ShowBiz Pizza Place (Johnsonverse)

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ShowBiz Logo.png
The first logo from 1980 to 1989 and since 2015
ShowBiz Logo Later.png
The second logo used from 1989 to 1992
Type: Subsidiary
Industry: Restaurant
Traded as: NYSE: SHO
Key people: Tim Johnson (CEO)
Founder(s): Robert L. Brock
Creative Engineering
Founded: March 3, 1980; 40 years ago (original incarnation)
December 28, 2014; 6 years ago (current incarnation)
Defunct: 1992; 29 years ago (original incarnation, all locations rebranded)
Headquarters: Irving, Texas, U.S.
No. of locations: 735 (as of December 2020)
Areas served: United States
Canada
Mexico
Guatemala
Spain
United Kingdom
France
Germany
Jordan
Kuwait
Lebanon
United Arab Emirates
Russia
South China
India
Korea
Australia


ShowBiz Pizza Place, often shortened to ShowBiz Pizza, and operating as ShowBiz Pizza Fiesta in Mexico, is an American restaurant pizza chain and family entertainment center founded in 1980 by Robert L. Brock and Creative Engineering. The brand emerged following a separation between Brock and Pizza Time Theatre, owners of the Chuck E. Cheese's franchise. ShowBiz Pizza restaurants entertain guests through a large selection of arcade games, coin-operated rides, and animatronic stage shows as a way to provide a complete package of food and entertainment.

Both companies became competitors and found early success, partly due to the rise in popularity of arcade games during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The type of animatronics used in the ShowBiz Pizza chain – which featured an overall-clad, hillbilly bear named Billy Bob as one of its central characters – distinguished it from its rival which offered many of the same services. Following Pizza Time Theatre's bankruptcy filing in 1984, however, ShowBiz bought the struggling franchise to settle a former court settlement mandate and formed ShowBiz Pizza Time, a combination of the former companies' names. By 1992, all ShowBiz Pizza locations were rebranded as Chuck E. Cheese's.

Beginning in 2015, Jonhson Industries, which had acquired CEC Entertainment, Inc. in December 2014, revived the chain and rebranded its parent (then referred to as CEC Entertainment, Inc.) back to ShowBiz Pizza Time. The chain currently has locations in the United States, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, the Middle East, India, and Australia.

History

A child speaking with Billy Bob at ShowBiz Pizza in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell, responsible for bringing the first widely recognized video game Pong to the mainstream, headed a project in the mid-1970s for Atari to launch the first arcade-oriented, family restaurant featuring computer-controlled animatronics. At a time when arcades were popular in bowling alleys and bars, Bushnell sought to increase arcade exposure to a younger audience. In 1977, Atari opened the first Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre in San Jose, CA. The concept became an immediate success, and after leaving Atari in 1978, Bushnell purchased the Pizza Time restaurant forming a new company under the title Pizza Time Theatre Inc.

As Bushnell heavily marketed the Pizza Time franchise hoping to expand into new markets, the concept began attracting high-profile clients such as Robert L. Brock, best known for his extensive portfolio of Holiday Inn hotels. In 1979, Brock signed a multimillion-dollar franchising agreement with the Pizza Time Theatre Inc., and expected to open as many as 280 Chuck E. Cheese's locations across 16 states in the United States. Shortly thereafter, Brock became concerned about protecting his investment, noticing companies such as Creative Engineering, Inc. (CEI) on the horizon designing more advanced animatronics. He grew concerned that future competitors would emerge with better technology. Bushnell previously reassured Brock at the signing of the franchising agreement that the company's technology would continue to evolve. However, prior to the grand opening of his first location, Brock decided he wanted to void the agreement with Pizza Time, and instead, form a partnership with CEI.

