ShowBiz Pizza Time Inc. is a company owned by Jonhson Industries. The company is the owner and operator of Chuck E. Cheese's and ShowBiz Pizza Place locations in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan.
Chuck E. Cheese's, originally named Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre, was founded by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell. Bushnell's experience in the amusement park industry, as well as his fondness of The Walt Disney Company, was influential in the conceptualization of the Pizza Time Theatre concept. The first location opened in San Jose, California in 1977, and was labeled as the first family restaurant to integrate food, animatronic characters, and an arcade. In 1978, Bushnell purchased the Pizza Time Theatre concept from Atari's then-corporate parent, Warner Communications.
As the restaurant became increasingly successful, he began to franchise, resulting in a co-development agreement between Bushnell and Bob Brock of Topeka Inn Management in 1979. The agreement handed Brock exclusive franchising rights for opening Pizza Time Theatres in sixteen states across the southern and midwestern United States, while also forming a company subdivision, "Pizza Show Biz", to develop the Pizza Time Theatres.
ShowBiz Pizza Place
In November 1979, Brock met Aaron Fechter of Creative Engineering Inc. Concerned that Fechter's animatronics would be too strong a competition for Bushnell's work, Brock requested that Bushnell release him from the co-development agreement, citing misrepresentation. In December 1979, Brock and Fechter formed "ShowBiz Pizza Place Inc", severing Brock's business relationship with Bushnell. ShowBiz Pizza Place was conceptually identical to Pizza Time Theatre in all aspects except for animatronics; which would be provided by Creative Engineering and, needless to say, were much more advanced than Pizza Time Theatre's half-bodied animatronics. ShowBiz Pizza Place opened its first location on March 3, 1980, in Kansas City, Missouri.
Upon the opening of ShowBiz Pizza Place, Bushnell sued Brock and Topeka Inn Management over breach of contract. Brock immediately issued a counter-suit against Bushnell, citing misrepresentation. The court case began in March 1980, eventually settling out of court; with ShowBiz agreeing to pay Pizza Time Theatre a portion of its profits over the following decade. During this period, Topeka Inn Management also changed its name to Brock Hotel Corporation and moved its headquarters to Irving, Texas. Both restaurants experienced increased success as the video game industry became more robust; and to maintain competition, both franchises continually modified and diversified their animatronic shows.
In 1981, Pizza Time Theatre went public; however, the evolving video game industry resulted in significant losses for Pizza Time Theatre; losing $15 million in 1983, and by 1984, Bushnell's debts were insurmountable, resulting in the filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy for Pizza Time Theatre Inc. ShowBiz then bought the foundering company, recreating itself as ShowBiz Pizza Time Inc.
After the merger, both restaurants continued operating under the different titles, while major financial restructuring had begun, eventually becoming publicly traded in 1989, with sales increasing by 8.3%. During this period, Creative Engineering began to sever ties with ShowBiz Pizza Time (they officially left the company in September 1990) after Fechter refused to sign over rights to the Rock-Afire Explosion animatronic band, eventually resulting in the unification of its mixed characters. By 1992, all restaurants assumed the name of Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza. However, the name was changed to Chuck E. Cheese's in 1994 during a redesigning of the concept. In 1998, the company renamed itself CEC Entertainment, Inc. Part of this renaming was related to a move from the NASDAQ to the NYSE. In 1999, CEC Entertainment, Inc. bought out competitor Discovery Zone. Chuck E. Cheese's celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2007.
On November 14, 2015, Johnson Industries announced its acquisition of CEC Entertainment Inc. Initially, Apollo Global Management refused to sell, but after a massive letter-writing campaign by fans who had heard that Johnson's plans involved bringing back ShowBiz Pizza Place and the Rock-Afire Explosion, relented, and sold CEC Entertainment for $3.2 billion.
The acquisition was completed on December 10, 2015, bringing 590 locations under Johnson control. Overnight, at many CEC locations, the animatronic shows went down for what was initially called "refurbishment". Speculation among online communities, especially at Retro Pizza Zone, pointed at Johnson beginning work to bring back the Rock-Afire Explosion.
The Return of ShowBiz Pizza PlaceOn December 28, 2015, Johnson Industries officially announced the return of ShowBiz Pizza Place and the Rock-Afire Explosion. Fans were overwhelmed with joy, and Retro Pizza Zone exploded in celebrations. Later in the day, Aaron Fechter released a video on his YouTube channel officially confirming that CEI would be involved in the band's return.
