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NYCC 2012 Exclusive: Producers Jeff Kline and Duane Capizzi On The Hub’s ‘Transformers Prime’ Marathon, Plus Sneak Peeks

We’ve got something big for you today… Not only do we have some sneak peeks at this Saturday’s episode of Transformers: Prime, but we can exclusively announce that leading up to the Season Finale, The Hub will be running every episode of the show, ever, in a row. Here’s the info:

Starting November 1 – for the first time ever – The Hub will be broadcasting nothing but TRANSFORMERS PRIME episodes (every episode from the first two seasons)! The Hub has never dedicated this many consecutive hours to any other show! All 52 episodes that have been telecast thus far will culminate with the Season Two Finale which will forever change the “Transformers Prime” universe. It all starts at 5:30 pm EST on Thurs, Nov. 1st and ends with the Season 2 Finale at 7 pm EST on Fri, Nov. 2nd.

And if you thought that was it? Nope. Though they’ll be live and in person later today at the Transformers Prime panel at New York Comic Con, we got a chance to chat with Executive Producer Jeff Kline (“Transformers Rescue Bots,” “Men in Black: The Animated Series”) and Co-Executive Producer Duane Capizzi (“The Batman,” “Superman: Doomsday”) about, well, everything… From Season 1, to Season 2, and beyond:

MTV Geek: So getting this mega-marathon is a pretty big deal… For you guys, what does this mean, and how has the fanbase for the show grown over these two seasons and a mini-series?

Jeff Kline: For those of us who tend to be a little narrow-focused while making the series, the marathon is a nice reminder of just how supportive the fan base — and The Hub — has been from the get-go. And that too much bot-on-bot action is never enough!!!

Geek: Are you going to camp out and watch the episodes, too? Or, I imagine you’ve watched them enough times that would drive you a little nuts?

Duane Capizzi: The idea of getting into my Bumblebee jammies to watch the marathon is both exciting and daunting. But just when I think I can’t muster the strength to rewatch an episode yet again, it’ll happen to be on and always sucks me right back in. We’re really proud of this show.

Geek: Talk a little bit about the development of the show… When you started off, I know you put together a bible, right? How much was planned out, and how much has changed?

JK: It doesn’t matter whether you’re working in drama or comedy… Live-action or animation, you always burn through story much faster than anticipated or desired. We tend to arc-out three years worth of major beats at the beginning… But, if that actually lasts us through the middle of season two, we do cartwheels.

DC: The nuts and bolts were there from the beginning, the key character relationships and such. And we had a basic sense of each of the season arcs from the get go. But of course the deeper we got into our storyline, the more the characters would surprise us. And being taskmasters that we are, we wouldn’t let the characters off easy.

Geek: For each individual season, there’s an arc of course, but I imagine also a theme, if you will… What, for you, is the arc of the series, and what are the individual themes you’ve wanted to explore?

JK: I think, for me, the overall “theme” of the series has to do with the universal need to find or forge a family and a home. We asked a lot of questions at the outset: what if you couldn’t go home again? What if you had to make a life for yourself in a foreign land (or on a foreign planet) where you were forced to “disguise” yourself not just from those who are hunting you (Decepticons), but from those who might destroy anything they don’t understand (humanity)? What if you were badly outnumbered and technologically outmatched? And yet, what if you were so inherently “heroic,” that you couldn’t help but risk your own lives — and the very future of your race — to try to save a planet that (officially) doesn’t even acknowledge your existence? Obviously, there are parallels throughout human history for what our “primes” deal with each week. And if I’d paid more attention in “world history” class, I could probably quote you a few examples…

DC: It’s a big story, so we’re exploring epic themes: war, peace, revenge, redemption, friendship, betrayal. To tell you the arc of the series might give some things away — things that will come into more focus over the course of the remaining season 2 episodes and feed into our equally epic (if not even more so, if you can believe it) season 3.

Geek: Was there a character that popped in a way you weren’t expecting? Or a storyline that didn’t quite work out the way you expected?

JK: When the characters are “working”… When they’re multi-dimensional and recognizably flawed… You’re constantly surprised by where they might go. Quite honestly, that’s one of the joys of writing for television — the ability to adjust story on-the-fly to reflect the growth and change “happening” to your creations.

More specifically, once we cast Jeffrey Combs as Ratchet, and began to write toward his particular (and unique) voice, that character really “popped” for me. He became our “Bones Mccoy,” and/or every cantankerous (but soft-centered) uncle I ever rolled my eyes at.

DC: Well, a lot of those surprises occurred during the casting process, and the recording of our first episodes. Kudos to our amazing cast for bringing these characters to life in ways we never dreamed. Without naming names, I think with the help of our voice talent, we’ve redefined some of these characters for generations to come.

As for storylines, we’ve spoken in the past about how “partners” was originally intended to be Wheeljack’s “comeback” episode in season one — then mysteriously morphed into one of our greatest Starscream episodes and the first culmination of Arcee’s “dual” revenge arc (tailgate and Cliffjumper).

