Interview With John Semper

John Semper played an extremely important role in bringing the Spider-Man cartoon to life.

He was the producer, story editor, and head writer. Read on as he discusses what happened to Mary Jane, gives behind the scenes info, and lots more.

DRG4: Well, to start off, could you summerize what exactly your job consisted of?

John Semper: I assume you mean on "Spider-Man." My credit was Producer/Story Editor. I was responsible for all of the writing. Not only did I write, but I also hired all the other writers and fed them the stories. In the beginning I had to "create" the show, which means I had to create the unique world in which our characters would appear, as opposed to the comic book world which was different.

DRG4: That must have been really tough.

John Semper: Spider-Man was doubly hard because of all the pressure in the begining. Not only is the character a flagship one for Marvel, but there was that pending Jim Cameron movie hovering over us. Also, Fox was the number one kids' network and they wanted nothing less than a huge hit. The result: the stakes were so high that everybody was already at each other's throats by the time I signed on. The political atmosphere was very tense.

DRG4: At least it all payed off in the end.

John Semper: I'm proud of the show. It turned out pretty well considering.

DRG4: Yeah. Regarding FOX, was there a lot of censorship? I know, for instance, that you had to say "destroy" all the time, and not "kill."

John Semper: By the time Spidey came on, there was a LOT of censorship at Fox. They were having whole countries like Canada ban some of their shows (Power Rangers, for instance) and they were very nervous about violence. When I watch the older episodes of Batman that first aired on Fox, they do all kinds of things that we couldn't do. By the time Spidey came on, Fox wouldn't let us do anything like that. No fists to the face, no realistic guns, no fire, no crashing through glass, no children in peril, no mention of the words death, die, or kill. I used to read notes from the censors when I made personal appearances for the show. Some of them were quite funny. Like, "When Spider-Man lands on the rooftop, be sure that he doesn't harm any pigeons." Stuff like that.

DRG4: Did you like the voice cast on the show? Are there any voices in particular that you liked or hated?

John Semper: That question has two possible meanings. The first is, did I like the cast members personally? The answer to that is yes. Many of them have become good friends of mine. The second meaning is, did I like the choices that we made. For the most part, yes. When we made a bad choice, you never heard it. We usually replaced the offending voice with another actor before the show went on the air. So we generally approved of every voice. A lot of them were specific requests and choices of mine. Like Majel Barrett Roddenberry as Anna Watson, and John Phillip Law as Felicia's father. People like that.

DRG4: Cool. Can you recall any of the times you had to replace someone?

John Semper:
Okay, you want the real dirt. The juicy stuff, eh? Fine. Soap star Eric Braeden {from the Young and the Restless} was our first choice for Herbert Landon. He showed up for the session seeming totally uncomfortable, and gave a very wooden performance. We replaced him with David Warner, who was a complete dream to work with. Some actors just don't take to doing cartoon voiceovers. It doesn't make them bad actors. It just happens. Some actors started a Some actors started a role on our show, but were no longer available to continue. Rue McClanahan was Felicia's first mother. Martin Landau was the first Scorpion. Landau won an Oscar just weeks after we recorded him, and after that he was no longer available to us. We used Richard Moll after that.

DRG4: Didn't Linda Gary (Aunt May) die, so you had to replace her with Julie Bennet?

John Semper: Yep. And that was NO fun because Linda developed brain cancer and really struggled to the very end. It got so that I would write fewer and fewer lines for her, mostly just to keep her working (actors get paid for the whole session even if they say only one line). When I had written four lines for her and she sent word that she was unable to come in to do them, I knew she didn't have much longer to live. We lost a lot of good people in our cast. Edward Mulhare {Spencer Smythe} died a year after we used him. Brian Keith {Uncle Ben} committed suicide months after we last recorded him. Nicky Blair {Hammerhead{ just died last year.

DRG4: Phil Abbott recently died as well.

John Semper: Yes, right. Phil Hartman did Disney's "Kiki's Delivery Service" for me and was murdered a month later. That might have been his last gig.

DRG4: Ed Gilbert died less than two months ago.

John Semper: Didn't know that. What part was he in Spidey? I've forgotten.