The first ShowBiz Pizza Place opened in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 3, 1980. At the time, Brock was quite successful as one of the largest franchisers in the Holiday Inn hotel system. The Brock Hotel Corporation owned 80 percent of ShowBiz Pizza Place, while the other 20 percent was owned by CEI, the company responsible for the production of the chain's animatronics show, The Rock-afire Explosion. By September 1981, the company had 48 company-owned outlets and 42 franchises. The company moved its headquarters in 1982 to Irving, Texas.

ShowBiz Pizza Time, Inc.

In 1984, Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and its assets were purchased by ShowBiz. As a result of the merger, the newly formed company was named ShowBiz Pizza Time, Inc. – a combination of the former names. However, both restaurants continued operating as separate entities.

Richard M. Frank joined the company as president and chief operating officer in 1985. In 1986, he was named chairman and chief executive officer of the restaurant division. Based on customer research, Frank instituted a number of changes to appeal to younger children and parents. Specific measures included increased lighting, a redesigned food menu, table service, self-serve fountain drinks, a revamped ride selection, and distinct toddler areas. However, relations between ShowBiz and Creative Engineering began to deteriorate. Aaron Fechter, founder of CEI and creator of The Rock-afire Explosion, would later claim in 2008 that the fallout was due to a demand by ShowBiz to own CEI's licensing and copyrights to the animatronics show. Fechter says he refused, since ShowBiz didn't offer monetary compensation for the rights. Despite the refusal, CEI's creative control was jeopardized, as ShowBiz had the ability to program the characters and replicate their voices, allowing them to make changes to the skits. ShowBiz later returned the recording rights to Fechter following CEI's Liberty Show production (in commemoration of the Statue of Liberty's centennial in 1986), but they did not return the programming rights.

A child on a ride at ShowBiz Pizza in Fayetteville, Arkansas

In 1989, ShowBiz Pizza Time became a public company with its stock market launch. The following year, it severed all ties with Creative Engineering and began restructuring the restaurant chains under "concept unification". The change consisted of removing the Rock-afire Explosion show from their restaurants and converting it into a new show called "Chuck E. Cheese & Munch's Make Believe Band", featuring the Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre characters. In addition, all ShowBiz Pizza locations in the U.S. were rebranded as Chuck E. Cheese's, effectively ending the "ShowBiz Pizza" brand. By 1992, the conversion was complete, and ShowBiz Pizza Time became known as CEC Entertainment, Inc., in 1998 moving its stock from NASDAQ to NYSE. In February 2014, the company was purchased by Apollo Global Management for $1.3 billion.

Return of ShowBiz Pizza Place

On December 10, 2014, Johnson Foods (which owned a competing franchise called Looney Bird's) closed its acquisition of CEC Entertainment Inc. for $3.2 billion, bringing 590 Chuck E. Cheese's locations under Johnson control. Overnight, at many CEC locations, the animatronic shows went down for what was initially called "refurbishment". On December 28, Johnson Industries officially announced the return of ShowBiz Pizza Place and the Rock-afire Explosion. Fans were overwhelmed with joy, and Retro Pizza Zone and other internet forums exploded in celebrations. Later in the day, CEI founder and CEO Aaron Fechter released a video on his YouTube channel officially confirming that CEI would be involved in the band's return; he also revealed that he would begin hiring employees, even reaching out to many former CEI employees, to help him build new animatronics.

Over the next several days, Fechter made several more videos revealing he had hired Burt "Sal" Wilson as Fatz Geronimo (a role Fechter had taken over in recent years after salary disputes with Wilson), Rick Bailey as Beach Bear, and Duke Chauppetta as Dook LaRue (having last recorded any material for the character in the mid-1990s) back for the band, along with Jeff Howell (Uncle Klunk) as a backup singer via a Cyberstar monitor (though Klunk appears on Left Stage from time-to-time), while staying in the roles of Billy Bob, Looney Bird, Rolfe DeWolfe, and Earl Schmerle. Shalisa James, the voice of Mitzi Mozzarella, had refused to come back, believing she now sounded too old to voice the character, who had become a role model for young girls. As a result, Johnson Industries launched national auditions to find the new voice of Mitzi, eventually selecting 10-year old Sarah Locke of Kenner, Louisiana. Locke voices Mitzi's daughter, Mitzi Mozzarella Jr. (who has the same wardrobe as her mother, though she wears a ponytail instead of pigtails and has a more independent personality, also incorporating some of Locke's personal life such as having an interest in acting), with James making occasional return appearances as Mitzi Sr. (for these appearances, a spare Mitzi animatronic is retrofitted to look older, wearing a different wardrobe). James' old performances from the 1980s are still used in recycled songs for Mitzi Jr.

