Generations of young people grew up with Looney Tunes. One of the highlights of the popular animated shorts was the Roadrunner cartoon. If you’re not familiar with Chuck Jones’ stories, you’re missing out. It’s great entertainment and radio personalities can learn a lot from Wile E. Coyote.
The Coyote pursued the Roadrunner, but always fell short of caputring his prey in a disastrous way.
Jones’ cartoons followed very specific story rules that guided each episode. The rules provided structure and consistency whie building personality traits for the characters.
The Roadrunner gets top billing, but the star of the show is Wile E. Coyote. He’s everyone’s favorite loser.
Wile E. Coyote Character Definition
Here are the 11 rules, with some commentary on how it applies to radio:
1. The Roadrunner cannot harm the Coyote except by going “Beep, Beep.”
The Roadrunner didn’t beat up on the Coyote. It just happened. But the constant taunting of “beep beep” annoyed the Coyote. It was maddening and motivating.
The Coyote had a deeper character profile, but the Roadrunner complemented it with an arrogance that brought more out of the Coyote.
The pair were well-matched, and they stayed in their personality roles. That’s key on any multi-personality show. Knowing who you are creates appealing moments when each personality stays in their lane.
2. No outside force can harm the Coyote — only his own ineptitude or the failure of Acme products.
Trains and trucks were the exception from time to time. Sometimes the Coyote painted a tunnel on a rock, hoping for Road Runner to smash into it. Of course, the bird goes through unscathed. The Coyote follows and a train comes through from the other side. Hilarious!
The Coyote’s failure make him a relatable, sympathetic character. The fact that he comes back for more over and over without losing enthusiasm is an admirable trait to aspire to. It’s an aspirational value for the audience.
The fact that he fails every single time makes him a “lovable loser” that we an identify with on some level. And, it makes us feel a little better about our own shortcomings.
Like the Coyote, personalities that are confident enough to be vulnerable become likable. It’s much more charming than the arrogance of perfect character that never loses.
3. The Coyote could stop anytime — if he were not a fanatic.
When watching this cartoon as a kid, I always wondered why he didn’t go after another target, like a rabbit. Anything that wasn’t as fast or smart! Of course, that wouldn’t make the story as interesting, would it?
And of course, he would come back again with another great plan that he was certain would work next time. The Coyote never stopped because he couldn’t. He was fanatical, obsessed with achieving his goal.
This led to a certain amount of predictability. You knew that the story would end with the Coyote getting injured in impossibly violent ways. This built anticipation and expectation.
That acts as a benchmark for the cartoon’s content. You didn’t know what was going to happen, but you knew how it would turn out. The Coyote would fail, and the Roadrunner would race off with a smug look on his face. Benchmarks are not features. Get details here
4. No dialogue ever, except “meep, meep” and yowling in pain.
There was no talk in Roadrunner cartoons-ever. There were sound effects and the Roadrunner’s famous sound. Yet the cartoons were heavy on character definition. They showcased character traits through the stories they told.
The brilliance of the cartoon writing is that it was through pictures and sound effects. The imagery told the story. One of the characters held up an occasional sign as a prop or punchline. But Jones insisted on telling the story clearly and simply.
The format required that each scene have a focus to move the story forward. Everything that happened on the screen was critical to make the story come alive.
We should learn to tell stories the same way. Clearly, with no detours. In an audio-only world, we don’t have pictures to help tell the story, so our words must be descriptive and precise.
5. The Roadrunner must stay on the road — for no other reason than that he’s a roadrunner.
This simple rule for the Roadrunner is a good example of having a defined character role.
Again, knowing who you are and what you’re for will keep you in your lane. This is one of the principle in our webinar Be an Audience Magnet.
Identify the role you play on the show that will allow your character to come alive in exciting ways. Know your boundaries. What fits your personality and what is off-limits?
This simple rule for the Road Runner is a good example of having a defined character role.
6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters — the southwest American desert.
This is a key tool to increase familiarity in the setting. This familiarity is important. It’s like the bar in Cheers or Jerry’s apartment in Seinfeld. Familiar backgrounds allow your attention to focus on the story.
The same is true in audio creation. A comfortable, familiar environment for new, fresh and exciting content is important. The structure of how you create stories allows the audience to focus on what’s most important.
So is the production value used in the sound of your station. Do you have a defined sound that frames your personality?
7. All tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation.
This is another example of benchmarking in the show. As soon as you saw Wile E. Coyote getting a box from Acme Corporation, you knew something was about to blow up in his face (literally).
What benchmarks do you have on your show, those elements that become part of the storyline?
8. Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote’s greatest enemy.
Another recurring theme, and an effective tool. Use universal truths to relate to your audience.
9. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.
That humiliation is endearing. It causes us to care, especially when the Roadrunner watches the Coyote fall off a cliff, smiling. And waving.
His self-analysis and constant failure makes him that character we cheer for. There’s a warmth in the struggle!
10. The audience’s sympathy must remain with the Coyote.
It’s interesting that the “hero” in the story is the aggressor in real life. The Coyote is the loser, while the Roadrunner, a victim in real life, is the villain. This juxtaposition of characters provides a unique perspective.
Other classic cartoons do this as well. Remember Tom & Jerry, where the mouse always outsmarts the cat? Surprise! Chuck Jones created that one, too!
The same is true on personality radio shows. Many times, the most memorable and most loved character isn’t the one that has their name on the show. It’s the personality that listener identify with. Winning shows understand this and use it to their advantage.
11. The Coyote is not allowed to catch or eat the Roadrunner.
This is my favorite rule in the storyline. There’s never an end to the story. It’s about the struggle. The entertainment value is in the process, not the outcome.
If the Coyote catches the Roadrunner, the story is over. It’s like when two actors finally hook up in a sitcom. The show is over because they’ve left nothing for the audience to hope for. No possibilities. It’s now fact.
When Jones was creating Wile E. Coyote in 1948, he found inspiration in the writings of Mark Twain, best known for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. In 1872’s Roughing It, Twain describes the coyote as “long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton.” He says the coyote is “… a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry. He is always poor, out of luck, and friendless.”
Many shows think they have to have finish the story. You don’t. You do need an ending, a payoff, but it doesn’t need to result in a conclusion. Entertainment is in pursuit of the solution, not the solution itself.
Other Lessons From Wile E. Coyote & Roadrunner
A couple of other things regarding the cartoon stand out.
Chuck Jones’ genius is evident in how he cross-promoted and recycled the Coyote.
Beginning in 1953, he borrowed the character in a series of episodes of Sam Sheepdog vs. Ralph Wolf. Ralph The Wolf is a dead ringer for Wile E. Coyote.
And, the Coyote was a recurring character in Bugs Bunny episodes. It’s a great lesson in expanding your brand by playing and recycling your hits.
Also, look at the photos and cartoons in this article. Notice the color schemes? It’s full of yellows, oranges and reds. There’s a style that subtly adds to the brand. This consistency may not be obvious but not matters.
Developing your own show rules of presentation is a valuable exercise. It’s an advanced step in building a 5-Star Personality Brand.
What are the rules of conduct in creating stories that showcase character traits in your personality profile? And how are you executing them? Share them by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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