DRG4: He was Dormammu and Mr. Watson.

John Semper: Very sad. I didn't know about his death. He was a very nice man, too. They were all great...

DRG4: Yeah. Let's move on a to a lighter subject.

John Semper: Okay.

DRG4: Were there any episodes, scenes, or characters that you wanted to include but were cut? I heard that the Beetle was going to be on the show, for example.

John Semper: Gosh, these are good questions but there's so much to tell...

DRG4: Anything major come to mind?

John Semper: We ALWAYS ran long. Lots of good stuff was always cut out. Every episode. Never did Beetle. Meant to, but never got around to it.

DRG4: Were there any whole episodes you guys wrote but decided to can?

John Semper: One outline comes to mind involving Mysterio and Dormammu. Wanted to introduce Ghost Rider, but Fox was afraid Marvel was going to use him in a UPN show and didn't want to give him the exposure. So that was cut. Pissed me off, too. Also, we lost one completely written chapter of "Secret Wars." It involved the X-Men, but they didn't want to pay again for the whole cast, so I dropped the episode and used only "Storm."

DRG4: That was a great idea, whoever's it was, to use the old Storm that lived in LA.

John Semper: I could get Iona Morris, the original Storm voice, who was here in the States without dealing with the whole Canadian thing. Also, she's a friend of mine.

DRG4: You couldn't use Hulk or She-Hulk because of the UPN show as well, right? I think the Lizard fit the "monster" role well.

John Semper: Right. Pissed me off too. Although, I 'm not a big Hulk fan. Lizard....yeah, he was an easy one, and worked better in our Spidey world.

DRG4: Also about the Secret Wars, how come you guys didn't get the rest of the FF voice cast? It was really disappointing to hear only Quinton Flynn's familiar voice and not the rest.

John Semper: I HATED that show and most of the cast that came with it. I think we recast it better.

DRG4: Yeah, although I despised the guy who you got to do the Thing. The other two were okay. Well, I guess I better ask the question on everyone's minds minds now regarding the end of the show. What exactly happened to Mary Jane? Is she still in limbo with the Green Goblin and the Spot? Or did Madame Web do something and save her?

John Semper: M.J. was left in limbo. I had intended to use that thread to launch a new season, if necessary. But it was already beginning to look like they weren't going beyond...

DRG4: I don't see why they didn't. FOX ordered additional X-Men episodes. Too bad the animation house went out of business.

John Semper: Marvel was in ruin and New World Entertainment was falling apart. There was no real direction, because nobody knew who was running things. I can tell you how I planned to open the next season.

DRG4: Okay. Go ahead.

JohnSemper: Just briefly, with Spider-Man in limbo too, I wanted to do a mini-series in which he would end up chasing Mary Jane through the past, trying to find her. Not a big thing, just four or five episodes. I thought it'd be interesting to see Spidey deal with certain historic moments in time {one place would be Victorian England during the time of Jack the Ripper, being portrayed by the real Carnage}, not just the nation's history, but his own personal life, too. And somehow, this would lead back to the present. I had more specific ideas, but that's where it was headed. But then again, I really didn't want to go any further. Everything Everything had been wrapped up neatly. All the important stuff...Spidey now liked himself, he'd met his creator and said, "You know what, I beyond you now...I've grown." That's really the end of Peter Parker's story. He'd saved all reality. You can't really top that. If we had continued, I'd just have been doing it for the money. My real saga was done.

DRG4: You know what I think would have been great for the last two minutes of Farewell Spider-Man?

John Semper: What?

DRG4: If Madame Web presented Mary Jane to Peter as his reward and then Stan Lee popped up and married them for real. And before that happened, Mary Jane would have said that she knew Peter was Spider-Man all along.

John Semper: Nice idea. And the way I left it, you can imagine that and it works. I hinted that it was going to happen something like that, anyway. Mary Jane was never the real issue in Peter's life. Peter's insecurities were. And once those are fixed his problems, as a character, and as a hero in the Joseph Campbell tradition, are over.

DRG4: Yeah. Did you guys intend for MJ to know Peter was Spider-Man on the show?
There were lots of instances where it seemed that she did know. One example is in "Shriek of the Vulture" when she looked up at him after her play was crashed by Vulture.

