Even if he’d left the world of show business behind after hitting his twenties, Christian Jacobs would still deserve a certain amount of respect from pop-culture obsessives, having acted his way through his childhood and teenage years, serving as a regular on the “All in the Family” spin-off “Gloria” (he played Gloria Bunker Stivic’s son, Joey), making one-off appearances in episodes of “V,” “Married…with Children,” and “Roseanne,” and turning up in such films as “Gleaming the Cube” and, most notably, “Pretty in Pink,” where he plays the kid in the record store who Annie Potts’ character comes within half an inch of hitting in the eye with a staple. In the ’90s, however, Jacobs shifted careers, focusing on music and eventually helping to found a rather colorful band known as…The Aquabats!
Music alone couldn’t keep the coffers filled, alas, which forced the Aquabats into second position in favor of a gig that actually paid the bills with more regularity, so Jacobs returned to TV, this time working behind the scenes. In doing so, he was responsible for co-creating one of the most successful kids shows in recent years: “Yo Gabba Gabba!” Flush with the excitement that success brings, Jacobs and company have used a combination of creativity and show-biz connections to simultaneously kick-start a new series for the youth of today and fulfill a dream.
Ladies and gentlemen: The Aquabats! Super Show!
Bullz-Eye: Having seen the first two episodes of “The Aquabats! Super Show!,” it seems safe to suggest that Sid and Marty Krofft have been a major influence on you guys.
Christian Jacobs: [Laughs.] Definitely! I’m glad you caught that point of reference, for sure.
BE: So what are the origins of this “Super Show”? Was the idea of doing an Aquabats TV series always in the back of your mind, or was this a recent development?
CJ: No, it’s always been there, really. I mean, you know, it’s one of those things where…we started the band in ’94, and at the same time, I was doing video production, making music videos and skateboard videos, so I was in production already. And I grew up working in television as well, so we started the band, just for goofing around, but pretty much within a year I was, like, “This could be an amazing kids show! We could incorporate all those fun things we used to watch that were weird and trippy and action-packed…” We were influenced by shows from Japan, too. Those were there right away. So we started to incorporate them into the band, and from there we immediately set out to try and start a TV show…and this was, like, ’95 or ’96. [Laughs.] So it’s taken some time to finally happen, but it was one of those things where, right away, we were telling people, “We’re gonna make a TV show!” And it started to feel a little bit like that book The Carrot Seed, where there’s the little kid and no one believes the carrot’s gonna grow, but the kid does, and he knows the carrot’s gonna come up at some point. I feel like that was us a little bit. It was just up to us to stick it out and keep trying and keep trying and keep trying. But, yeah, it was definitely something that we always wanted to do.
BE: When did it first look like it was going to become a reality? Certainly the success of “Yo Gabba Gabba!” couldn’t have hurt.
CJ: Well, I think that’s what finally took us over the hill. But back in ’98, you know, we did a pilot for this studio, and then in ’99 or 2000, we did another development deal with a different studio, and…it was one setback and weird thing after another. And then we had pitched it to all of the networks by 2002 or 2003 – we pretty much ran the table, so to speak – and no one was biting, so it just seemed like a dead project. But in the back of our minds, we were, like, “I know this can still be a great kids show, but let’s focus on something else.” And that’s when we came up with a bunch of ideas, and one of those ideas was “Yo Gabba Gabba!” And just from pitching the Aquabats so much around the industry, we had some contacts, so we started pitching “Yo Gabba Gabba!,” and we immediately realized that we were going to run into the same problem unless we just took matters into our own hands and independently did it ourselves. And that’s really where the ball started rolling, and we realized, “Hey, if we’re going to do this, then we’re just going to need to go and make it on our own somehow.”
BE: Just as a sidebar, I’m a member of the Television Critics Association, so I’ve been there to witness “Yo Gabba Gabba!” walk away with the Best Children / Family Programming for two years in a row, which has been pretty cool.
CJ: Yeah, I mean, two years in a row…? That’s awesome. And a highlight of my life, to be sure. The first year, we were sitting next to Bryan Cranston from “Breaking Bad,” and then the next year we were, like, two tables away from Tom Hanks. So that was just totally weird. It was, like, “How did we get in a room with all of these awesome people?” [Laughs.]
BE: Yeah, I’ve actually got a picture – if not a great one – of Tom Hanks standing with Muno, Brobee, and the gang.
