Kevin Smith discusses his new AMC reality series 'Comic Book Men'
This post has been corrected. See the note at bottom for details.
“Never in a million years did I imagine I’d have my friends on TV.” So said an animated Kevin Smith, draped in his signature blue and orange hockey jersey. The indie filmmaker has long featured characters inspired by his pals in movies such “Clerks” and “Mallrats.” Now he is getting the real versions on camera for his new AMC reality series, “Comic Book Men.”
“They didn’t even want to be on TV,” Smith said. “They’re all worried about being the next Snooki or that they’ll be asked to appear on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ down the line.”
“Comic Book Men” is set to launch Feb. 12 in a slot after “The Walking Dead,” AMC’s ratings blockbuster. While promoting the show at the recent Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena, Smith offered lengthy proclamations about how “super stoked” he was for the show’s upcoming premiere — so stoked that his use of colorful, not-fit-for-print language made for a tricky situation.
The six-episode series is set in Smith’s real-life comic book store — Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Red Bank, N.J. — which he’s owned since 1997. It features his pals, real-life comic book nerds Walter (the shop manager and the inspiration for Brodie in “Mallrats”), Bryan (the resident slacker and inspiration for Randall in “Clerks”), Mike (the “super nerd”) and Ming (the “whipping boy”). Podcasting helps shape the storytelling as the guys sit around a table, filling in Smith on what’s been happening in the store.
“In most reality shows there’s a lot of confessionals, like, “I was mad at this [...] for eating my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich,” Smith said. But the podcast enables them to discuss potential transactions — “Like trying to sell the ‘Six Million Dollar Man.’ And it’s oddly compelling. You find yourself yelling at the screen and saying, ‘$75 is too much!’ It’s like ‘Antiques Roadshow’…”
“Comic-book dudes, it’s such a well-known stereotype at this point,” he said. “I mean, we’ve had like more than 20 years of ‘Comic Book Guy’ from ‘The Simpsons.’ Let’s up the ratio on TV.”
The show is uncharted territory for the cable channel too — the first reality series on a network that has distinguished itself as a destination for critically acclaimed scripted programs such as “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.”
“The fact that it’s AMC is like [...] insane credibility. I’m coming up on 20 years into my career, and the older you get the less cool you are. So it’s nice to be able to say, ‘Oh, hey, did I mention I have an AMC show?’”
Consider it mentioned. But what’s in it for AMC — will having real comic-book geeks standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Don Draper and Walter White dilute the brand so diligently crafted by the network?
Smith does worry about being iceberg to AMC’s ship: “You don’t want to ruin the curve. You don’t want to be the minus among all the pluses. The nice thing is that they stay so involved.... They weren’t just like, ‘Hey, go make a show.’ We handed in the first pilot, and they were like, ‘It’s good, but it’s not it.’ That was refreshing. I feel like we’ve had our hands held through the process. The show that they are going to air is the exact show that they wanted to see.”
That might mean the addition of a female comic-book geek down the line, should the show get renewed. Even before it hits the air, “Comic Book Men” has received criticism over the lack of XX representation. According to Smith, the network originally wanted a woman in the mix. “Auditions” were held to find customers to feature in the show and a woman to work at the shop. They found a possibility for the latter, but she was put on hold.
“We sent in a version of the show with a woman,” Smith said. “AMC saw it, they greenlit the show, but one of their first notes was, ‘Let’s save the girl for Season 2. They said it would give us somewhere to go.”
Is that not a little contrived for a reality show about a bunch of regular guys from New Jersey?
Smith shrugged it off: “It’s no more weird than saying the kids from ‘Jersey Shore’ are going to Italy and South Africa and wherever the […] else they go.”
[FOR THE RECORD, 11:27 a.m., Jan. 26: An earlier version of this post identified Bryan as Brian and Brodie as Roadie.]
-- Yvonne Villarreal
Photo: Kevin Smith and the employees of his Secret Stash store in Red Bank, N.J. during production of "Comic Book Men." Credit: David M. Russell/AMC.