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Friends in high places

Buffett, Cronkite, Turner and Saban weigh in on DIC's driving force

Over the 25 years he’s been captaining DIC, Andy Heyward has collaborated with an ultrapowerful who’s-who list consisting of billionaire businessmen, media icons and powerhouse producers.

He has cast mogul acquaintances in voiceover roles, co-produced their edgy pet projects and now calls them friends.

What do fellow movers and shakers have to say about Heyward?

WARREN BUFFETT

When Heyward asked Warren Buffett to provide the voice of James Madison for DIC’s 2002 animated series for PBS’ “Liberty’s Kids: Est. 1776,” Buffett said “yes” on the spot. He liked the concept — the show tells the story of the American Revolution through the eyes of apprentice journalists — and Buffett admired Heyward’s creative approach.

“I thought that ‘Liberty Kids’ was just amazing,” Buffett says. “I think it’ll be a great way of learning American history for 50 or 100 years, and not just for kids. I’ve watched the episodes myself. Andy wants to do something useful with his talent, and I really admire it.”

The two are now collaborating on “The Secret Millionaire’s Club,” an animated DVD series. Buffett will play himself — in each episode, he’ll dispense practical financial advice to kids.

“A lot of people don’t develop sensible money habits,” Buffett says. “They develop money habits that are quite injurious. The time to hit people is while they’re developing habits.”

Buffett admits it might be a challenge to hook kids on such brainy subject matter.

“The show has to have a good message,” Buffett says, “but it also has to be fun for kids, and that’s what Andy’s good at.”

Buffett shared creative input where concept was concerned.

He remembers discussing stocks with his grandson’s fifth-grade class — when he mentioned that Coca-Cola uses a secret formula, the kids tuned in; every hand shot up to ask him questions about the “secret.”

“I suggested to Andy that he use the word secret. Well, he’d already come up with the idea well before I had,” Buffett says. “We know the secret of the word secret. It’s a great word. Everybody wants to know the secret.”

Buffett and Heyward met in the late ’90s at one of Buffett’s charity golf tournaments. For seven years now, Heyward has created an animated short for Buffett’s annual Berkshire/Hathaway shareholders’ meeting.

“The cartoon shorts were Andy’s idea,” Buffett says. “He volunteered. I didn’t even hint at it. He doesn’t charge us a penny. He does it for the fun of it. And our shareholders love it.”

Last year’s short parodied “The Wizard of Oz.” Buffett provided the voice of Dorothy, Bill Gates took on the Scarecrow.

One thing Heyward and Buffett have in common as businessmen is that they love what they do.

“I tap-dance to work,” Buffett says. “Andy does the same thing. You can just see it in his demeanor when he’s working.”

WALTER CRONKITE

Walter Cronkite supplied the rich voice of Ben Franklin in “Liberty’s Kids.”

What made him say yes to the V.O. invite?

“The fact that Andy was so totally involved in the history of the times,” Cronkite says. “I was very taken with him in our first meeting — I felt I’d managed by good fortune to be caught in the eyes of a producer who was extraordinarily talented.”

Cronkite also appreciated the way Heyward made his bookish historical information entertaining and accessible.

“Andy is brilliant in several aspects of the requirements of bringing to life our history,” Cronkite says. “He is able to stick with the truth of his storyline and, at the same time, tell the true historical story behind it. I think it was that talent of Andy’s that succeeded in recruiting all of these stars to be in that program.”

During production, Cronkite says he found Heyward’s staff a kind of intellectual dream team.

“Andy is a well-read man himself, and he hired only those he felt could live up to his standards, and that must have taken some search in the profession.”

Did Cronkite receive much direction while he performed the voiceover?

“Andy was encouraging all the way through, as the product developed and we got episode after episode in the can,” Cronkite says. “He was a great cheerleader because he himself saw the program developing with the success that it was.”

Was it disorienting to go from newsman to cartoon character?

“The storyline, as they produced it, and the picture, as it was presented, were to my mind so exciting in the telling that I absorbed it myself,” Cronkite says. “I’m not sure that I went home believing that I was Benjamin Franklin exactly. At the same time, I felt very much engrossed in the heroism of good old Ben and his association with those that put together our union.”

TED TURNER

Ted Turner brought his ecology-minded kids’ show to Heyward because he wanted to work entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur, sidestepping network hassle. His show, “Captain Planet and the Planeteers,” in which kids from around the world meet on Hope Island and agree to combine forces to save the environment, was not exactly the most commercial offering in 1990.

“Andy was independent — he could move,” Turner says. “He could do something like this because he was an entrepreneur like I was. We didn’t have to get board of directors’ approval. We just made the deal and off we went.”

Produced by DIC and Hanna-Barbera, the series premiered on TBS in 1990 and ran until 1996.

“Ideas were all over the place,” Turner says. “We even dealt with population and war in the Middle East. Two of the episodes were on global warming, and we’re talking more than 10 years ago, when hardly anybody had heard of global warming.”

Does the series have lasting impact?

“It ran all over the world and had tremendous impact on a generation,” Turner says. “I’ve gone to conferences with college kids today, where almost everyone in the room had been a ‘Captain Planet’ viewer. There was never such a pro-social children’s program, I don’t think, certainly not an animated program.”

What was the creative collaboration like between Turner’s team and DIC?

“Two people were in charge of the creative from our side, Barbara Pyle and Nick Boxer,” Turner says. “Barbara dealt with Andy on a day-to-day basis. They sometimes had rough spots, but the show was a big hit. And I think everybody involved did a superlative job.”

What does Turner admire most about Heyward’s working style?

“It’s not easy to remain independent and be successful in this complicated world, where television and the communication business have merged and everybody’s vertically integrated,” Turner says. “Andy’s managed to do it, and my hat’s off to him.”

HAIM SABAN

TV mogul Haim Saban and Heyward have collaborated on more than 25 animated projects since the early ’80s, including “Inspector Gadget,” “Zoobilee Zoo” and “Dinosaucers.”

“We met 25 years ago –Andy was the cartoon schlepper, and I was the music schlepper,” Saban explains. “I was a supplier to him — as music, post-production and international distribution. Andy worked as a writer-developer for a small French company called DIC. And he was so good at what he did, he ended up owning it.”

What makes Heyward successful on the business side?

“This is a guy that really follows his gut more than anybody I’ve ever seen,” Saban says. “Clearly, this has been extremely beneficial to him. In this world of giants, he has managed to survive and thrive. Years ago there were so many independents, from Ruby Spears to Hanna-Barbara to Marvel Prods. to Filmation … and they’re all gone by the wayside. And this guy has not only survived, he has thrived. That is really a great achievement.”

What is a prime example of Heyward’s “instinct” at work?

“If there is an opportunity to be found, a hole somewhere, he will slide in there,” Saban says. “Think about Andy identifying the opportunity when CBS and Viacom were split, and identifying that meant CBS would no longer work with Nickelodeon on Saturday morning. Guess who is now programming CBS Saturday morning, if not Mr. Heyward? He went in and he made it happen … against all odds.”

What is Heyward’s personality like in a work situation?

“Witty,” Saban says. “very smart, very witty.”

Saban makes light of Heyward’s idiosyncratic style. “I would recommend to him that he gets out of owning 350 pairs of glasses that match his socks,” Saban says, laughing. “The glasses match the socks that match the tie! He’s an eccentric individual. He’s not doing it to impress anyone — he’s doing it to satisfy his cuckooness.”

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