In an episode of the relaunched “Rugrats,” there is a very minor character named Mr. Windham. He’s a neighbor to the hyperactive and extremely inquisitive group of animated toddlers who star in the show, though he’s never seen.

But Mr. Windham’s existence is not some random act, a name picked haphazardly by a Hollywood writer. It’s a nod to the Maine hometown of two crucial members of the “Rugrats” team, executive producer and head writer Kate Boutilier and script coordinator and writer Sam Clarke. They are both from Windham and both went to Windham High School, though years apart.

“It’s been a great fit, working with someone from my hometown,” said Boutilier, who has been working out of her Shapleigh home during the pandemic but had been based in Los Angeles. “You don’t run into too many other people from Maine in this business. People will laugh when we sometimes drop into the accent or start talking about some memory of home.”

The new “Rugrats” is produced by Nickelodeon and was launched in May, with a handful of episodes airing on the Paramount Plus streaming service. More of the new series’ 26 episodes will air later this year, but no date has been announced. The original “Rugrats” ran on the Nickelodeon cable network from 1991 to 2004. The series was a hit with parents and kids alike, detailing with humor and heart the adventures of a group of toddlers through their eyes and thoughts.

Windham natives Sam Clarke and Kate Boutilier had both forged their own careers in TV production before teaming on the new version of “Rugrats.” Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon

The new series follows the same characters, including Chuckie, Tommy and Angelica. Chuckie is still voiced by Nancy Cartwright, the veteran voice acting star who has also given life to Bart Simpson of “The Simpsons” for more than 30 years.

The two Mainers on the new “Rugrats” each bring a unique skill set and background to the project. Boutilier was a writer and producer during several seasons of the original “Rugrats,” beginning in the late ’90s. She was co-producer of another Nickelodeon hit animated show, “The Wild Thornberrys,” from 1999 to 2003. She began writing for TV in the late 1980s, and worked on episodes of the sitcoms “Family Ties” and “Growing Pains,” among many others.

Clarke is the father of a 21-month-old son – Colby – which makes him especially attuned to how toddlers act and think. It also makes him a millennial parent, a big part of the audience the new show is targeting. He’s worked a variety of jobs in TV production over the past decade as he pursued his goal of writing, including as a contestant wrangler on NBC’s “The Voice,” a production assistant on the ABC sitcom “Modern Family” and a writer’s assistant on the ABC drama “A Million Little Things.”

“I think they both have that New England work ethic and practicality,” said Eryk Casemiro, also an executive producer on “Rugrats.”  “Kate pays such close attention to each character, she finds uniqueness in the characters. She brings a thoughtfulness to the way she approaches every story. Sam is very whimsical and writes with a lot of heart. If a story has a hiccup in it, he works tirelessly to fix it.”

One of the episodes that Clarke wrote focuses on the toddlers being given a balloon and told it’s “the last one.” In typical “Rugrats” fashion, they think of this very literally, as if it’s the last balloon on Earth and they must guard and protect it at all costs. If not, no other child will ever know the great joy a balloon brings, and it will be all their fault.

“It’s about Chuckie being afraid to shoulder this responsibility, that because of him no child would ever get a balloon to play with,” Clarke said. “I don’t think having a son that age necessarily had a direct impact on that episode, but it does inform my writing for the show. ”

Sam Clarke, grew up in Windham and pursued a career in Hollywood working in TV. Now he’s script coordinator on “Rugrats,” where he works closely with another Windham native. Photo courtesy of Sam Clarke

HOMETOWN CONNECTIONS

Boutilier and Clarke have only been working together for a couple of years, but their connection goes back more than 15 years. Clarke, 33, was involved in theater and music while at Windham High School, where he graduated in 2006. But he also loved writing and set his sights on becoming a humor columnist. He was able to get some work, while in high school, writing for the Lakes Region Weekly newspaper. One of his assignments was to interview a famous Windham High grad who was working in TV in Hollywood – Boutilier.