Over the next several days, he made several more videos revealing he had gotten Burt "Sal" Wilson (Fatz Geronimo), Rick Bailey (Beach Bear), and Duke Chaupetta (Dook LaRue) back for the band, plus Jeff Howell (Uncle Klunk) as a backup singer, with Fechter staying in the roles of Billy Bob, Looney Bird, Rolfe DeWolfe, and Earl Schmerle. Shalisa James (Mitzi Mozzarella) had refused to come back, believing she now sounded too old to be 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 with a more independent personality), with James making occassional return appearances as Mitzi Sr. (for these appearances, the Mitzi animatronic is retrofitted to look older). Shalisa's old performances from the 1980s are still used in recycled songs for Mitzi Jr.
Meanwhile, 53 Chuck E. Cheese locations began undergoing "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 installing a wall between the dining area and the gaming area to get the lighting just right for the shows.
In addition, Johnson CEO Tim Johnson identified the Studio C and Circle of Light stages as "sacrelige", as they only had one animatronic or, in some cases, no animatronics at all. These were earmarked for immediate replacement; over half of these stages were replaced by a new stage called the "Rock Band Stage", featuring all of Munch's Make-Believe Band, updated to their current appearances; the animatronics on these stages are manufactured by Garner Holt in the same style as the Chuck E. animatronic on the Studio C and Circle of Lights stages, though unlike those, the new animatronics have much more fluid motion, as Garner Holt collaborated with Walt Disney Imagineering and CEI to engineer brand-new animatronics; their proportions are also closer to the CEI animatronics, and, except for Chuck E., resemble their older appearances. The remaining stages were replaced by the Rock-Afire Explosion (as in several cases, the 3-Stages were put behind walls intact for the conversion to the Circle of Lights stages). The CU-1 Stages were also converted back into 3-Stages, and became Rock-afire Explosion shows. A previously-unknown plan to replace all animatronic shows with dance floors in a refurbishment called CEC 2.0 was cancelled, as a result.
All other existing stages (1-Stage, 2-Stage, and Road Stage) were refurbished but otherwise untouched, and the last remaining Rocker Stage was donated to a museum prior to its replacement by a Rock Band Stage.
The first location of the resurrected ShowBiz Pizza Place opened on February 18, 2016 in San Jose, CA at Tulley Road (which for years had been CECs flagship location). The doors opened at 10 AM, and at 8 PM, the Rock-Afire Explosion made their official return, playing a short setlist of all of the songs from the original 1980 showtape. They received a standing ovation.
Over the next year, more and 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 ShowBiz locations had once stood.
Expanding to Japan
On January 2, 2016, Johnson Industries announced the formation of a new ShowBiz franchise in Japan, slated to open its first location in March. This franchise was the culmination of several meetings with Japanese investors and correspondances between Tim Johnson and Aaron Fechter regarding options for the animatronic shows.
It was decided that, since the Rock-Afire Explosion was too "American" for Japanese audiences (even though 95% of the country spoke English following Japan's annexation after World War II (THIS IS AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE)), they would be replaced by characters who were more regionally-relevant. According to insiders, it took Andy literally seconds to think up a replacement: Ho-Kago Teatime from the hit anime and manga K-On! It was a match made in Heaven, as K-On! was massively popular, and the series was already on its way to the Johnson Aligned Universe, and could use their voice-changing abilities added in the Johnson version to enable the use of Rock-Afire material, 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 pretty much the same instruments as their Rock-Afire counterparts.
Henceforth, it was decided. For the transition to Japan, 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 (voiced by Shelby Lindley, who occassionally does sing using her own voice due to being a singer), Beach Bear by Yui Hirasawa (voiced by Stephanie Sheh), and Mitzi by Mio Akiyama (voiced by Cristina Valenzuela); Mio presented a bit of a challenge, as 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, and Earl.
The K-On! animatronics are second-generation AnimeTronics, Johnson Industries' proprietary animatronic technology. All animatronics have a massive range of movement, can stand up and sit back down, have over 200 actuators in their faces to simulate facial muscles (though they can't parse their lips; this was done to simulate normal lip flaps in anime), and, starting with the Magic Night showtape in November 2016, can even walk around unassisted, in a disturbingly-realistic manner, thanks to operating on electronics, rather than hydraulics (the rest of the animatronics still use hydraulics). 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 alll music comes from the soundtrack), Yui can actually jump a few inches off the ground while in stand mode, ShowBiz cast members can "speak" to audience members using Johnson's voice-changer technology that makes them sound exactly like their voice actresses, and all four have clothes than are easily removed. The clothes are washed weekly in specifically-labelled washing machines, and during the summer months, the overcoats are removed from the animatronics to simulate their summer uniforms. They also have real hair that is washed nightly using rinse-free shampoo.
