INTERVIEW: With the Creator and Exec Producer of Nick’s “Welcome To The Wayne” – Animation Scoop

INTERVIEW: With the Creator and Exec Producer of Nick’s “Welcome To The Wayne”

Between the two of them, animation veterans Billy Lopez and Michael Pecoriello have won 4 Emmy Awards. In this light-hearted interview the duo discuss their latest collaboration (Lopez – Creator / Pecoriello – EP) – “Welcome to the Wayne”, which debuts tonight.

Jackson Murphy: So Billy, this was a six-episode web series in 2014. Tell me about the process of getting it to go from being a web series to now this big, half-hour television show.

Billy Lopez: Oh, yes, it did start its life as a web series. And the process was pretty great. We put it out and I guess Nickelodeon, sort of, got a feel for the response to the show, and that put it in the running. So there was still time to see if they would move forward with it. And eventually, when we got the green light, we started developing it in general. I wrote a large, way too talky Bible for the show – which I think probably lowered our chances of getting it approved.

BL: But then, somehow, it made it through. And then, when it was about ready to go into production, Nickelodeon lined me up with Mike as the executive producer. And that’s when things really got started.

Michael Pecoriello: That’s when the Bromance began.

JM: Michael, what did you really see in the show: for its future and its potential? And what makes it a nice fit for the Nickelodeon brand?

MP: That’s a great question. The first thing that I noticed after meeting Billy was, like, “Wow. The digital series was the tip of the iceberg.” And this world – and the possibility of where it can go – is so much bigger than I could’ve ever imagined. So it was super exciting to be a part of, and to help… shape what it was gonna become.

As far as the Nickelodeon brand goes, I’ve worked at Nickelodeon on and off for about 20 years, and the brand is sort of tattooed on my brain. And I always thought from the beginning that “Welcome to the Wayne” was the perfect fit for the Nick brand because it really does see the world through the eyes of kids. And it comes from the POV of kids. The fact that our heroes are kids and that in the world of the Wayne, it’s very special to be a kid – and kids are able to see things, in many cases, that adults can’t see. So it’s very kid-centric.

And also the characters themselves, I think, they’re playing. They’re saving the world, and they’re investigating, and they’re doing super-important stuff. But they’re also playing. Their tech is a part made from toys, and their adventures are sort of like rollercoaster rides.

JM: The kids are Ansi, Olly and Saraline. I would say they’re like junior PIs. They’re like the modern versions of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Did you guys kind of have that in your heads?

BL: (laughs) That’s so funny. You know, Mike and I… I don’t… (to Mike) Have you ever seen or ever read either of them?

MP: I unfortunately have not. I know of them. I did not read the series. I think that Sean Cassidy was in the TV series.

BL: I know the name, but…

MP: No, I’m not that familiar with it.

BL: I wasn’t familiar with them, either. I think in general, it is sort of… a trope. You have these kid investigators, essentially. And for me, the… overall appeal of that kind of a set-up is: when you’re a kid, at least for me, the idea of having responsibilities, like an adult has (like a job where people depend on you), that kind of thing is really exciting and appealing. And you want to imitate that in your play. You want to imitate work in your play. So putting there kids into a fantasy where they’re in charge of keeping this building safe and investigating its strange phenomena I think is part of the excitement of that set-up.

MP: And just to sort of throw in there, as far as comparing it to other things, I was saying this to Billy earlier today, it’s almost its own genre because we’re doing so many things at once. It’s got this dense, “30 Rock”-style comedy and banter back and forth. It’s got the pacing of like a “SpongeBob” or a “Loud House”, this 11-minute animated cart [short for ‘cartoon’]. It’s got enough world, building and lure, as “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars”.

BL: Combined! (laughs)

MP: Combined! Bigger. Bigger. Bigger than “Star Wars”! It’s gonna be bigger than “Star Wars”! (laughs) But yeah, it’s got the serialized mystery of, like, “Lost” or “24”. So it’s so many things at once.

JM: Wow. Yeah. And anytime I hear someone say “24”, I always wanna hear the clock going, “Tick. Tick. Tick.” And Billy, you voice Olly. The brother and sister dynamic of Olly and Saraline – they really get along with each other most of the time. That’s kind of rare these days on TV.

BL: I really like them. I like writing for them a lot. Saraline, she’s, in a sense, you’ve seen some of these characteristics before. She’s the younger sibling. But she’s much smarter and more mature than her brother. In the sense that they are brother and sister in a lot of ways that he can still give advice and help her through her childhood years a little bit more because he’s been there, albeit only a few years ago. But then you also have this dynamic where she’s basically his boss sending him on all of these life-threatening missions all the time. While they get along, she can definitely make Olly fall in line, I think, with a snap of her fingers.

JM: So you guys were saying that there’s a lot going on with this Wayne Phenomena. You have monsters. You have spies. Tell me about some of the supporting characters and some of the evil characters the kids will be running into.

BL: Oh, boy. This is really exciting.

MP: So, yeah. There’s the main adversary of the kids, who’s the Spy from Apt. 8I, and a lot of the stuff they have to deal with comes from her. But the great thing is that because they’re in this building that’s so magical – that has so many different phenomena – we were able to create these standalone stories where sometimes they’re facing something that has nothing to do with the spy. And it really allows us, I think, to be both serialized and standalone at the same time because there’s so many things that could stand in their way. And there’s so many so many things to investigate and figure out.