Sarah Locke in a March 2015 photo, taken right before her first voice recording session at Creative Engineering in Orlando, Florida.

Meanwhile, beginning in March 2015, 53 Chuck E. Cheese's locations began undergoing a new process known as "Concept Division", in which the Concept Unification process was undone. These locations were henceforth renamed ShowBiz Pizza Place, including new signage, new paint, and a completely redesigned interior, including the installation of a wall between the dining area and the gaming area to get the lighting right for the shows. All 68 Looney Bird's locations were converted into ShowBiz Pizza Place locations, with their locations' New Rock-afire Explosions being retained (albeit with Mitzi's perm being changed to her daughter's ponytail). Chuck E. Cheese's introduced a new "Rockstar Stage", along with a new interior and exterior design.

The first location of the resurrected ShowBiz Pizza Place opened on August 20, 2015 in San Jose, California at Tulley Road (which had been a CEC flagship location for years). The doors opened at 10:00 a.m., and at 8:00 p.m., the Rock-afire Explosion made their official return, playing a short setlist of all songs from the original 1980 showtape, receiving a standing ovation. Starting in December 2016, the band received an animated series on Netflix, with all of the voice actors reprising their roles for the series. The curtain valences above the cast were redesigned to use the character designs from that series, though any pre-redesign valences were retained.

Over the next year, even more CEC locations were transformed into ShowBiz Pizza locations, and new ShowBiz locations were opened, though more often than not, they were opened at or near where prior ShowBiz locations and other restaurants with Rock-afire Explosions had once stood, including a new ShowBiz location at Phenix City, Alabama, in the same building that had previously housed the ShowBiz Pizza Zone between 2008 and 2010, with owner Chris Thrash's Rock-afire Explosion being reacquired and reinstalled in that location. Another, in Barboursville, West Virginia, opened in 2017, having previously housed a restaurant called Billy Bob's Wonderland since 2003; due to the poor condition of that location's Rock-afire Explosion, it was restored throughout 2017 and early 2018, using a large Cyberstar monitor as a placeholder. The stated goal was to have at least one of each brand in each major city to provide options. By the end of 2017, 401 CEC locations remained. The Chuck E. Cheese's brand is focused on kids and families (compared to ShowBiz Pizza Place, which focuses on teens and adults). The direction is also reflected in the chain's revived slogan "Come for the Pizza, Stay for the Fun", while CEC retained "Where a Kid Can Be a Kid".

With the revival of ShowBiz, the Rock-afire Explosion also received several changes; chiefly, Fechter resumed work on a "2nd Generation" version of the animatronics, which was fully realized in November 2015, while the animatronics can walk around unassisted beginning in 2020 in a "3rd Generation" upgrade, and there are plans to give the characters the ability to actually play their own instruments in a "4th Generation" version, set for release in 2024. An animatronic Paul McCartney was also fully realized as well, replacing Rolfe and Earl on Stage Right for one month every year; McCartney voices himself for these showtapes. The company also tested a "Rotating Stage" concept for three large-scale locations in 2017, which give both Left and Right Stage the ability to rotate; one side has the standard characters for these stages, and the other side is able to use rotating guest stars without having to remove regular characters, while the banners above them rotate with the stages. This test was successful, and it is being rolled out for all ShowBiz and Chuck E. Cheese's locations throughout the next several years, along with the installation of a rotating Center Stage, mainly so that, in the event of a major issue on Center Stage, the Rock-afire Explosion can easily be taken offline and substituted with Ho-kago Tea Time, or vice-versa.

