(NEXSTAR) – He won multiple Emmys. He was nominated for an Academy Award. And he also played a part in popularizing Cap’n Crunch for generations of cereal-chomping kids.
The late Allan Burns is probably better known as the co-creator of such sitcoms as “My Mother the Car” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” but before that, he was a young writer and animator working for Jay Ward, the producer of such animated series as “Crusader Rabbit” and “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.”
In 1962, Burns was working at Jay Ward Productions when he got a call from Ward, who was off on vacation. Ward had forgotten he had scheduled a meeting with some Chicago-based advertising executives working for Quaker Oats, who were looking to build a campaign around a new cereal. Ward asked Burns to take a stab at it, but not before trying some of the cereal, which Ward had kept in a bag in his office.
“I tasted it, and … it tasted like it was going to shred my mouth, it was so crunchy,” Burns said in a 2004 interview with the Television Academy. “And I called Jay [Ward] back and I said, ‘I think I’ve got a [tagline]: It’s not, “It stays crunchy, even in milk” — it would be, “Stays crunchy, even in hydrochloric acid.” This stuff is going to shred children’s mouths all over America.’”
Ward nevertheless asked Burns to “whip something together” over the next few days, so he drew up a “Horatio Hornblower-figure” he named “Cap’n Crunch, as well as a slew of supporting characters for television commercials or a possible cartoon series.
Burns ended up pitching the idea to the ad executives, who apparently thought it was funny before leaving to pursue meetings with other animation houses, including Hanna-Barbera. But about a month later, Burns learned that Jay Ward Productions had successfully sold the idea to Quaker Oats.
Burns had also earned himself a bonus, though it wasn’t anywhere near the “millions” he estimated his creation earned for Quaker Oats.
“I got a thousand dollars for creating this thing. That was it,” he said.
Burns probably wasn’t miffed for too long. He and Chris Hayward, a fellow writer for Jay Ward Productions, pitched an idea for a half-hour sitcom (loosely inspired by the Addams Family cartoons in the New Yorker) that went on to become “The Munsters.” Within a few years, they also co-created “My Mother the Car,” and later became writers and story consultants on “Get Smart.”
But perhaps Burns’ biggest hit was “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which he co-created with James L. Brooks. The show aired for seven seasons and spawned three spin-offs — “Rhoda,” “Phyllis” and “Lou Grant” — all of which Burns wrote for. He was also the executive producer of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Rhoda” and “Lou Grant,” among other popular shows listed in his IMDb credits.
Over the years, Burns picked up several Emmy Awards, mostly for writing and producing “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” but also for “He & She,” a comedy series starring Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin that he wrote for in the late ‘60s. He would later earn an Academy Award nomination for co-writing 1979’s “A Little Romance” starring Laurence Olivier.
Burns passed in Jan. 2021, leaving behind a body of work that entertained generations of viewers, young and old.
And if he indeed encouraged a few kids to “shred” their mouths on some super-crunchy cereal along the way, so be it.
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