The Warner siblings as ducks, before they became dogs
Kids love Animaniacs for the slapstick comedy, and adults like it for the well, surprisingly clever humor and wordplay (that or Hello Nurse ... Good night, everybody!).
Sadly, the cartoon series ended in 1998 after just 99 glorious episodes. So if you're jonesing for more Animaniacs, head on over to mental_floss where Rob Lammle has written the definitive "real story" behind Animaniacs, with a little help from creator Tom Ruegger.
In the Beginning
The history of Animaniacs actually begins with Tiny Toon Adventures, another animated show from Warner Bros. and executive producer Steven Spielberg. After Tiny Toons became a huge success, Spielberg asked producer Tom Ruegger and his team to work on a follow-up cartoon.
One idea Spielberg suggested was to make the popular Tiny Toons character Plucky Duck the star of the new show. Meanwhile, Ruegger had been developing characters based on the personalities of his three young sons. These two concepts were combined to create three brother ducks. However, the team soon realized that, between Disney’s Donald Duck, DuckTales, Darkwing Duck, and Warner Bros.’ own Daffy Duck, there were already plenty of animated waterfowl on the market. Spielberg agreed, but said they needed to come up with “a big marquee name” to help sell the show.
Ruegger was inspired by the large “WB” logo on the water tower at the Warner Bros. studio. He proposed a group of siblings drawn in an animation style reminiscent of anthropomorphized animal characters from the 1930s, and called them the Warner Brothers. Although they have dog-like characteristics, the exact type of animal the Warners are meant to be is unknown. According to the show bible – a book filled with background information for the creative team on a TV show – their species is labeled as “Cartoonus Characterus.”
For a brief period, there were four Warner siblings – Yakky, Smakky, Wakky, and little sister, Dot. As the studio artists honed the designs, Yakky became Yakko, and Smakky and Wakky were melded into Wakko. After getting clearance from the Warner estate to use the family name, the show was off and running.