There is a series of locations named "Super ShowBiz Pizza", which use all the features of standard ShowBiz locations, in addition to featuring Ho-kago Tea Time and, in some cases, Munch's Make-Believe Band, as well as a laser-tag room, a go-kart track, a mini golf course, and more games than standard locations. The first opened on March 12, 2016 in Tokyo, Kantō, which was also the first ShowBiz location in the Japanese states.

Expanding to the Japanese Isles

On January 2, 2015, Johnson Industries announced the formation of a new ShowBiz franchise in Japanese isles, slated to open its first location in March 2016. This franchise was the culmination of several meetings with Japanese investors and correspondences between Johnson and Fechter regarding options for the animatronic shows.

It was decided that, since the Rock-afire Explosion was too "American" for Japanese audiences (even though 85% of the country spoke English following Japan's annexation in 1952), they would be replaced by characters who were more regionally relevant. According to insiders, it took Johnson seconds to think of a replacement: Ho-Kago Tea Time from the anime and manga K-On!, which was massively popular, and the series was already on its way to the Johnson Aligned Universe; as a result, they could use their voice-changing abilities added in the Johnson version to enable the use of Rock-afire material and any other songs from other bands such as Styx, Guns n' Roses, any Beatles songs that didn't have Rock-afire covers, among many other bands, as most of the voice actresses were found to be unfit for regular singing. Making the replacement even more seamless was the fact that the characters could easily replace the Rock-afire characters, as they all played virtually the same instruments as their Rock-afire counterparts.

For the transition to the Japanese isles, Center Stage would be completely remodeled. Instead of a forest setting, it is now set in the Light Music Club room at Sakuragaoka High School. Each of the Center Stage characters were replaced according to their role: Dook was replaced by Ritsu Tainaka (voiced by Cassandra Lee Morris), Fatz by Tsumugi "Mugi" Kotokubi (Shelby Lindley, who occasionally does sing using her own voice due to being a singer), Beach Bear by Yui Hirasawa (Stephanie Sheh), and Mitzi by Mio Akiyama (Cristina Valenzuela), though she plays bass, while Mitzi is simply the female vocalist. The decision was later made to have Mio remain as bassist, and also serve as a prominent vocalist in the band (even though all characters would be vocalists, as with the Rock-afire Explosion). Choo-Choo and Antioch were completely omitted from the new set-up, while the Sun and Moon were retained. The changes for the Japanese locations only affected Center Stage, and Stages Left and Right were completely unchanged, retaining Billy Bob, Looney Bird, Rolfe (until the "Magic Night" showtape from September-October 2016), and Earl. Beginning in November 2016, Azusa Nakano (Christine Marie Cabanos) was added to Center Stage.

The K-On! animatronics are second-generation AnimeTronics. All AnimeTronics have a massive range of movement, and have onboard computers and rechargeable lithium batteries (the Billy Bob, Looney Bird, and Rolfe animatronics still use hydraulics, external computers and power supplies, and still need to be aired-up before opening). The animatronics have other advanced features: Ritsu and Mugi can actually play their instruments, as Ritsu is reverse-engineered from Dook's second-generation animatronic that CEI resumed development on (though Mugi's Korg Triton keyboard is plugged into a dummy socket, as all music comes from the soundtrack), Yui can actually jump a few inches off the ground, ShowBiz cast members can "speak" to audience members using VoxMutatio, Johnson's voice-changer technology that makes them sound exactly like their voice actresses, and all four have clothes that are easily removed. The clothes are washed weekly in specifically-labeled washing machines, and during the summer months, the overcoats are removed from the animatronics to simulate their summer uniforms. They are also anatomicallly-correct, leading to several reports of guests groping the animatronics or attempting to engage in intercourse with them. They also have real hair that is washed nightly using rinse-free shampoo. The animatronics are so advanced, that consideration was given to having them do OK Go's famed treadmill dance routine for "Here It Goes Again", before tests with generic AnimeTronics showed the technology wasn't at that point yet, with at least one AnimeTronic being totaled during these tests.

