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The Stories Behind 9 Iconic TV Production Logos

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The production logos that cap off a TV show don't just tell you who made the show—they're also a glimpse into the creator’s sense of humor and personality. Here are the stories behind a few logos you might recognize.

1. Bad Robot Productions

Before J.J. Abrams was hired to direct Star Wars: Episode VII for Disney and Lucasfilm, he was the mastermind behind hit genre TV series such as Alias, Lost, and Fringe. At the end of each episode, the logo for Abrams’ production company, Bad Robot Productions, popped up on the screen.

While Abrams founded Bad Robot in 1998, the iconic production logo didn’t emerge until 2001. Some fans believe Bad Robot is a reference to Brad Bird’s animated film The Iron Giant, but the idea for the logo came to J.J. Abrams during a writers’ meeting on Alias.

He recorded his children Henry and Gracie saying the words and put it all together with his laptop. ''That day in the office while editing,'' says Abrams, ''I put together sound effects on my computer, burned a QuickTime movie on a CD, gave it to postproduction, and three days later it was on national television.''

2. Mutant Enemy Productions

Joss Whedon founded Mutant Enemy Productions in 1996 to produce the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series. Mutant Enemy is a reference to the song “And You and I” from the progressive rock band Yes, of which Whedon is an avid fan. “Mutant Enemy” is also what Joss Whedon calls his typewriter. He drew and voiced the production logo, which has been referenced from time to time on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

3. Ubu Productions

In the '80s, no episode of Family Ties was complete until you heard the words, “Sit, Ubu, Sit. Good dog,” followed by a dog’s single bark. Ubu Productions was the late Gary David Goldberg's company. Along with Family Ties, Goldberg produced Brooklyn Bridge and Spin City.

The production company’s mascot was Ubu Roi, black Labrador Retriever, who was named after playwright Alfred Jarry’s 1896 stage play Ubu Roi. Goldberg owned Ubu in college; he and his wife, Diana, traveled the world with the dog. The photo of Ubu Roi in the logo was taken in the Tuileries Garden close to the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Ubu died in 1984.

4. Steven Bochco Productions

Television producer Steven Bochco was responsible for iconic TV series such as Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, Doogie Howser, M.D., and NYPD Blue. His company's logo pays homage to his father, Rudolph Bochco, a Russian immigrant and concert violinist. The music featured is the 3rd movement of Vivaldi's “Summer (Presto)” from The Four Seasons—one of Bochco's father’s favorite pieces of music.

5. Stephen J. Cannell Productions

TV shows from Stephen J. Cannell Productions included The Rockford Files, The A-Team, and 21 Jump Street. The company's logo was known as “Guy on Typewriter” and showed Cannell smoking a pipe while intensely typing and flinging a sheet of paper after he was finished. The floating paper quickly transitioned into a stack of papers in the animated Stephen J. Cannell Productions logo. The logo was changed often to show Cannell in his office surrounded by his many awards. He eventually quit smoking, so the production logo changed to reflect the action.

6. Bad Hat Harry Productions

Though director Bryan Singer’s production company Bad Hat Harry is mainly used for his feature films—including The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns, and the first two X-Men movies—the company has dabbled in TV with the hit series House, M.D. on Fox.

Bad Hat Harry is a reference to a scene from Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster Jaws in which police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) tells an elderly swimmer named Harry that he has an ugly swimming cap: “That’s some bad hat, Harry.” The production logo depicts an animated version of the scene.

7. Fuzzy Door Productions

Seth MacFarlane’s production company is responsible for the animated TV series Family Guy, American Dad!, and the short-lived The Cleveland Show. Fuzzy Door Productions also had a hand in MacFarlane’s live-action directorial debut, Ted, in 2012.

Fuzzy Door Productions got its name from the fake leopard fur-covered door at the house MacFarlane lived in while attending Rhode Island School of Design as an undergraduate. Graphic designer Cory Brookes, a housemate at the Fuzzy Door house, created the logo.

8. Deedle-Dee Productions

Deedle-Dee Productions is the television production company of writer and producer Greg Daniels. He’s known for the American remake of The Office with Steve Carell, the comedy Parks and Recreation, and the animated TV series King of the Hill. According to audio commentary Daniels recorded for the Parks and Recreation DVD commentary, the current incarnations of the logo (there are two!) were drawn by his son, Owen, after Daniels had left King of the Hill.

9. MTM Enterprises, Inc.

Mary Tyler Moore started her television production company, MTM Enterprises, Inc., with her then-husband Grant Tinker in 1969 to produce The Mary Tyler Moore Show for the broadcast network CBS. The name of the company came from Moore's initials, and its logo featured Mimsie the Cat—a spoof on the classic MGM logo, which featured the studio’s mascot Leo the Lion.

MTM Enterprises’ logo would change from time to time depending on the television show. For St. Elsewhere, Mimsie wore a surgical mask, while the comedy Newhart featured Bob Newhart saying the word “Meow” over the footage of Mimsie. The cat, which was adopted from a local animal shelter, lived to be 20 at the home of a MTM staffer.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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May 23, 2017
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