Similarly, season 2’s “Crossfire” stands out as an episode that didn’t find itself until the eleventh hour. We all went into the writers’ room on that one deciding it couldn’t be anything more than a “bridge” episode — we had so many different character arcs to set in place for what was coming next. But as much as we like every episode to feed into the greater whole, we also like them to stand alone. The parallel moment of Optimus finally deciding that he cannot afford to show Megatron mercy, contrasted with Starscream who unexpectedly shows mercy to Arcee (albeit for his own arrogant reasons) was something that came together at the very end and helped elevate the episode to a season standout.

I should take a moment for a shout out to our terrific writing staff Marsha Griffin and Steven Melching this season, as well as our episodic writers including Marty Isenberg (writer of ’Crossfire’) and writer/writing assistant/wearer of many hats, Mairghread Scott.

And especially our executive producer and mega-goalie Jeff Kline who allows nothing sub-standard to get past him (he’s probably shaking his head as he reads this, “Capizzi mangled yet another sports reference”).

Geek: This is a pretty general question, but why do you think the idea of Transformers is so enduring? What’s appealing about the franchise to you?

DC: At its most elemental, look out into the street: automobiles everywhere. Any one of them could be a robot in disguise. For us, it was an opportunity to deepen the characters and tell a compelling story. I for one think we’ve succeeded, hopefully ’prime’ will endure.

JK: Bad-ass cars that turn into alien robots. ’Nuff said.

Geek: One thing that makes this iteration of T-formers unique is your willingness to really change things… Was there any resistance to this? Or were you able to just go for it with gusto?

JK: We tried very hard not to contradict previous TF mythology, but — obviously — we wanted and needed to add to the lore to create “Prime.” Aaron Archer and the other folks at Hasbro were understandably nervous at the earliest stages, but once they realized that we were just as protective of this world as they are, they were game for nearly everything we threw at them.

DC: Did we really change that much? I’m not so sure. We wanted to give this generation their version of Transformers, updated and with a new attitude. I’ll stick with the automotive allusions and say we gave things a “tune up” as we went along. I wouldn’t say “resistance,” but Aaron Archer and the good folks on his team (back at Hasbro Rhode Island) would step in and “correct” things if we strayed too far off course in the lore department.

Geek: Bouncing off that, ‘Prime’ almost seems on par with a network, serial TV show, rather than a goofy kids cartoon… Was there anything in particular you were inspired by?

JK: Bob, Alex, Duane, and I all came into this series with various levels of prime-time and feature experience, and a strongly-held belief that there is never a reason to talk down to your audience. Happily, Hasbro and the hub felt the same way. I truly believe that nearly everyone in television wants to do the best, smartest work they possibly can. A series rarely tanks because the creative stewards didn’t care, or set out to disappoint. But, amidst the time constraints and the budgetary pressures and conflicting agendas, “bad” can and does happen. You can never be certain that what you’re doing will work and/or find an audience; obviously, “Prime” has been very, very fortunate on both counts.

DC: Speaking for myself, Jack Kirby’s Marvel work, The Sopranos, Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates were among many touchstones. I know the latter two may seem like strange choices, but one thing I learned from The Sopranos was to defy audience expectation but still satisfy– and from Terry, getting the most out of working with a limited cast of core characters (not to mention sets — a necessary challenge of working in cg on a television budget). But in all honesty, we didn’t set out to create something “dark” or “adult.” most great entertainment appeals to both kids and adults, families, and we think ’Prime’ has just the right balance of tones to satisfy everyone. The “macguffins” and scavenger hunts are simply a spine to hang the deeper dramatic stuff on, any given episode is never simply about that “relic of the week.”

Geek: Okay, so this marathon is all leading up to the Season Two finale… What can we expect? Any teases?

DC: Ummm, we don’t like spoilers. But I will say that every remaining episode — much like last week’s ’Hard Knocks’ — will contain a major game-changer. Oh, and some of the most clever and most inventive “set pieces” we’ve mounted to date (no fewer than two in next week’s episode #23). Well, consider yourself teased then.

Geek: And what about Season Three? You have fewer episodes than the previous two seasons… Why is that? And what does that do for your storytelling?

DC: Season 3 delivers. You will laugh, you will cry … I’m not going to say anything specific about what’s going to happen in season 3 but just know that you definitely haven’t seen the last of your favorite characters from Transformers Prime.

Geek: Overall, where are we now in the long-range story of Transformers: Prime?

DC: It’s a serial, as you’ve said; which means it’s one big epic event. Which means we are currently approaching the end of “act two” in the big picture.

Geek: Any final words for fans? Or teases for what we’re going to see at your NYCC panel?

DC: If you like what you’ve seen so far, keep watching and you won’t be disappointed. You know I’m not gonna tease anything, and that’s kind of an obvious statement to make. But hey, it’s true!

JK: Yes, we have a never-before-seen clip. ’Cuz we’d much rather watch something cool than hear ourselves talk!

…And speaking of “never before seen clips,” here’s a scene from this week’s episode, as well as a little info on what you can expect:

Episode 223 “Inside Job”

Logline: When the Decepticons take him captive, Smokescreen learns of the location of the final Omega Key – and attempts to retrieve all of the other stolen keys from Megatron.

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