All HTT animatronics have numerous failure modes in the event of various issues, ranging from cosmetic issues to major mechanical malfuctions. In the event of a Mode 5x failure, a backup showtape containing only Billy Bob and Looney Bird material is activated, as both have less moving parts; some locations have a turntable with a full Rock-afire Explosion setup on the reverse side to serve as a backup in the event a Mode 5x failure necessitates taking the HTT show offline for a prolonged period.

In addition to HTT, the band is occasionally joined by Yui's childhood friend, Nodoka Manabe (Laura Bailey), who replaces Billy Bob on Stage Left, and also has a rear-projected screen to present lessons on the history of ShowBiz Pizza Place, Pizza Time Theatre, and Chuck E. Cheese's. Her animatronic has the ability to pick up and manipulate objects, such as a stick she uses during her lessons, a cup of coffee that she "drinks" from, a dummy iPhone, and a remote to start and stop the videos on her screen. For Nodoka, Looney Bird and the Smitty's Super Service Station backdrop are unchanged, with everyone pointing this fact out and calling out ShowBiz's laziness. Nodoka's animatronic has the N failure mode identifier.

The first Japanese Isles location opened on March 12, 2016 in Tokyo, Kantō in a public ceremony that included Tim and the voice actors for all of the Rock-afire and Ho-kago Tea Time band members. The location, which is one of the largest in the chain, consists of three floors, including a dance floor, as well as a laser-tag room, a go-kart track, a mini golf course, and more games than standard ShowBiz locations. The opening resulted in high sales on the first day.

Expansion worldwide

In November 2016, the first twenty Canadian ShowBiz Pizza Place locations opened, spread across its provinces. The old Department 18 animatronics of Munch's Make-Believe Band were reverted back to the Rock-afire Explosion for the first of those locations in Toronto, Ontario. That same year, the first three ShowBiz Pizza Place locations in the United Kingdom opened, all owned by CEI designer Jenn Waitt. They feature a recurring character in Hannah Banana (voiced by Teresa Gallagher), a female monkey who had been the mascot for a chain of the same name that existed in the 2000s. Hannah occasionally appears onstage, replacing Rolfe and Earl on Stage Right.

In March 2017, ShowBiz Pizza Place returned to Mexico with twelve locations, operating as ShowBiz Pizza Fiesta (the name it had used in the country in the 1980s). The revived Mexican locations use different voices for the Rock-afire Explosion, as the original voice actors are unknown; these same voice actors reprise their roles in the Latin American dub of The Rock-afire Explosion Show as well. The locations in Kuwait City, Kuwait, Beirut, Lebanon, and the Town Centre Jumeirah in Dubai, United Arab Emirates all reopened later in 2017, having been Looney Bird's locations beforehand.

On July 27, 2018, the largest ShowBiz Pizza Place location in the world opened in Shanghai, South China. Dubbed "The World's Largest ShowBiz", this location contains a ShowBiz Pizza Place (with The Rock-afire Explosion), a Chuck E. Cheese’s (with Munch’s Make-Believe Band and a replica of a Pizza Time Players balcony stage), a laser tag section, and a bumper car section, with a second floor containing a dance floor in which costumed characters from both bands perform, as well as a coffee and gelato bar, and another bar on a third floor in which alcoholic beverages are served, in addition to containing more games than standard ShowBiz or Chuck E. Cheese’s locations.

Entertainment

Video arcade

Characters and animatronics

Food

ShowBiz Pizza Place offers a

WORK-IN-PROGRESS

Videos

Animatronics

See Also