The initial idea was simple: an animated show about a little boy who has magical friends. Michigan native Butch Hartman pitched the concept for an animated short to Nickelodeon.
“I didn’t want to give the boy magic powers,” Hartman says. “I wanted him to be kind of limited. I wanted to give him a magic friend, so I thought of Wanda — Wanda the fairy godmother, kind of like Cinderella. But then I thought it’d be kind of fun if he had a fairy godfather … I’d never seen a fairy godfather before, so that’s where I ended up coming up with Cosmo.”
That was 12 years ago. Today, The Fairly OddParents has received multiple Emmy nominations, averages 3.6 million viewers during its Saturday morning premieres, sparked nine TV movies, and is now the third-longest-running cartoon series on Nickelodeon.
“I always anticipated [The Fairly OddParents] to get big because I always believed in it tremendously,” Hartman says. “My only job and task was to make sure everyone else believed in it, too.”
Elmer Earl “Butch” Hartman IV was born in Highland Park in 1965. His family moved from there to Roseville and then to New Baltimore. A graduate of Anchor Bay High School’s class of 1983, he has three younger brothers, all of whom still reside in Michigan.
Growing up, like most kids, Hartman watched a lot of cartoons — The Flintstones, Tom & Jerry, Bugs Bunny, and Speed Racer being among his favorites.
“Saturday mornings when I was a kid, that was the only time to watch cartoons,” he says. “There was a show called the Wacky Races. That was a big influence of mine. I loved a lot of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons growing up. I also loved a lot of Walt Disney cartoons.”
Following his graduation from high school, Hartman went on to pursue his love of cartoons. Drawn to the West Coast for more than just the California sunshine, Hartman studied character animation at the acclaimed California Institute of the Arts, founded in 1961 by Walt Disney.
“Being in California was great because everyone knew someone in the industry,” Hartman says. “I met people from Disney studios, I met people from Universal, Paramount Pictures — all these people would come to our school and lecture.
“A lot of the people I went to school with are running the industry,” Hartman says. Former classmates include award-winning directors Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo), Kirk Wise (Beauty and the Beast), and Kevin Lima (Enchanted).
His first gig after college was as an artist for Marvel Productions, where he unexpectedly wound up working on the show My Little Pony.
“I thought I’d be going to Marvel Productions to work on superhero stuff,” Hartman says. “I got fired because I couldn’t draw the ponies well enough.”
He went on to work at a few other studios before landing a job at Nickelodeon in December 1997. Since then, he’s created two other shows for Nickelodeon, Danny Phantom in 2004, and T.U.F.F. Puppy in 2010.
Today, Hartman lives in Bell Canyon, Calif., with his wife, Julieann, and daughters Carly and Sophia. He also runs Hartman House, a nonprofit organization he started with his wife after a visit to his church by Eleanor Workman, the founder of a Haitian orphanage. “She told us that at her orphanage, there were all these shipping containers from America with baby supplies in them, but the Haitian government wouldn’t allow the containers to be released,” he explains. “They needed money to release them. My wife and I decided to give the money to release the containers, and we thought, ‘We can do this all the time.”
That sparked the development of Hartman House. The foundation has built and remodeled homes, awarded scholarships, and distributed Thanksgiving dinners, all for needy people.
“I definitely want to get into doing more television shows,” Hartman says. “I want to do movies, I want to do live-action, just all kinds of stuff. I want to have my own network someday.”
The ninth season of The Fairly OddParents kicked off last month with the episode “Turner & Pooch.” The series will air at 9:30 a.m. Saturdays on Nickelodeon for the duration of the season.