Video game guru Will Wright, between overseeing such upcoming initiatives as "The Sims Online" and "Sim City 4," is devising a pair of TV shows that feature robots.
At his Stupid Fun Club, he has been busy helping Michael Winter, manager of Stupid Fun, and conceptual design consultant Marc Thorpe build a robot for a new unnamed reality TV series. He's also filming there an innovative wooden puppet-based/CGI half-hour comedy series tentatively titled "M.Y. Robot."
Stupid Fun is developing a pair of five-minute episodes to hand over to Wright's CAA agent, Larry Shapiro, who will shop the series for the fall.
Wright, who will serve as producer on both shows, is working with writer Lew Morton ("The Simpsons," "Futurama") on "M.Y. Robot" and reality TV producer Stephen Brown on the unnamed robot show.
The miniature set for "M.Y. Robot," which began construction nine months ago, its rudimentary puppet cast -- whose faces will come to life via CGI -- and a half-built robot for the reality show take up most of the Berkeley, Calif., warehouse that Stupid Fun calls home.
"With 'M.Y. Robot,' we're taking a step back in terms of the look and feel of the set and puppets," said Winter, adding that it looks like a cross between the old British TV series "The Thunderbirds" and Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas," with a little Japanese anime thrown in.
Aimed at 15- to 35-year-olds, Wright will be experimenting with new linear methods of storytelling with "M.Y. Robot." "Today's kids are used to a computer interface design, MTV visuals and the Internet," he said.
"M.Y. Robot" is a traditional TV story featuring puppets and animation that occurs a la VH1 pop-ups, with characters commenting on the puppets and offering additional story lines.
Said Morton: "When Will first explained the concept to me, I thought it was one of the craziest and most unique projects I've ever heard of. If people take to this dual storytelling approach, I think it will be difficult to go back to watching traditional TV."
Set in a feudal Japanese village composed of a half-dozen buildings, "M.Y. Robot" will revolve around everyday suburban activities. The simple, go-motion puppet design will play off both the CG visuals and the animated side stories. The ancient Japanese locale will contrast with the modern Japanese pop culture art that borrows from today's anime. Each of the primary 11 characters -- and even the six buildings -- acts as a symbolic representation of psychology and sociology. The robot (appropriately named Robot, for now) is a mirror for each character.
A 15-year-old girl named Mickey takes care of Robot and her pet octopus. She leads an eclectic cast that includes the Mayor, a priest/scientist and Rip, a transgender bandit.
Naturally, there's a Web site in the works: www.stupidfunclub.com. "We want the Web site to be entertaining on its own merit, and we're giving people cool toys to play with," Wright said.
As for Wright's reality robot show, the premise puts a customized robot in various public situations, including begging for money or taking orders in a restaurant.
"Although there will be comedy, this show will use the robot as a tool to explore human psychology," Wright said. "Robot technology and artificial intelligence are progressing rapidly -- just look at Sony's Aibo. Within 15 years, robots will be as common as ATMs and CD-ROMS. This show fast-forwards 20 years to take a look at how humans and robots will live and work together."