When Surfin' the Highway debuted in 1995, the 154-page paperback sold for $12.95. A signed, numbered hardcover special edition was also released. With a second printing in 1996 the price tag increased to $15.95, and sometime in the late 90s the price skyrocketed as the book became increasingly harder to find. It now goes for a couple hundred dollars on eBay.
Just before the onset of this frenzy, the duo stumbled onto an entirely new (and surprisingly mainstream) form of media: the Saturday morning cartoon. Dan Smith, a longtime story editor at Nelvana Animation in Toronto, was a fan of the comics and had been a constant champion for the idea of Nelvana developing a Sam & Max series. Steve and Dan worked together to block out ideas for the episodes and spent hours on the phone hashing through scripts.
The kids' show format was a challenge because Sam & Max's brand of humor had to be geared more "family friendly". Guns were a big no-no and language was carefully moderated, so Steve made it his mandate to advocate for the "weirdness quotient." Steve remembers, "One of my favorite gags was an episode [ed: "They Came From Down There"] where a giant mutant Muskie removes the top of Max's skull leaving his brain exposed. Sam yells out from across the room, 'Quick! Press down on the medulla oblongata! Five bucks says he smells burnt toast!'" Steve was pleased that Sam &Max maintained some semblance of their moral ambiguity. Says Steve, "People would always come up to me and say 'It's too bad you had to soften the characters for kids,' and then in the next breath they were like, 'And I can't believe they let you do THAT!' referencing some dodgy gag."
Steve wrote gags for each episode and penned a few complete episodes himself, including, "Little BigFoot," "The Friend for Life," "Christmas, Bloody Christmas" and an adaptation of the comic book story "Bad Day on the Moon." "Bad Day on the Moon was the one time we tried to adapt one of the comic stories," Steve recalls. "It became this big unwieldy episode that we kept whittling back down to size. From then on we decided to just create new stories for the show instead of trying to make one thing into another."
The show aired on Fox Kids for the 1997-98 season. It won a Gemini award in Canada for best animated series and made the top ten in ratings that season. But a shake-up at the network put a new president in charge of programming, and at the eleventh hour Sam & Max was not renewed for a new season.
Some fans had told Steve that parents groups in their small towns had tried to get the show pulled based on content issues, and though the show didn't get a chance at a second season Steve was a little pleased that they had managed to ruffle some feathers along the way.
Following the cancellation, a small run of VHS tapes were released, and when these had all been snatched up by nostalgic fans, the cartoon was relegated to the same hard-to-find depths as Surfin' the Highway, destined to live out its days in the form of bootlegged copies and low-quality You Tube uploads. Would Freelance Police life ever be the same?
Next time: After Darkness Comes the Light