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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Warner weighs up devil disease role

The Mercury: Warner weighs up devil disease role [19dec05]

A FRESH round of talks between cartoon giant Warner Bros and the State Government is under way, offering new hope to the disease-plagued Tasmanian devil.

Secret talks with the US-based entertainment giant -- which has earned millions from its Taz cartoon character -- have been held in recent weeks, with more to come this week.

A deal could result in publicity and funding to boost research into the devastating facial tumour disease which has now been recorded across more than 65 per cent of Tasmania and could eventually wipe out the species.

A love-hate relationship between Warner Bros and the State Government began almost a decade ago when the Government decided Taz would be good for marketing the state.

Taz, who is widely recognised for his ravenous appetite and whirs like a tornado, ranks with Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner in the three most popular Warner Bros characters.

The cartoons -- and merchandising spin-offs -- have given Tasmania global exposure as a distant and mysterious island destination.

But a Tasmanian marketing deal couldn't be done as Warner Bros -- which has trademarked versions of the names Taz, Tassie, Taz-mania and Tasmanian Devil since the 1950s -- said the state could only use the devil if it was prepared to pay the right price, reportedly in the millions. The State Government refused.

The discovery of the devil disease sparked a renewal of talks in 2003 with hopes the renowned character could spin to the aid of his stricken namesake.

The Mercury alerted Warner Bros to the disease -- which causes cancerous lesions and leads to eventual death -- and Warner Bros spokeswoman Barbara Brogliatti said the company would consider supporting the Tasmanian devil in its plight.

Ms Brogliatti said the Taz image would be off limits for a possible awareness or fundraising campaign.

"But we are major contributors to environmental issues. And if someone did come to us and say 'We're at a desperate time' we would possibly consider it," she said.

"And because of the link, we might care a little more."

By mid-2004 talks had progressed, with speculation in August that a deal had been clinched -- but again nothing eventuated.

Taz made his Warner Bros debut in 1954 as a playmate for Bugs Bunny but, despite his instant success, a studio manager scrapped the devil because he was "too nasty".

He was later reborn and went on to become a major force in Warner Bros animation.

The Warner Bros website describes Taz as "a strong murderous beast, jaws as powerful as a steel trap" who "slices through trees like a rotary saw" and "feasts on an entire ecosystem of jungle creatures".

Ironically, the devils' habit of biting each other as they compete for food is thought to be spreading the disease.


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