90s, Cartoons, Quick Lists — December 1, 2015 11:01 am

17 Things You Didn’t Know About Rocko’s Modern Life

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Article-posting day is a very dangerous day. Luckily we have Rocko to soothe our fears today. Here are 17 Things You Didn’t Know About Rocko’s Modern Life.

17 – Rocko Had a Video Game in the Works Before the Series Even Aired


Not only was Rocko’s Modern Life a show, it was also a video game. Rocko’s Modern Life: Spunky’s Dangerous Day for the SNES was released in 1994, but was in the works before a single episode aired. In fact, the cartoon was still in the early stages of development. Since there wasn’t much in terms of reference materials, the development team had to rely on concept sketches from the shows’s animators. Overall, it doesn’t look too bad, but that does explain the bit of off-ness to the characters’ appearances.

16 – Rocko Won a Daytime Emmy Award Before Susan Lucci

Presented by my boyfriend, Shemar Moore.

Rocko’s Modern Life won a Daytime Emmy Award before All My Children‘s Susan Lucci managed to. In 1993 Timothy J. Borquez, Patrick Foley, Michael Giesler, Michael A. Gollorn, William B. Griggs, Tom Jeager, Gregory LaPlante, Timothy Mertens, and Kenneth Young received a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Film Sound Editing. Lucci received hers (for Outstanding Lead Actress) in 1999, after 19 nominations.

15 – Rocko was Yellow


Photo courtesy Charles Brubaker Cartoonist.

Instead of the eggshell-colored wallaby we all know and love, we almost had to know and love a yellow wallaby. Rocko was colored yellow in the original pilot, but Rocko creator Joe Murray was forced to change that when a certain toy company told Nickelodeon that they were interested in marketing Rocko toys, but they already had a yellow character they were producing toys in the likeness of. Once the change was made, the company bailed.

14 – Rocko’s Last Name is Rama


No relation to Bowl-O-Rama. Maybe. Probably not.

Rocko Rama. Or Rock-O-Rama if you want to Conglom-O it. This was revealed in Jerry Beck’s Not Just Cartoons: Nicktoons! book.

13 – Rocko had a Sister


The series establishes that Rocko has parents, but a sister? It was in the works. In the original presentation to Nickelodeon, Rocko had an older sister named Magdalane that had two kids: a boy and a girl. Murray ultimately scrapped the idea, with the premise that Rocko alone in O-Town would be stronger.

In the second season of the series, however, Murray wrote an episode called “Wake Up Maggie” where Magdalane, suffering from narcolepsy, visits Rocko. Nickelodeon thought it was too weird, Murray thought it was sweet. A little later, Murray was at a press conference where a reporter asked why there were no positive female role models in Rocko’s Modern Life. Not like there were any positive male role models, was Murray’s response, but Nickelodeon later went to speak with the reporter and said they had plans for positive female role models in the show, demanding Murray use Magdalane. That sure didn’t happen, but someone else came out of it…

12 – Dr. Paula Hutchinson’s “Hook”

After Murray’s refusal to use Magdalane, a female Nickelodeon executive insisted they include a professional woman, someone with a good hook. Of course, she didn’t mean to be taken literally, but when you’re working with smart asses, this is what you get (and deservedly so). And so was born Dr. Paula Hutchinson and her hook hand.

11 – Heffer First Appeared in an MTV Commercial



Rocko’s Modern Life wasn’t Heffer’s first gig—the steer first appeared in a 1989 MTV ID spot that Murray animated. According to Murray, you can see Heffer fly out of a TV with the MTV logo branded on his butt.

10 – Heffer was Based on Murray’s Adopted Friend


It doesn’t seem like Heffer could exist in real life, but he sure did. Well, sort of. Murray based Heffer on an adopted friend of his who was partial to bologna sandwiches. On the show, Heffer, too, is adopted—a steer adopted by a pack of wolves who grew too attached to him to eat him. Murray lists “Who’s For Dinner” from the first season as a favorite episode because it dealt with adoption. He also used his friend’s emotions to help shape Heffer’s reactions in the episode.

