Teen Titans Go hit 100 episodes faster than a little birdy could summon a team of Robins.
In the comic community, the show has its supporters (there’s even a Tumblr in defense of the show) and critics who fail to let go of the original Teen Titans series, which ran on Cartoon Network from 2003 to 2006. What comic fans can’t deny is that the show is a runaway ratings hit amongst kids (and this Den of Geek writer who should probably get back to reviewing more serious works of television) since debuting in 2013.
Despite sharing a cast, Teen Titans Go is in no way a direct continuation of the highly regarded Teen Titans. The light reboot from producers Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath uses every inch of the color wheel in its cheeky animation, giving Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Raven and Beast Boy a world where they can put aside crime fighting to debate whether burritos or burgers are the best food ever (Beast Boy is correct in backing burritos and everyone else is wrong).
As of July 3rd, Teen Titans Go will be sitting on the century mark, an ideal milestone for us to chat with series producer Michael Jelenic about how far the show has come in two seasons and where it can go from here.
Den of Geek: So how does it feel to be almost 1/5th of the way to The Simpsons?
Michael Jelenic: These are 11s [minute episodes] to be fair to The Simpsons. It’s going to take a long time to match their output, but we’re trying!
Even though you’re making 11-minute episodes, it has to be mind-boggling when you get an episode order of 50-plus. Is it daunting for you to have to come up with 50 storylines in a season?
It’s daunting and it’s sort of also liberating at the same time. So we just came up with 50 story ideas and then all of a sudden we have another season on top of it and we have to do it again. It’s a little bit scary and we have to produce these scripts every week and we’ve been doing it at that pace for three years now, which is tough to do. But at the same time, being given all these episodes and slots to fill, we sort of feel we can take more risks.
I’ve worked on shows where we’ve had 13-episode orders and each one of those you have to be thoughtful about the stories you pick. When you have 150 episodes you have to do, it can be less thoughtful, but I think you’re more willing to take risks and try things that you wouldn’t have done if the episode order were smaller. I think everyone sort of understands that. We have more pretty good leeway about what everyone allows us to do, so I think that’s why we get to do some pretty weird stuff.
So is this close to the South Park method of production where you’re doing the script and producing the episode within a week?
Well not exactly. South Park animates it also in a week and we have a nine-month animation process so they have a crazy schedule for 10 weeks and they’re done. We’re constantly churning this stuff out. The scripts have to pretty much be written once per week. It’s a traditional animation schedule.
100 episodes is a tremendous achievement. What can you tease about the episode?
It’s actually one of my favorite episodes. It’s a high-concept episode in that we try to do something a little different. Raven sort of gets annoyed about how noisy the other Titans are so she makes a deal with a magical entity to remove sound from the world. There’s 30 seconds of animation that has zero sound to it. It’s kind of jarring when you’re watching something with no sound. I don’t think people realize how weird that feels. The rest of the story is the Titans figuring out they can make their own sounds now. They replace all the sounds in the world, whether it’s a door opening or a door closing or a microwave oven or a punch to the face, all the sounds are by them, like that guy in Police Academy who makes sounds for everything. On top of that, all the music is sung by them in an acapella way. It’s pretty absurd by the end of the episode.
I’m wondering how the kids watching will respond to 30 seconds of silence. That’s a lot of time for an 11-minute show.
30 seconds doesn’t seem like a lot. It might even be just 15 seconds. I’m not sure. But when you don’t have any sound it feels like a lot longer than it actually is. We suspect people are going to grab their remotes and turn up the TV really loud thinking something is wrong with the TV and when the sound comes back in it’s going to blast them. I think we do it in a fun way. We do ideas that you wouldn’t necessarily think are kid friendly at first, but we always try to execute them in a way that kids are going to get a kick out of.
It’s not too often where a show debuts and seemlessly propels to the top of the ratings. Has the immediate success of the show taken you by surprise?
It’s definitely a surprise. I don’t think anyone expected it to pop the way it did. Cartoon Network deserves a lot of credit just because they’ve done such a great job promoting the show. I know a lot of people complain that they air it constantly. The awareness of the show is pretty good. Part of our success is the pace that we produce episodes. We’re able to provide episodes every week for Cartoon Network and give kids something to tune into. Other shows are at a slower pace, there are big gaps in their programming. It’s fun to have the most popular kids show, although I wait for it to turn around and become a huge failure again [laughs].
Beyond the wackiness of the Teen Titans Go, what makes these characters relatable for kids? Why do they keep coming back?
All the characters have a great energy to them. I think kids really respond to energy and the characters reflect that. These are people you want to spend time with as a kid. I think they’re being silly, it’s not a way you’ve seen superheroes portrayed before. A lot of people that were critics of the show hate the fact that we get so silly with these revered characters but at the same time kids appreciate that. They can see that they have something in common with Robin or Cyborg or whoever it is.
The Young Justice crossover was a fun ode to the critics of the show. Is there anything like that planned for season three?
We have some fun things coming up. We have an episode where the Titans have to save the Justice League. We’re not necessarily going to see the Justice League, but we’re going to see the Titans go into that Justice League world where they encounter the Hall of Justice. There’s going to be a little dress up where the Titans put on the costumes of the various Justice Leaguers and play the part of these characters. That’s going to be a lot of fun in season three.
Nickelodeon in the late 90s and 2000s used the popularity of their cartoons to spinoff movie franchises, is that something openly discussed at Cartoon Network or is it a bit too early to get into that?
There are no plans right now for a movie, but I think if the show continues to be as successful as it’s been, that’s something they’ll have to consider. I’d love to see a theatrical release with these characters. If we did something like that we’d have a lot more money and more time to do stuff we can’t necessarily do on the series. Just for that, I’d love to get the opportunity. To put it to live action or CGI or whatever, would be a lot of fun.