“My mom and dad were still in Windham and were always pushing me to connect with hometown people, so I talked to him,” Boutilier said. “I remember he said he was going to Emerson College (in Boston), where I went.”

A few years later Boutilier and Clarke both attended an event Emerson set up to connect students with professionals who had established careers. They did not connect in person, but a friend of Clarke’s told him that Boutilier had been there, so he called her the next day. Boutilier graduated from Emerson in 1981 with a degree in mass communications, Clarke graduated in 2010, with a degree in print and multimedia journalism.

“My friend said, ‘Did you talk to Kate Boutilier, she works in TV animation and she’s from a small town in Maine, Windham,” Clarke said.

After chatting, Clarke told Boutilier he’d like to stay in touch. He thought he’d move to New York to try to pursue a stand-up comedy career after college, but says more of his friends were moving to Los Angeles. So he moved there and eventually decided to seek work in TV.

He worked in various assistant and associate positions on several shows. He was an assistant to the supervising talent producer on “America’s Next Top Model” on the CW Network and a writer’s assistant on several shows, including “Get Shorty” on EPIX. As a writer’s assistant, Clarke said, his main job was to take notes in the writers’ room, keeping track of all the ideas and plots writers throw out. Plus, sometimes, he added in his own.

While Clarke was building his TV career, Boutilier was firmly established in hers. Her pre-“Rugrats” credits include writing episodes in the ’80s and ’90s of the CBS dramas “Falcon Crest” and “Northern Exposure,” among many others. After her stints on the original “Rugrats” and “The Wild Thornberrys,” she stayed in children’s TV. In the 2000s, she worked as a writer and/or producer on the animated Nickelodeon series “All Grown Up!” and “Olivia” and “The Mr. Men Show” on Cartoon Network.

Over the years, Clarke and Boutilier had lunch once in a while and kept in touch via email. Boutilier said she watched with interest the experience Clarke was gaining and the projects he was working on.

A new version of the popular 90s cartoon series “Rugrats” launched this year, with two Windham High grads in crucial roles. Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon

Around 2019, Clarke said he was thinking about leaving TV. He was working 12-hour days, largely as a sort of stenographer, taking notes for others. He also had worked on a couple “dark and violent” shows, including “Powerless” on NBC, and said that was starting to get to him. His creative juices always flowed more toward gentle humor.

Jon Miele, who directed drama productions at Windham High when Clarke was there and has stayed in touch with him, calls Clarke “one of the most smiley, upbeat guys I’ve ever met.” Rick Nickerson, choral music director at the high school, said Clarke stood out largely for his “positive attitude” and that “not much ever got to him.”

Then, just as Clarke was thinking about what else he might do, Boutilier called. She had been approached about joining the new “Rugrats” as an executive producer and head writer. Now she was looking to hire somebody to be script coordinator and to write some episodes. She knew Clarke wanted to write, but wasn’t sure he was looking for a new job.

“I asked if he knew anyone who might be interested. When he said he would, I said, ‘OK, you’re it,’ ” Boutilier said.

Clarke says it’s “phenomenal” that he’s been able to write six scripts for the new “Rugrats” and has gotten to work with seasoned TV professionals like Boutilier and others on the show. Because of the pandemic, they’ve all been working remotely for the last year or more. Boutlier is currently working at her home in Shapleigh while Clarke works and lives in North Carolina, near his wife’s family. Although many live-action shows were shut down for long stretches because of COVID-19, they were able to continue to work because the show is animated.

Boutilier says adults who find out she worked on the original “Rugrats” often thank her and tell her much the show meant to them growing up. She says the new show will try to retain the qualities that made the original so relatable to parents and kids.

“We don’t want to be too obviously writerly or precious,” Boutilier said. “It’s trying to figure out how babies might talk and think, capturing that innocence and honesty.”

A reboot of “Rugrats” launched on Paramount+ this year with two Windham natives in crucial roles – executive producer Kate Boutilier and script coordinator Sam Clarke. Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon


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