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"The Life & Times Of Tim" Creator, Steve Dildarian, Explains How He Went From Ad Man To Animator

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If you're still subscribing to HBO instead of canceling it in between the original series' seasons like I do (I don't need to see "Mamma Mia" four times a day, really) then you've probably stumbled upon this little animated gem: "The Life & Times Of Tim."

HBO's newest animated series since the 90's, "Tim" is refreshingly simple in both animation and dialogue, and focuses its dry humor on the foibles of the titular character.

Whether he's having trouble getting a hooker to leave his apartment, inspiring a priest to get drunk, or fighting rumors that he's been raped by a bum, Tim is your average man-against-the-world but with a sharp comedic edge. A 25-year old corporate pawn living in New York City, Tim is constantly getting himself in unbearable Ben Stiller-esque conflicts. His boss, co-workers and "friends" are relentlessly influencing him to make absurd decisions

I recently had a chat with "Tim" creator Steve Dildarian, a former ad man who only recently stumbled into animation when he roughly cut the 6 minute short, "Angry Unpaid Hooker," using iMovie. The short ended up winning Best Animated Short at the 2006 Comedy Arts Festival and was eventually extended into the pilot for "Tim"

"I had no plans to become an animator. [Advertising] was the main part of my career, up until fairly recently," Dildarian said. "I did the Little Caesar's ads in the early part of my career, you know 'Pizza, Pizza.' My first commercial I ever produced, which is still running today, is the Staples back-to-school commercial where the parents are dancing through the store and 'It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year' is playing."

Dildarian's most famous ad campaign was the "Budweiser Lizards" from the early 2000s. "It definitely opened the door to TV," Dildarian said. "I also did the other Budweiser Superbowl commercial with the donkey whose dream is to be a Clydesdale. That was my first time doing voice-over work."

So how did the "ad man with no plans" end up cultivating a script that would lead to a deal with HBO? "For a good month I debated between live action and animation but I didn't have either resources at my disposal," Dildarian said. "It was expensive to get a film crew and hire actors, so then I thought 'With animation I could start this afternoon.' It was less 'Let's try to make [a show]', and more like 'Let's try to make 15 seconds and see if it looks like animation,'" he said. "And then we realized 'Hey, it really looks like they're moving,' and that was encouraging."

If you've ever played around with iMovie, you know making animation look polished takes a little more than a good idea for a show. However, the rough animation of "Tim" is part of what makes it so appealing, just like the early stages of "South Park" and "The Simpsons". There is something undeniably appealing about sharp comedy paired with sketchy animation, but what do you do when you no longer have to work from your Mac and you've got an HBO-sized budget? "It is actually kind of tricky," Dildarian said. "We have these very qualified, competent artists and we basically have to tell them to unlearn what they've been taught."

When one thinks animated comedy, one's mind usually goes to FOX, Comedy Central, or Cartoon Network, but Dildarian is happy with the show's home being HBO. Not only does it allow for more freedom with language and content, but also lets the creator dictate the direction of the show, instead of ratings or demographics. And since HBO's last animated series was Todd McFarlene's "Spawn" in 1998, it says a lot that this was the first series to catch the network's eye in over 10 years.

"We first sold it to FOX through Warner Bros and spent a year making a pilot for them. The plan was for it to be on Sunday nights, and it was great developing it for them but it eventually it was FOX's version of the idea," Dildarian said. "At the end it just didn't fit the tone of the network, I mean no one could see it coming on after 'Family Guy'."

After walking away from FOX, "Tim" almost got picked up by Comedy Central, who offered to make six episodes. But when HBO said they were on board, Dildarian took the offer. "HBO just said 'We love your short film, make it like your short.' Almost every network says 'here is what you have to change', but they said 'don't mess with it. Just do your thing and we'll coach you along'," Dildarian said. "They let the writing be what it wants to be, whereas FOX would have steered it toward their other shows, and Comedy Central would have steered it toward their demographic. Plus they also gave us the time and freedom to find an audience. I mean with our ratings we would have been gone from FOX or Comedy Central in two weeks."

Dildarian's actual speaking voice - very reminiscent of Ray Romano (sorry, Steve) - is the same as Tim's, and they look so similar that you wonder if he and Tim are essentially the same person. Fortunately for Dildarian, this is not the truth.

