In this edition of THE INTERVUE, let me ask you a question, What was your favorite toy growing up? If you know and even if you don’t, set your TV schedule for tonight as the hit Netflix docuseries The Toys That Made Us is back for its third season. Its a nostalgic deep dive into the legendary toys, action figures, and figurines that help shaped America’s childhoods.
This season will tell the stories of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, My Little Pony, Wrestling and my favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Here with me to talk about the series is the creator of this wonderful series, Brian Volk-Weiss.
How in the world did you come up with the idea for TTTMU?
It’s funny, man. I don’t remember anymore why but for some reason about nine years ago, I was at if you remember Borders Books and I was trying to figure or learn what the origins of Transformers were and there was not a single book in the entire bookstore about Transformers. No books about G.I. Joe. There was like one book about Star Wars toys and like nothing else. I just remember being like, “Why is there a shelf with a thousand books about the War of 1812 but not a single book about Transformers?”
It took me seven years or more to sell it to Netflix but that was the origin of me being the “this should be a show about toys”
Yes, there is and By Jove, we have it. Twelve episodes in three seasons so far and I need to know what was your favorite toy you had growing up?
Star Wars, everything Star Wars. To me, Star Wars fits into its own category. I saw it when I was young enough that basically from the minute I saw it up until the time I got to L.A., I wanted to be in the movie business and direct and whatever.
I have to dig further, is there an action figure or playset that you really enjoyed from the Star Wars line?
It’s a cliched answer but its the Millennium Falcon. I chewed my fingernails and my mom made a deal with me that if I stopped, she would buy me the Millennium Falcon. So, that’s how I got the Millennium Falcon. I don’t think that there is a consumer product and I even include a million-dollar Lamborghini, I don’t think there is anything that anybody could give me today that gives me even 1% of the euphoria that I experience when I actually got that Millennium Falcon.
My favorite toy growing up was a My Buddy doll, his name was Tom. He went with me everywhere like the song goes “Wherever I go, he goes.” I had up for many years up until my ex-wife made me get rid of him. I am also a Star Trek fan and I am glad that you had Star Trek at the start of the 2nd Season. How did you decide which toy line that you wanted to cover each season?
So I kind of had it in my head this unofficial three rules. Rule #1: Did the line had at least one character that if there were a Mount Rushmore of Toys, they could be on that Mt. Rushmore of Toys. Like my wife, for example, she doesn’t know anything about Transformers but she can, onsite, identify Optimus Prime. So, I wanted to have every line have at least one character like that.
The second rule is that I wanted the toy, and I only broke this rule once and it was with He-Man, to go into production and never stop. So it was important to me to have at least two generations of toy lovers not three or four. Star Wars, like the fourth generation now, is starting to play with Star Wars toys. I didn’t want a one-hit-wonder. People asked “Why didn’t you do M.A.S.K.?” and I’m like M.A.S.K. was on for two years and no one knows what the hell it is. Personally, I love M.A.S.K. and I had the M.A.S.K. toys.
The third rule is that I wanted every episode needed to have a story. There are some toys that went on sale, you know, somebody created the toy, it went on sale and then it was a hit. It’s a great hit but there is no story. In order to dedicate an hour’s of viewer’s time, you need the twists and turns. You can’t just have the ups, you got to have the downs as well. So some toys were disqualified because they weren’t very interesting.
I have to agree with you. Backpedaling a bit about the three rules that you mentioned earlier, what was the reason that you broke the rules with He-Man?
It’s funny that you asked that. It’s an interesting story because I was never into He-Man and I didn’t want to do He-Man. I hired a showrunner for Season 1 & 2 who had no interest in toys. One of my strategies is that you need to have an outsider to make a show because they will appreciate the nuance of that topic and I did not want to make a toy show that only works for toy collectors. I wanted to make the show for everybody.
So I hired this great guy named Tom Stern. he came to me one day and he was like “Hey man, we been doing all this research and I think that we really got to do He-Man.” I told him that I really don’t want to He-Man. Then he came back to me again, who doesn’t give a shit about toys and he wants to do He-Man but there better be something about this because I bet you there’s something really interesting about He-Man. So I walked out of his office and asked: “Tom, why are you so interested in He-Man?” He sat there for five to ten minutes and gives me this story and then I said “Let’s do He-Man”
There are so many toy lines that have spanned generations. Why are there only four episodes in a season?
I don’t know if you know but we did a spin-off called The Movies That Made Us which is coming out at the end of this month on the 29th.
I did not know that!
Yes, it is the first spin-off in Netflix’s history I believe. So we did pick-up eight The BLANK that made us before it was the toys and the movies.
What kind of research goes into each of the episodes? They are so brilliantly done that by the time I finished the episode, I feel like I know the whole story of each of these exciting toys that I have seen or played within my childhood.
First of all, thank you for saying that. It’s very nice of you but the answer to your question is a lot, a lot of research. So what we do is once we place a topic, we find between fifteen and fifty people who were involved with the topic, being a toy or a movie or whatever. Then we start doing pre-interviews in which we audio record that we just ask a lot of questions. The pre-interview becomes a transcript that our story producers go through. Then, of those fifty pre-interviews, we cut it down to thirty interviews to do for video, usually on Skype. So we ask them the same questions but also new questions. By the time we interviewed a person, it’s for their third interview for the most part.
Now only you conduct the interviews with the people but you actually show the toys of the toy lines. For example, the TMNT in the new season, seeing those toys take me back to that first generation of the Turtles action figures and I played with them. Did you have to put out a call for collectors or fans of each of those toys to see toys in pristine condition for the show?
Yes, we always do that. Sometimes we know the right people. For like, Star Wars and G.I. Joe, we knew the people to call so that was easy enough to do any research. For most of them, we do have to use our network and find the right people.
Let’s jump into the third season starting today. Tell us about the toys you are about to drop on us this time around.
We got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, My Little Pony and Wrestling toys.
I know there are many fans who love your series. Is there a toy line that many fans requested to see on your show one day?
The number one request we get is Ghostbusters. We get those requests daily. We would do Hot Wheels. We would do Super Powers and Batman. We would do D&D. A weird one but its not that weird, you have to think about it, Nerf. It has such a great story and it has kept going non-stop. It’s always in the top three biggest sellers.
Check out The Toys That Made Us and RELIVE your childhood. All episodes – NOW AVAILABLE in SEASON THREE on Netflix!