When Garry Trudeau put Doonesbury on a long hiatus starting in January 1983, it started an all-out war at the syndicates to see how many of Trudeau’s newspaper spots they could poach. Some existing strips got catapulted into the national conscience, like Bloom County, and at other syndicates new strips were developed that they thought would fit comfortably in a Doonesbury-shaped newspaper spot.
Editorial cartoonist Jeff Danziger and impresario Lew Little got together to enter the sweepstakes, and Danziger came up with what seemed like a natural. Set a strip in a newspaper office, where politics could be on center stage at all times. Populate the strip with a long list of characters, just like Doonesbury. When you want to comment most directly on current events, have characters sitting around watching the TV news.
The strip seemed like a natural for the Doonesbury-starved newspaper reading public. Lew Little presented the strip to the Field Newspaper Syndicate, and they evidently agreed that McGonigle of the Chronicle was a winner. The strip debuted on August 1 1983 in a modest but decent number of client papers.
My thinking is that Danziger’s strip was a little too scattershot out of the gate. With a list of recurring characters numbering over a dozen, readers needed a scorecard to keep them all straight. Whereas Doonesbury‘s cast had grown organically over time, Danziger was presenting the whole first, second and third strings all at once. It also certainly didn’t help that the Field syndicate was bought out by Rupert Murdoch in 1984, putting the strip’s distribution and marketing in flux.
When Trudeau brought Doonesbury back in September 1984, there was an inevitable culling of the herd. Although McGonigle survived the initial attack, the wounds eventually proved to be fatal. The strip was ended on November 24 1985.
PS: while researching this post, I came across information that Danziger also has two local strips to his credit — Out In The Sticks and The Teeds. If anyone has some definitive info on these (where they appeared, running dates) I’d sure like to hear from you. I have ordered a copy of what I gather is a Teeds reprint book (“Teed Stories”) and hope that might shed some light.