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AHS grad key Dis Channel exec

Scott Hettrick and I found ourselves in an enviable position the other day. We got a behind-the-scenes look at the inner-workings of producing a hit television show while attending a private screening in a conference room at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank.

Larry Stewart

Larry Stewart

Besides Scott and I, there were some 15 people in the room to watch two rough-cut episodes of the extremely popular animated series, Disney XD’s “Phineas and Ferb.” After each episode was screened, there was a discussion of changes that needed to be made before the 11-minute episodes air.

We were granted access by Jill Sanford, director of original series for Disney Channel Animation and one of the key people attending this meeting. She sat next to Dan Povermire, one of the two creators of the series. Directly across the table was Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, the other creator.

Povermire and Marsh are also the show’s executive producers. Jill serves as the liaison between the network and the show’s creative staff. Though Jill, Dan and Swampy did the bulk of the talking, other members of the creative team were encouraged to speak up and give their opinions. (Story continues following the video below featuring Jill Sanford discussing Arcadia and her work at Disney Channel.)

Get the Flash Player to see this content.One might imagine that things could get heated in such a meeting — a producer yelling, “You cannot be serious. I’m not changing that.” But at this meeting, which lasted one hour, as scheduled, everything seemed very amicable. Maybe one reason for a lack of tension in the meeting was because the show has become the top-rated prime-time animated children’s show on cable television. It premiered on Disney Channel Feb. 1, 2008 after a preview airing on Aug. 17, 2007, and now, new episodes currently premiere on Disney XD.


The two main characters are stepbrothers Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher, who have set out to conquer boredom on a 104-day summer vacation. The show offers gags and humor aimed at young people 6-14 but can also be enjoyed by adults.

By now, you might be wondering why Scott and I would be interested in such a show for a blog and video on In the interest of full disclosure, the reason is that Jill Sanford (full name Jill Stewart Sanford) is my daughter. My wife Norma and I, who moved to Arcadia from Pasadena in January 1978, have two daughters. Jill, who is married and a UCLA graduate, is the younger of the two.

I’ve been a journalist almost my entire life. I got my first by-line at the age of 14. One thing that has always been drummed into me – you don’t write about family members. Whenever a colleague of mine at the Los Angeles Times would write about their family, it would always bother me.  I think only once did I ever mention a family member in my TV-Radio Sports column in the Times, which I wrote for nearly 30 years. I recall pointing out way back when that Jill’s kindergarten teacher at Camino Grove School, Jean Phillips, was a huge fan of the late sports radio personality, Jim Healy. And I was hesitant about doing that.

But this is a different era of journalism, where bloggers are able to take advantage of new freedoms. In a recent blog about the Arcadia High Constitution Team winning the state championship, I mentioned that Jill was a member of the 1996 AHS Constitution Team. That got me to thinking: writing about Jill and her involvement with a hit TV show might not be a bad idea. I thought convincing Jill to allow me to do such a thing would be difficult – she gets her modesty from her mother – but somewhat surprisingly I got her permission.

So Scott and I set out the other day for Burbank; he with his video camera, me with a notebook. We first visited with Jill in her office for about a half hour. She then took us on a mini tour and we got to learn more about “Phineas and Ferb” and some of the show’s other characters, such as sister Candance and the evil scientist, Heinz Doofenshmirtz. Jill, at one point, stopped to pose for a picture with cardboard cutouts of Phineas, Ferb, Candance and Doofenshmirtz. She also took us into a room where Rob Hughes, one of the show’s directors, was working with artist Antoine Guilbaud, and Antoine gave us a little demonstration. All the while, Scott’s camera was rolling, which resulted in the video that goes with this blog (above).

However, Jill had informed us that video taping during the “Phineas and Ferb” meeting would not be allowed. Nor was it allowed at a “storyboard pitch screening” that followed. After the first meeting, Jill was running a little late to the pitch screening. But seven mostly young males, awaiting her arrival in a smaller conference room, greeted her warmly. The purpose of this session was to pitch an episode for a new animated series still in the early stages of production.

Once Jill settled in, a young storyboard artist pitched the episode as he scrolled through storyboard panels similar to a comic strip. Jill, as she had at the earlier meeting, diligently took notes and then politely gave her feedback. It was another amicable meeting.

As I drove back to Arcadia, I thought to myself: “How am I going to write about Jill and her job without coming across like one of those obnoxious parents who are always bragging about their children?”Then I thought, “What the heck, I am a proud father!  What’s wrong with that?”


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