BL: That’s true. The spy and her cronies, more or less, have the agenda to… take over the Wayne and exploit all of the different creatures and phenomena that exist there, whereas our protagonists want to protect the place and residence in it and all of the different creatures themselves. They’re much more about exploration and investigation than they are about monster-busting or anything like that. So they encounter a pretty wide variety of – It’s not just “Monster of the Week” kind of things, where they’re always fighting a new monster. They often work together with these creatures or… there’s often intrigue between the three different factions: the Wayne Phenomena, the spy and then the kids.

JM: And the kids are all trying to get this done before dinnertime. When you guys were growing up, what did you do after school and before dinner – in that in between time?

BL: Oh my God. Well, you know, depending on what growing-up means, I might not be able to answer that question on air. But just in general, I played a lot of video games and read a lot of books. (laughs) That was me – when I wasn’t hanging out with my neighborhood friends. That was sort of how I liked to spend my time. I was kind of quiet.

MP: And I watched a ton of television. I was definitely raised on television – didn’t have many rules about how much screen time the way I do with my kids now. And I definitely grew-up taking-in everything from He-Man to The Smurfs to wrestling to sitcoms to “The Twilight Zone”. So I was definitely a big TV kid – and then also a big nerd who made movies in my basement with my friends on an old black-and-white video camera. (laughs). No sports for Billy and I.

BL: Oh, yeah. There you go. You may notice nobody was playing any sports.

JM: (laughs) Now, Michael, you are an Emmy-winner for Nickelodeon. Billy, you are a three-time Emmy winner for music, including…

BL: I am three times better than Mike.

MP: Ha Ha! But I’m gonna win four this year!

BL: Ha Ha!

JM: That’s the goal! Yes! Go ahead! Billy, you won for music for “Wonder Pets” and “Peg + Cat”. You do the theme song for “Welcome to the Wayne”. How important was it to create this theme song?

BL: Oh, it was super important. It was actually funny. When they were pairing me up with Mike to see how we worked together, the theme song was so important to me – the first question I asked him was about the theme song. I said, “I wanna co-compose it with so-and-so person and have it sound like this. What would you say about that?” And he said, “Well, we’ll try to get it done. That sounds great.”

MP: I said, “Hire Me.”

BL: (laughs) From back then, it was a dream, and getting the chance to write the lyrics and get to work with our really, really talented composers has been a lot of fun. I’m really proud of what we were able to get done.

JM: You guys were talking about a love of books. One of the great things you do in the first episode of “Welcome to the Wayne” is you take Ansi to the library in the Wayne. I think it’s very cool to bring the idea of libraries existing to a young generation.

BL: (laughs) Thank you. Thank you so much. The idea of this special library they encounter called The Stanza was sort of a part of the lure for a long time. But it was actually a bit of a surprise when we were writing the first episode – we weren’t sure we were gonna arrive there so quickly. So I’m glad it worked for you and appealed to you because it was out of left field for us.

MP: And it’s interesting that you picked-up on that because I think in general with this show, one of the things it does so great is it takes things like a library, a laundry room, a post office – things where you wouldn’t typically put a kids adventure. But what it does is it flips on its head what those things are, and it’s so much fun to think about, “What could something ordinary become in the Wayne?” And a post office in the Wayne is run by robots and has conveyor belts everywhere and has a secret backstory to it. And the laundry room leads to this area where a Pharaoh, who’s a washing machine, leads his subjects to pipes, living pipes. So it’s just this crazy, quirky, extraordinary world that comes from these ordinary things that kids know, but never thought about this way.

BL: I think it’s kind of like what kids imagine when they’re not paying attention to the person who’s talking. They’re kind of zoning out in class – and you start imagining, “What if a lizard was crawling on the ceiling?” It’s that kind of that daydream fantasy that fuels some of the imagery that we have on the show.

JM: Over the course of the first episode, you get a nice theme and message – a great takeaway. There’s a line Professor Bishop, one of the characters, says to Saraline: “You’re just a kid.” But really, you learn throughout the episode, and hopefully throughout the series, that anyone of any age can be a hero.

BL: Yes. I’m really glad you took up on that and took that away from it. Kid empowerment is a big thing for us and for Nickelodeon in general. So we definitely wanted to incorporate a lot of that into the show.

JM: Wonderful. So I guess the last thing I’ll ask is that when people think of the Wayne, they tend to think of Bruce Wayne and Batman. Are there are any similarities to the Wayne mansion or anything involving Batman in your show?

BL: That’s a really good question. I would leave it up to viewers to see if they find that. I’ll say that there isn’t anything intentional. But obviously once I came up with the name, I realized, “Well, that’s a pretty famous name in comic books and here and there.” But it still felt like the right name. It still roles of the tongue. And I couldn’t think of a name that describes in, sort of, for whatever reason, onomatopoeic fashion, captured the vibe of the place than the Wayne. So that’s one reason why we went with it.

MP: But we wanna hear everyone’s theories about everything. We both can’t wait for fans to come-up with their own theories and ideas about what’s going on and why things are named what they’re named. And it’s gonna be really fun when this premieres and people watch it and a conversation starts about it.

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy is a movie critic and entertainment columnist. He is the creator of the website, and has made numerous appearances on television and radio.
Jackson Murphy
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