John Semper: Eventually, yes. I did.

DRG4: That would have been a great scene to see.

John Semper: Maybe you'll get to see it still in that new Spidey show they're doing.

DRG4: Not from what I've heard about it. It's going to be a type of sequel, but really different. Peter has to lead some animal revolution or something like that in another parallel universe.

John Semper: Ha! See, I was trying to be nice. It sounds like a real mess, doesn't it? That's what happens when you don't have somebody like me to fight for a better show. It ends up being a corporate mess designed to sell toys. That's what I fought against.

DRG4: Did they even ask you to go on aboard for Spider-Man: Unlimited?

John Semper: They never asked me to do the new show, but there's LOTS of bad blood between me and them because I did so many things they told me not to do. Like a continuing story line...

DRG4: Yeah. FOX never shows the show in order. They skip around, which confuses people.

John Semper: That's because the show's are production-numbered out of sequence (another dumb thing they did). I recently realized that I might be the only person who knows the true order so I'll give Roland Poindexter (the new head of Fox Kids) a call and let him have my list.

DRG4: Wow. About the order, did "Partners" take place before "The Awakening?" I ask that because there's a scene in Partners that originally takes place in Awakening.

JohnSemper: Yes, I believe it did. I'll have to check the list to be sure, but I think it did.

DRG4: Okay.

John Semper: Maybe I'll give you a list too and you can post it. That ought to help your web site out.

DRG4: Okay. The order I have just goes by the number of the season. By that, I mean the episodes go "Neogenic Nightmare, Part I," and then the episode after that.

JohnSemper: I'll dig into this probelm and fix it.

DRG4: Okay. It's weird to see FOX air Guilty on Monday, and then show Turning Point on Tuesday. They recently did that.

JohnSemper: Yeah, it's a big mess. I'll try to do something about it.

DRG4: Okay. Now I've got another commonly asked question. It's about "The Price of Heroism," which you wrote.

JohnSemper: Okay -- but after this I've got to run.

DRG4: Okay. Did you purposely write it so that two scenes with Cap, Chameleon, Spidey, and Red Skull aired out of order?
First you see the part where Red Skull and Chameleon are fighting Cap and Spider-Man in the Doomsday/Vortex room, and then, a minute or so later, you see Red Skull and Chameleon actually surprise them.

John Semper: No, of course not. The animation producer on the show was a complete idiot, he and I were always at war with one another. He controlled the editing and that was his blunder. Like I said, dumb, dumb, dumb. He used to ALWAYS do things like that.

DRG4: Did he put in all the reused scenes? At least in the latter seasons they changed the backgrounds around the people, but in the first few seasons, it was insane.

JohnSemper: Yes, and in doing so he took out lots of new stuff. It makes me so angry when I see that garbage used over and over again. And all those flashbacks in later episodes. Grrrrrrr!!!

DRG4: Yeah. It's really weird to see. I know it saves money, but....

John Semper: You should have seen how many mistakes I caught at the last minute.

DRG4: Any examples?

John Semper: The episode with Mary Jane and Dormammu. He completely jumbled up the dialogue and made it seem as if Dr. Strange was encouraging Mary Jane to join Dormammu! I caught that one just before it went final. It was as if nobody was even listening to the episode. But you see, by the time that "The Price of Heroism" episode was being cut, I was no longer being employed by Marvel and no longer on the premises. So I wasn't there to save that producer from his own stupidity. Hence, that HUGE blunder, which shows you how much he wasn't capable of doing the show on his own.

DRG4: That guy should have been fired for that. FOX hasn't even bothered to fix it.

John Semper: Too expensive.

DRG4: Yeah

John Semper: Instead of being fired, the higher-ups loved him. It was me they hated.

DRG4: Really? Wow.

John Semper: But I'd rather be hated with my name on good work, than be loved with my name on junk.

DRG4: That's the spirit.

John Semper: That's the way it goes in this business. Anyway, on that happy note, I have to run. Thanks, it's been fun.

DRG4: Okay. Thanks for agreeing to do this.

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