"I think he's more like an alter-ego," Dildarian said. "I think if you followed me around you'd be a lot less entertained than when you follow Tim."

Dildarian doesn't have any experience with hookers, drunken priests, rabble-rousing coworkers, or most of the things Tim encounters in his daily life. Instead, he comes up with ideas for Tim's world by drawing on his experiences living in New York when he was 25, and adding the bizarre conflicts he wished - or wonders if - could have happened.

"The show is very character driven; it's about getting inside people's heads and thinking of things through, like, a stripper's point of view or a homeless person's point of view," Dildarian said. "I typically do not engage in these conversations in real life, but here is a young guy having detailed conversations, if not arguments, with hookers and a priest and cops, and finding the humor."

Dildarian said he usually starts with a person or a thing in the world that seems off, and looks at the warped logic that people apply. "It's funny that priests can be hypocritical, or that cops can seem more noble than they are in real life. Let's say you have an opinion about pharmaceutical sales reps; there is an episode in the new season where they 'go wild'."

The character of "Tim" is often compared to Larry David's persona on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" because of his dry wit and penchant for awkward social interactions. However, Dildarian finds their differences lie in likability.

"I think Tim is more relatable than Larry's character. I mean I don't think a lot of people look at Larry David and say, "Oh yeah, that's me," Dildarian said (to which I replied: unless they hate themselves?). "Right. I think that Larry's character is more aggressive with his opinions whereas Tim is just a normal guy who can't catch a break."

Dildarian has drawn inspiration for Tim from another less obvious but well-known character: Ralph from "The Honeymooners." It was at this point in the interview I learned about Dildarian's odd love of the old show, including membership in a fan club I never knew existed.

"I loved watching 'The Honeymooners' growing up and was even in the fan club. I even still have my R.A.L.P.H. card, which stands for the 'Royal Association For The Longevity And Preservation Of 'The Honeymooners,'" Dildarian proudly stated, adding, "It's not something I pull out very frequently."

Dildarian said there is a lot of Ralph in Tim, including the apartment dynamic between Tim and Amy, his girlfriend who constantly puts up with Tim's shenanigans and grounds him in her ultimate acceptance. "It's pretty corny, I know, but you can't argue with your influences. You can try to have more hip and cool ones but it's not reality."

There is one thing that has definitely not influenced "The Life & Times Of Tim," and it may be what makes the show so unique: other animated shows. When I asked what animated shows of which Dildarian was a fan, I was thinking he might name drop some "Adult Swim" shows, old animated comedies from the 90's, or at least "The Simpsons." I was shocked when he simply said, "None."

"Most of them I definitely respect, and when I watch them I love them, but I'm not drawn to return," Dildarian explained (pun not intended?). "I'd be lying if I told you I was a fan of any specific one, I mean I'd be making up an answer."

Dildarian did give a nod to H. Jon Benjamin's current and former work, and hinted at a possible collaboration with the popular comedian and voice-over star. "Way back in the day I used to like 'Dr. Katz' and recently I saw some clips of 'Archer', and that looks funny. I'm a big Jon Benjamin fan. I'd love to do something with him because he's a voice I can definitely write to. I guess I like watching just to hear him talk," Dildarian said. I had to note that Dildarian's voice is very similar to Benjamin's - perhaps Benjamin's voice is the missing link between Dildarian and Romano (sorry again, Steve) but he knew that already. Doesn't everyone secretly like the sound of their own voice?

Dildarian unleashed some details about the upcoming season, including some guest voices by popular comedians. "Last season we had Bob Saget, Cheri Oteri and a few others, but it was a lot easier to get people to want to come on for this season," Dildarian said. "We've got Will Forte, Aziz Ansari, and Judah Friedlander, among others." He also mentioned that the animation would be "a little better," but still have the same roughly-drawn look, and that Tim's world would be expanded via tertiary characters.

"The upcoming season definitely has more episodes focused around other characters, not just Tim," he said. "Instead, there will be an Amy episode or a Stu episode or a Debbie episode. You're going to see a lot more layers of his world unfold."

Check out the second season of "The Life & Times Of Tim" airing Friday, February 19 at 9:30 EST only on HBO.