Other Heffer quick facts: Tom Kenny, who voiced Heffer, based the voice on a 13-year-old nephew of his.

Heffer has an interesting design with notches in the bottom of his right eye and left nostril thanks to Murray’s style. Animators found this difficult to keep straight at first but ended up working it out.

9 – Filburt was not Intended to be a Main Character


Can you imagine Rocko’s Modern Life without Filburt right there in the mix? We almost had to. Murray never intended for Filburt to be such an integral part of the show—he was only supposed to be a secondary character. Murray chose Doug Lawrence, who was also a Director on the show, for the voice of Filburt after a large casting call in L.A. Murray has gone on to state that he didn’t expect that Lawrence’s east coast nasal would be so perfect for Filburt.

8 – Big but Random Stars Guest-Voiced

Why is this the best version of the theme I could find on YouTube? Get it together, guys!

It seems like every animated show has a couple celebrity voices on it (if you want to get loosey-goosey with the term and count Dave Coulier as a celebrity). Rocko’s Modern Life didn’t disappoint. Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson of the B-52s performed Rocko’s theme song in seasons two through four. Danny Elfman almost did the theme, but he was booked at the time.

In the series itself, Richard Simmons’ voice and likeness are featured as an aerobics trainer in the first season in the episode “No Pain No Gain”.

Murray wasn’t big into voice acting, but ended up voicing Ralph Bighead throughout the series.

7 – Believe it or Not, the Show Faced Some Censorship


The writers at Rocko’s Modern Life were pretty good at sneaking things by the censors. Well, perhaps “sneaking” is the incorrect term. Perhaps “blatantly parading” would be a better description. If these are the things they got away with, I have to wonder what was left on the cutting room floor.

  • Rocko and pals frequently hung out at a KFC-parody “Chokey Chicken,” which was renamed “Chewey Chicken” in the fourth season, the former being a bit of homage to masturbation.
  • In “Leap Frogs”, Bev Bighead relentlessly pursues Rocko. The episode, which was only the second episode of the series, actually received complaints from parents. Nickelodeon removed the episode from rotation (airing it only twice), but it later aired on Nicktoons and is available on DVD and Netflix.
  • The episode “The Good, the Bad and the Wallaby” had Heffer finding pleasure in a milking machine, but only his reactions are shown. The scene was to have Heffer with hearts in his eyes, but Nickelodeon censors asked for stars in his eyes instead. Although it seemed like this would get the go-ahead for some reason, ultimately this and a later scene where Heffer breaks it off with the machine, were removed. In Canada, the scenes were left in. Because we care.
  • In “Road Rash”, there was a scene where Rocko and Heffer stop in at the “No-Tell Motel” advertising “hourly rates”. We know what that means. Well, we don’t know personally. Or do we? Anyway, the duo ask the front desk for a room. The front desk replies: “All night? Whee-ooo! Okay.” This aired once, but was removed from further broadcasts. Except in Canada. We’re into that.
  • “Hut Sut Raw” had a scene where Rocko picks berries. As he picks some berries lower down on the bush, a bear comes out grasping his… well, berries. Again, this is another scene that’s intact in Canada, but edited out by Nickelodeon for the U.S. audience.
  • On Shout!’s DVD release, “Wacky Delly” is shortened by 10 seconds, removing Sal Ami whacking Betty Bologna with a telephone.
  • Shout! Factory released the series on DVD in North America, but only had access to sources edited for broadcast. The 2013 German DVD release of Rocko’s Modern Life is the only uncut collection of the show available since it was originally aired uncensored in Germany.

