"DeWine & Amy"

“DeWine & Amy”

If you’re looking for instructions on how to go viral overnight, I’m the wrong guy to ask. But nevertheless, it happened to me.

Late March 2020. Much in the United States had been shut down as the global COVID-19 pandemic was really get out of control. My family’s life and sense of normalcy was being severely upended just like everyone else’s. Working from home was nothing new to me, and I’ve been a rather socially distant sort since before it was cool. But work happened to be slow at the time; that too was nothing new, other than it gave me a lot more time to think and get discouraged as I watched everything start to unravel.

Here’s how this crazy project came about.

Original Song
(“Making Our Dreams Come True”)
Norman Gimbel
Charles Fox
(originally sung by Cyndi Grecco and the Ron Hicklin Singers)
Parody Lyrics
Dave Stofka
Jonathan Truax
Jessica Stofka
Elisa Grecar
Add’l Support
Julia Stofka
Andrew Stofka
Emily Stofka
Susan Stofka
Art & Animation
Dave Stofka

DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction solely expressing the views of the author. It does not constitute or imply the endorsement or or affiliation with any product, company, political candidate, or party. This was a 100% self-funded project.

Part of our family’s new daily routine at the time was watching our governor, Mike DeWine, and the Director of the Ohio Department of Public Health at the time, Dr. Amy Acton, hold their live press conferences about the Pandemic every weekday afternoon.

And we were certainly not alone, We popped popcorn, but some folks celebrated with daily “Wine with DeWine” breaks.

Not that it was entertaining television. But in those somewhat innocent early days of the Pandemic, when the Virus was the scariest and most disturbing thing out there (before vaccine debates and race relations and Presidential elections and culture wars all vied for that spot), the daily press conference from the Ohio Statehouse was a time of comfort and community.

DeWine and Acton had found themselves suddenly thrust from public servants to daytime talk show hosts. And they essentially had a hit TV show on their hands. It had nearly everything — beloved sidekicks (like Marla Berkowitz, the spirited ASL interpreter), recurring segments (like Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted with the business and economic report), musical guests (like members of the Ohio University Marching 110 who performed in individual video boxes), unseen but often-referred-to characters (Eric?), and special appearances by many others via phone or remote video.

But, as it occurred to me one morning in the shower, they didn’t have a theme song.

I grew up in a time when every TV show had a theme song. That’s just the way it worked. A small percentage of those theme songs have become truly iconic,  remaining in popular culture generations later. It’s been over a half a century and most people would still recognize the themes from The Brady BunchGilligan’s Island, and The Flintstones.

Maybe not quite at that level (but close?) would be the theme from Laverne & Shirley, once a highly popular sitcom (it debuted in 1976) about two women who shared a basement apartment in Milwaukee and worked in a brewery. The opening titles featured a very catchy original song and distinctive visuals that were spoofed by Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey in Wayne’s World in 1992.

So why did I think that Laverne & Shirley would be a good template for a theme song for Governor Mike DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton?

It does sound like a dumb idea when you think about it.

But initially, it was clear to me that, like DeFazio and Feeney, DeWine and Acton were clearly a double bill—equal co-stars of their hit series. And the infectious optimism of the theme song (with lyrics like “We’re gonna do it!”) clearly matched the hopeful determination DeWine and Acton daily tried to convey to us concerned Ohioans.

And then a sort of snowball effect occurred. More and more of the original show’s opening vignettes presented themselves to me as having the potential to be reimagined to fit the current COVID situation.

The real tests were running it by my wife Jessica, who thought it was a good idea to pursue (and a good diversion for me), and then pitching it to my long-time friend Jon Truax, whose writing skills and similar sense of humor helped me develop and revise the lyrics.

From there, the snowball just kept growing. I went into full-bore parody-animation-production mode (something I’d been doing for many years for clients like GPD Group) and my lockdown-induced depression started to subside.

April 7, 2020

This was the day I posted "DeWine & Amy." Initially it was just on my Facebook page, intended to amuse my friends and maybe given them something to share during the shutdown.

But within only a couple hours the video started to take off. Viewership and sharing numbers shot up quickly, and I posted it to YouTube for folks who weren’t on Facebook. I started getting calls and messages from TV stations, radio stations, newspapers — asking for interviews and permission to rebroadcast my cartoon.

(Speaking of permission, I tried desperately to contact the music publishers, and even composer Charles Fox himself, to beg forgiveness for this genie I’d let out of the bottle. As this was a parody I was protected by fair use doctrine but I wanted to make clear it was all just in good fun!)

The contagion continued to spread for days, with more interviews and media mentions, documenting one small part of the larger picture of how we as a nation were coping with the surreal and stifling times.

Things soon moved on, and the country quickly turned from shared suffering to bitter division, for many reasons and in many arenas.

But for the months to come I would continue to be bombarded with thousands of positive comments and reminding me that in troubled times people desperately need to laugh.

Selected Artwork

The Characters

I started with making sure I could get a reasonable and workable likeness of each of the main characters.
(Clockwise from top left: Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted, Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton, and ASL interpreter Marla Berkowitz.)

There was no specific font used for the Laverne & Shirley logo — titles were often custom-drawn back before computers — so I had to resort to imagining what other letters would look like.

The lovable gang was immortalized (till you ate 'em) as delicious cake pops by Amy Mucha and the Daisy Pops company.
(photo by Michael Dakota, Cleveland 19 News)

The Backgrounds

In addition to creating the characters and bringing them to life, I had to create numerous “sets” in which the action could take place.
Here is my re-creation of the faux Milwaukee street that was created on Paramount’s backlot, in both night and day versions.
(Looking back, I’m not sure why I only thought trees come out in the daytime.)

DW&A-street-night DW&A-street-day

One by one, I had to find analogues for each shot from the original Laverne & Shirley main titles.

For the iconic Milwaukee City hall, I found a similarly proportioned old building in the LeVeque Tower (originally the American Insurance Union Citadel) completed in 1927.

And of course you don't "WELCOME MILWAUKEE VISITORS" during a lockdown ... you need to go with something a little less winsome like "STAY AT HOME COLUMBUS AND ALL OF OHIO."

Below are my renditions of the fictitious abodes for DeWine and Amy (the latter based on the original TV show set but with a NEOMED seal from Dr. Acton’s alma mater IRL).

In my fictitious universe and backstory, the Ohio Statehouse is modeled after TV’s Shotz Brewery, and DeWine and Amy have to clock in daily and supply their own audiovisual cart and podium.

However, these are cartoon-style renderings of actual rooms in the Ohio Statehouse. (Clockwise from top left: the Rotunda, the Map Room, the Senate Chamber, and the House Chamber.)

Little Details

This is a fanciful clip from a live demonstration of the concept of "flattening the curve" with the help of some mystery substance provided by Columbus's beloved science museum. To my knowledge the Governor never actually did this but in my crazy mind I imagined he could have.

Having grown up in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio — the home of Purell® hand sanitizer, which happened to become a valuable asset early on in the fight against the novel coronavirus — I had to include a little shout-out to the ubiquitous brand.

This alternative logo I devised was a pretty obscure reference, so I decided not to use it.

This was a mistake I caught too late ... the stars are touching their faces! A big no-no at the time of a mysterious and highly contagious virus, I had merely intended this to as a reference to a scene from the original Laverne & Shirley opening.

To illustrate how early on in the Pandemic this was, I only added masks to the characters as a last-minute afterthought, the very morning I posted the video. Mask-wearing was just starting to become a thing. (These were still the homemade/bandana variety.)

Now, how about a sequel?

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-- Dave