to walk out - but Pat was standing on my foot. Anyway, they showed an episode from SatAM season 1 - not one of ours - to illustrate the basics of the show. After they described the marvelous new direction (Siblings, Music, Missing Mother, Stupid New Characters) they ended the meeting. Again, I wanted to walk out - but Pat nailed my feet to the floor. After the meeting, I was first out the door. But mucky-muck from DiC asked us to come with him. He wasn't terribly happy with the existing script for the pilot... so he asked us to rush a script through (I think it was Wedding Bell Blues); we did. They got rid of existing story editor and hired us and two more Split the series down the middle - and ran it at two episodes a week, which is insanity. Then, after the other team did four or five episodes, they left and we picked up the slack. I had no input into the new continuity - and it was an amazingly insane schedule. Thus, the lack of quality in comparison to SatAM. Without an effective union at DiC, people who objected to [Underground] strenuously were simply shown the door.
I did manage to do an origin story, and a 3-part Knuckles story. But that whole disappearing mother and a song in each episode made it difficult, they really did interrupt the flow of the shows. The songs were particularly difficult to work in. They got songwriters in the LA area to sign off most of their ASCAP/BMI royalties to DiC - and remain anonymous in the process.
We did our best to embrace the spirit of the original SatAM characters - but we were not allowed to change the "new vision" of the show. We also endeavored to include SatAM's original story editor - Len Janson - to whom the credit must go for the high standards of that show. It was his insistence that there always be "wins and losses" for the good guys - and his development of the Sonic/Sally relationship that made the show sparkle. Len wrote about 8 of the episodes for SU and you can see the spirit of Sonic best in his scripts.
There was also another team of story editors for a short while - but they moved onto another show, but not before completing a number of episodes that I felt weren't really in the spirit of Sonic. Nothing I could do about those - but we tried our best to incorporate as much of the humor, wit, action and adventure of the original Sonic SatAM continuity as we could.
I think we had mixed results, but there are certain episodes and sequences and dialogue exchanges that I am very proud of. Sonic Underground has its moments, but in truth, it can't measure up to SatAM. It wasn't as well thought out and the pace of the production was too fast for proper reflection and good writing. As I rewatch some of the episodes, I'm surprised it's as good as it is. I'm fully aware it doesn't match up to SatAM and I would give my eye teeth to be hired to do the SatAM third season.
If I had been brought in first, I would have made SU Season 3 of SatAM. And if they had insisted on songs, I would have found a less intrusive way to work them in. Maybe just great footage over the song and none of the character singing - or maybe have Ant and Bunnie form a group. Now that I say the latter, it leaves a bad taste in my mind.
So, SatAM was heaven, SU was tough. End.
The issue with Sonic continuity is that there have been so many incarnations. I avoid all other incarnations of Sonic like the plague. Not through contempt or lack of respect - but because I don't want to wind up subconsciously plagiarizing.
I have to confess, I've never played a single sonic game. I would like to be involved in creating the games. I think that all games need more story.
Jaleel White (Sonic's Voice Actor)
Jaleel? Yes. A very nice guy. Modest. Humble. AFTRA (union) rules are that you can pay an artist for one voice and he can be required to do three. Now, does that make more sense? [Per Sonic Underground]
I had occasion to meet him outside of Sonic as well - and he was a gentleman. And rather shy. He struck me as one of the most gentle souls ever. Kind, courteous to a fault and modest - as well as soft-spoken - until the camera or microphone turned on. He was the consummate actor when the mic turned on. He embraced the spirit of Sonic.
The Movie IdeaSouthbird: I don't see any point in copy/pasting Hurst's "stream of consciousness" here, so I'll summarize his idea with bullet points as best I can. So in this section, this is my interpretation of what he was thinking, but consult his actual document (download link below) to get the firsthand experience. I call this the "Movie Idea" because that's how he described it, but to remember the confusion of the time, he really wanted a Season 3 TV serial show with 13 episodes, the movie was second-choice and at the end of his attempts, the only apparent long-shot left. So the "Movie Idea" is a movie, but also "Season 3", or as best any of us will ever know it unless more documents surface somehow.
This story deserves to be read from the document itself, but I'll make it concise here anyway for reference.
SourcesIf you want to view the original newsgroup posts and chat log files, those can be found at Saturday Morning Sonic [here]
The "movie" prototype document that Hurst limitedly released is [here]