6 – The Whole Fatheads Thing is a Little Too Real

The first episode of the second season, “I Have No Son”, is another one of Murray’s favorite episodes as it revolves around issues affecting both Murray and the rest of the staff at Rocko’s Modern Life. This is where we first encounter The Fatheads, the show-within-a-show created by Doug Lawrence.

Ralph Bighead, creator of The Fatheads, is voiced by Murray and is a slight homage to the animator Ralph Bakshi. Rocko writer Martin Olson created Ralph, basing him on Murray’s personality and satirizing his experiences with Nickelodeon.

Fun fact: The Fatheads’ opening (where we see The Fatheads assembled in a factory) is from the opening sequence to You Can’t Do That On Television.

5 – Wacky Delly was a Big F.U. to Nickelodeon

One of the more stand-out episodes of Rocko’s Modern Life is “Wacky Delly” from the third season. Murray has described it as one of his favorite episodes since it reflected issues the staff were dealing with at the time and served as a criticism of Nickelodeon and the way they ran their animated shows. The episode featured a live-action scene involving meatloaf, which was filmed on Murray’s patio. Murray cooked the meatloaf himself and Carol Wyatt (Color Supervisor)’s hands can be seen in the shot. While filming, two flies landed on the meatloaf—an element that Murray loved but that Wyatt thought ruined the shoot. Murray continued using the plates from that scene until he broke them (accidentally).

4 – Bye, Bye Birdie was Based on Writer George Maestri’s Personal Experience

We all know that sitcom trope: character babysits other character’s pet while said character goes on vacation. While in care of babysitter character’s care, pet dies. What does character do?! And does this ever happen in real life? The answer is yes. When Rocko babysits Filburt’s bird Turdy and it unexpectedly dies in the third season episode “Bye, Bye Birdie”, it’s more real-life than we expected. Series writer George Maestri faced this exact problem at the age of 12 when he babysat a neighbor’s bird. Like Turdy, Maestri’s neighbor’s bird died while in his care.

3 – Belch of Destiny was a Difficult Belch to Capture

In the first episode of season 3, “Belch of Destiny”, we see Heffer gain favor among his peers thanks to some belch talking. The guy who did the actual belch talking was a Warner Brother producer who boasted he could belch talk on command. Murray and his crew found out the hard way that the dude had a bit of performance anxiety.

People were talking up this producer’s belch talking skills, but when the time came to record, he couldn’t manage a single belch. Murray even bought the guy spaghetti and beer, and still nothing. A couple days later, Murray received a tape in the mail from the producer that he had recorded on his own equipment. This was the version used in the show.

2 – The Bigheads Were Based on Real People


I’m sure Murray’s old neighbors weren’t too excited about it, but Ed and Bev Bighead were based on a group of his old neighbors from his childhood that were grumpy and pissed about everything. Seems like the Bigheads were all of our neighbors from childhood when you think about it. Murray’s neighbors didn’t have overly large heads, physically, of course. The big head concept originated from one of his comics titled Rizzo the Art Director.

1 – Rocko’s Modern Life Led the way for SpongeBob SquarePants

Upon Rocko’s Modern Life’s cancellation in 1996, a good chunk of the cast regrouped to make SpongeBob SquarePants. Former Rocko writer Stephen Hillenburg created SpongeBob SquarePants in 1996, but much of it originated in his unpublished, educational comic book The Intertidal Zone from 1989. Upon reading The Intertidal Zone, fellow Rocko writer Martin Olson encouraged Hillenburg to pursue a television series.

Tom Kenny, the voice of Heffer, was recruited to voice SpongeBob. The voice Kenny used for SpongeBob was actually used for a background character in Rocko’s Modern Life. The voice of Filburt, Doug Lawrence, also returned to the screen, this time voicing Plankton.

Other colleagues from Rocko that worked with Hillenburg on SpongeBob were Nicolas Carr, Derek Drymon, Nick Jennings, and Alan Smart.

What are some of your favorite moments from Rocko’s Modern Life? Let us know!

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