Interview: ‘Teen Titans Go!’ Showrunners Michael Jelenic & Aaron Horvath – WonderCon 2013

Anyone attempting to reboot a popular franchise knows it’s a tough undertaking. In the animation world, few people currently know it as well Michael Jelenic, half of Teen Titans Go!’s producer/showrunner team. “They hate the show right now but when they see it, they’ll probably hate it a little more. And then they’ll see four episodes and they’ll go, ‘It’s not that bad.’ And in five years, when it’s cancelled, they will love it.” He adds, “The same people who want to punch us in the face will want to save this show one day, I’m confident.”

Jelenic previously co-helmed Cartoon Network’s ThunderCats redux which, like TTG!, was showered with judgment and loathing from old fans before any concrete details were known. That’s probably why he and Aaron Horvath have such a good sense of humor about it. At WonderCon 2013, they exhibited a self-deprecating wit and commitment to exaggeration that I found incredibly endearing while taking a few moments out for sincerity.

“Let me clarify: I am not sure the fans [of the old show] will love it,” Jelenic says. “They love these characters…and if it was up to them, they’d like to see a continuation of Season 6 and we’re not doing that. So they will see what we’re doing, which is completely not what’s expected, and that may rub them the wrong way, at least at first. What I do think is that people who come into the show fresh, [without] expectations of what Teen Titans are or what the show is, they are probably going to think it’s funny because, I’m pretty sure – Would you agree with this? – this is probably the funniest material ever written.”

“Yeah. It’s like top three at least,” replies Horvath, with missing a beat. Jelenic continues, “It’s like Seinfeld, Carol Burnett, and Teen Titans Go!.”

While the episodes will be self-contained, fans will get to see some favorites from the previous show but don’t count on them sticking around. Horvath states, “[C]ertain characters from the old show get pulled in, it might just be for a bit or something because there’s so much stuff to pull from…but we don’t want to hinge things on a character you had to have seen previously because I want it to be inclusive. I want kids to come to the show and if they don’t know who the characters are, I want them to get to know them.”

One of their biggest issues was making sure the quality of the writing stayed high without being repetitive, outside of running gags of course. “We gotta do fifty-two of these, that’s a lot, and Aaron’s very big on not doing ‘lame comedy’ or comedy that we’ve seen before and it’s a lot easier to write lame comedy than funny comedy, I find,” says Jelenic. “Because we’re not trying to do something you’ve seen before, we find ourselves doing weird episodes because that’s something we’ve never seen. You initially want to say, ‘That’s a terrible idea.’ He pitched this episodes about meatballs for…four months and I’m like, ‘I’m not doing an episode about meatballs.’”

Horvath laughs, adding, “It was a joke until it turned into a reality.”
“Well because there was a deadline,” Jelenic retorts. “It’s like, ‘Tell me more about that episode about meatballs.’ But then it turned out [to be] one of my favorite [episodes] even though it sounds completely stupid.”

For more details on the show and talk about face punching, watch the full interview embedded above and enjoy the bonus outtake directly above. And I’ll tell you one thing – I like Jelenic and Horvath. I appreciate their random senses of humor so I’m rooting for Teen Titans Go! and hope it’ll be a success. Even though I desperately want more new episodes of Young Justice.

Teen Titans Go! premieres Tuesday, April 23 at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT on Cartoon Network, with rebroadcasts running in the DC Nation block on Saturday mornings at 10:30 a.m. ET/PT, beginning April 27.

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About Tamara Brooks

A few things I wondered about as a kid: Why didn't Wonder Woman punch more bad guys in the face on the tv show?; How does Superman flying around the Earth turn back time?; Could someone really catch bullets with their teeth?; Why didn't the liquid bits of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man cause 3rd degree burns on whoever it landed on? Because melted marshmallow is up there with molten hot lava.