William Rabkin talks on his blog about the animated and the live episodes of DIAGNOSIS MURDER that we almost did…and the reasons why we didn't end up producing them. Here's an excerpt from his discussion of our animated episode idea:
Then someone had the idea — and I’m pretty sure it was me, because I’d been watching a lot of Dennis Potter at the time — that we should team Dick up with the greatest sleuth ever to grace a television set… Scooby Doo.
After a long bout of giggles, the story fell into place almost immediately. Dick’s character, Dr. Mark Sloan, would witness a crime, but before he could get away the criminal would attack and leave him in a coma. While the rest of the team searched for his attackers, Dick would be solving the crime in a series of hallucinations… with the help of Scooby Doo. There was one little problem, of course — we didn’t really have a lot of money in our budget for animated sequences. Fortunately, Lee can pull up TV trivia faster than Google, and he remembered that an animated version of Dick had “guest starred” in a Scooby Doo episode back in the 70s. All we’d have to do was get the rights to the footage, then write new dialogue, with our supporting cast doing the voices for Shaggy and the rest.
I don't know whether the episode was Bill's idea or mine…but my memory of how we were going to use the cartoon in an episode is a bit different than his. At first we considered having Dr. Sloan imagine himself in the cartoon…but realized he was too old to be a fan of SCOOBY DO. It made no sense for his character. So we decided instead that his young protege Dr. Jesse Travis (Charlie Schlatter), while doing some sleuthing for Mark, would get bonked on the head and tossed of the Santa Monica Pier…and while unconscious, and fighting for his life in the hospital, that he'd imagine Dr. Sloan, himself, and the rest of the gang investigating a similar crime with Scooby-Doo (with Jesse as Shaggy, Steve as Fred, Amanda as Velma, and Jesse's girlfriend Susan as Daphne). Once Jesse awoke, he'd tell Mark the story and unknowingly give him the vital clue he needed to solve the real murder mystery.
It would have been ridiculously cheap and easy for us to simply revoice the cartoon with our own actors and dialog…and come out of it with an episode that was 50% animated and far less than our usual episodic budget (we could have used it in place of one of our dreaded six day shows — episodes shot over six days instead of seven — that we did each season to save money). As I recall, even Dick was excited about the idea…in retrospect, maybe it wasn't so much the idea, but rather the notion of having so many days off that he liked. Charlie was already doing lots of voice-over and cartoon work at the time, so he was also game for the idea.
I still remember Bill & I writing the letter to Warner Brothers, trying to convince them to let us use the footage. As I recall, Fred Silverman signed the letter, too, and even made a few calls trying to convince the studio to grant us the rights.
Warner Brothers asked us for an outline, so we even went so far as to pick the clips we wanted to use and sketch out the story in broad strokes…but we weren't about to plot out the whole thing until we got the rights. Alas, it didn't happen, for all the reasons Bill goes into on his blog.
Here's a clip from the Dick Van Dyke episode of SCOOBY DOO…