In addition to HTT, the band is occassionally joined by Yui's childhood friend, Nodoka Manabe (voiced by 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 Japan's laziness.
During the Magic Night showtape, a storyline was started in which Rolfe was fired from the Japanese franchise after making sexist and racist comments following "Puff the Magic Dragon" when Mio broke down in tears (sharing much of the same backstory as her Johnson Aligned Universe counterpart, sans any kaiju), which led Ritsu to bolt off of center stage (much to the surprise of startled audiences) and run to Stage Right, where the Cyberstar monitors showed her beating the living hell out of Rolfe and Earl egging Ritsu on. Afterwards, Ritsu took Mio backstage to calm her down while Yui and Mugi explained Mio's behavior, before the band reassembled and played "Magic" by Olivia-Newton John, completely forgoing the last segment with "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" (the "Michael Jackson Medley" had been eliminated in this new version of the Magic Night showtape, replaced by the previously-cut "Magic Touch"). Following the incident, all four members of Ho-Kago Teatime went on strike to protest the chauvinistic conditions they were subjected to by Rolfe, and the animatronic show went on hiatus; in its place, older Rock-Afire Explosion Cyberstar segments from the late 1980s were shown. The next released showtape around Thanksgiving revealed Rolfe's termination from the Japanese franchise. He was replaced by Yui's sister, Ui Hirasawa (voiced by Xanthe Hyunh), who still utilized Earl; unlike Rolfe, Ui and Earl actually put together coherent comedy acts, and are very civilized towards each other. In addition, the Ui animatronic is capable of putting down Earl and picking up and playing a rhythm guitar, with Earl upgraded to now be able to function independently by way of an onboard rechargeable battery pack that recharges while he is held by Ui, and while Ui is on designated contact points, explaining why she has metal on the soles of her shoes. Over the course of the showtape, Billy Bob, Looney Bird, Ui, and Earl struggled to keep the show going, trying to find stuff to talk about and songs to sing before the audience walked out. It ended up being the most hilarious showtape CEI had ever produced, as much of it was just Fechter and Hyunh bantering back and forth without a script.
Ho-Kago Teatime returned for the Christmas 2016 showtape, with a new Center Stage setup: Yui was now standing instead of sitting like Beach Bear, and Azusa Nakano (voiced by Christine Marie Cabanos) rejoined the band as rhythm guitarist, now standing between Yui and Mugi. Subsequent showtapes have depicted Rolfe appearing on the Cyberstar monitors, begging to come back, only for Earl to hurl scathing insults his way; during one of these instances, Looney Bird just plain pulled the plug on the monitors. In the June 2017 showtape, it is revealed that Rolfe was innocent, and that Chuck E.'s rival Mike Wolf was masquerading as Rolfe to discredit ShowBiz Pizza Time as a whole and get everyone to go to his restaurant, Banjo Billy's Pizza. After Looney Bird exposes Banjo Billys' wanton plagiarism of Rock-afire Explosion material (not to mention the performers are disgruntled ex-Pizza Time Theatre performers who also committed identity theft by taking the names of Rock-afire band members), Mike Wolf is arrested, and Rolfe's name is cleared. But he chooses not to come back to Japan, stating Ui is a much better comedian than he is. In November 2017, the Magic Night Redux showtape was released, in which the entire tape (including "Everything Little Thing She Does is Magic") went off without a hitch, this time with Azusa and Ui as part of the proceedings.
When asked about the third member of Azusa's little group, Jun Suzuki, Azusa states that Jun (voiced by Michelle Ann Dunphy) was playing gigs with Munch's Make-Believe Band, a setup that was trialled at several smaller ShowBiz locations using the CU-1 Stage alongside Jasper T. Jowls, Helen Henny, Mr. Munch, and Pasqually T. Pieplate (all utilizing latex masks); these tests were about as successful as the original Mini-Stage experiment of the 1980s, and was replaced by a standard 3-Stage setup (as Jun was actually an Azusa animatronic with different cosmetics, her mech was retained for the transition, while the Jasper, Helen, Munch, and Pasqually animatronics, which were surplus Beach Bear, Mitzi, Fatz, and Dook animatronics that Department 18 still held from the Circle of Lights era, were sent back to CEI to regain their old identities in anticipation of ShowBiz's expansion to Canada).
The first Japanese location opened on March 12, 2016.