In turning one of the comic world’s most venerable and long-lived superheroes into a teen icon, Mike Tollin and Brian Robbins say they used lessons learned back in their early days as partners producing Nickelodeon shows such as “All That,” “Kenan & Kel” and “The Amanda Show.”
“There’s an innocence and honesty that’s attendant in doing kids’ programming,” Tollin says. “It was a natural progression from doing shows for pre-teens to teenagers while still capturing a little bit of that awe, a little bit of that wonder looking at things for the first time.”
Robbins, a former actor, says his producing sensibilities can be traced to films such as “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and other ’80s teen vehicles. “For me personally, all those early John Hughes and Cameron Crowe movies were very influential on me. I think we’re tapping into a lot of those same themes in our films and shows.”
But, he adds, their success with teen audiences isn’t so much about their ability to tap into any particular zeitgeist as it is their sense for narrative. “Good stories are good stories, whether teenage stories or adult stories,” says Robbins. “It’s just about telling stories that interest you, or something you can be passionate about.”
Robbins credits “Smallville’s” creative maturity to its solid foundation. “We based the show on Clark Kent being an archetypal hero and imbuing it with all these values set in mid-America. It wasn’t going to be trendy, it wasn’t going to be a faddish show and replace ‘Buffy’ in sensibilities. And I think that’s responsible for some of its staying power — building characters that had a real place to go.”
Having room to grow creatively in unexpected directions is vital to both producers.
“We’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of different things,” Tollin says. “We haven’t been pegged as kids’ guys or teen guys or sports guys — and people have tried. But you can lay a lot of labels on us, which is sort of fun.
“When we came out with ‘Inconceivable’ last year a good friend of mine said, ‘That sounds more like a Harold Robbins show than a Tollin/Robbins show. It has to do with being exposed to good material and good stories. The great news is to have these niches which are your comfort zone that allow you to be a little bolder and branch out to go for whatever it is that gets us excited to go to work every day.”