CJ: Oh, yeah, I was right there at ground zero with ‘em, just going, “This is totally bizarre and weird and awesome.” [Laughs.]
[Writer’s note: That’s kind of where I’m at when I look at this picture of myself from the same evening.]
BE: As you say, it was a lengthy evolution from concept to fruition for the series, but when you finally got down to brass tacks for the Hub incarnation of “The Aquabats! Super Show!,” presumably you guys pretty well had it down as far as what you wanted it to be.
CJ: Yeah, well, by the time we got through with the pilot of “Yo Gabba Gabab!” and had shot a whole season of it, I think we all felt that “Yo Gabba Gabba!” was… We really believed in that show, and this was even before the TCA Awards, but right away we thought, “Okay, we know this show is awesome, so let’s try to make the Aquabats’ show.” So at the end of Season One, we got some money together and went out and independently shot a pilot for the Aquabats’ show exactly how we always wanted to shoot it. That was the big difference. When we’d developed it before for networks and studios, there’s always a little bit of a compromise, because you come in, you pitch them on your idea, and then they buy your idea, and that idea becomes their idea, and they change it all around.
So we shot this pilot between seasons of “Yo Gabba Gabba!” and started pitching it around, and it took a little while, but it finally landed in the hands of the people from The Hub, like Margaret Loesch and Ted (Biaselli) and Donna (Ebbs). They’re all very creator-friendly, they’re producers themselves, they come from the world of production, and when they saw the show, they were, like, “This is perfect: it’s risky, it’s crazy…let’s do it!” And Ted was also an early big fan of “Yo Gabba Gabba!” We actually met Ted when we were pitching the pilot for “Yo Gabba Gabba!” He was working for Disney, and he really wanted to pick “Yo Gabba Gabba!” up, so a couple of years later when we came in with the pilot for the Aquabats, he said, “Guys, we gotta finally work together and do this.” [Laughs.] So, y’know, luck and time and effort and blood, sweat, and tears, and…there you go!
BE: For those who haven’t seen the series yet, Sid and Marty Krofft are – as already noted – clearly a very strong influence, but what are some other points of reference that might help viewers decide if they’d be into “The Aquabats! Super Show!”?
CJ: Well, I think there’s a lot of TV being made today that… [Hesitates.] For this show, we’re really building a lot of the influences from TV of the past, and it’s a lot more cinematic, like “Batman” or the old “Wild Wild West” with Robert Conrad. You know, those single-camera action shows from the ‘60s or the ‘70s that we all just grew up watching and idolizing. Even “The Twilight Zone.” Like, very single camera, very set up. And it’s tricky, because we’re trying to do so many set-ups in so little time, but there’s definitely an influence from there, there’s also an influence from across the water, like Japan. There’s a huge influence from “Godzilla” to “UltraMan” to all those early Power Rangers shows. They’re just ridiculous. And, y’know, there’s Shaw Brothers stuff in there from China, like the weird kung stuff, which we get into a bit more as the season goes on. But, also, the Aquabats are very self-deprecating and silly, yet we try to make a good balance between action and crazy and then just silly and random. [Laughs.]
We’re all really big pop culture fans and geeks and love all those action shows, or the attempts at action shows, so many that we watched try and fail. Like, there’s references to super-obscure stuff that I remember watching and being so excited about, like “Supertrain” or “Manimal.” All those weird shows around that time, with talking motorcycles and “Knight Rider.” So there’s a good 30 years worth of television culture packed into these 22-minute episodes for kids. And I think what makes it exciting is that, y’know, I have kids myself, so showing them some of the shows from the past…they’re not that interested, sadly. I mean, some of them they really love, but part of it, I think, is the pacing. So with the Aquabats’ show, my kids love it and they’re really into it because I think the pacing’s more attractive to them. They’re so used to things coming so fast and hitting them so quickly, whereas with shows like “Wild Wild West” or “The Twilight Zone,” it’s not so instant. It takes some time to build. So you put in all those stylish references and cool things from Japan or from here or there, and you fire them out a mile a second, and…I think it’s working. Either way, it’s been fun. [Laughs.]
BE: As far as the band itself goes, it seems rather insulting that the Aquabats tend to be lumped in with a group of artists described as “third wave ska.”
CJ: Yeah, you know, we’re not, really. We were all originally in different bands – I was in an indie rock band, Chad (Larson) was in a punk band, I know Ian (Fowles) was in a punk band – and we all got together and kind of formed a Voltron of bands. [Laughs.] And it was kind of a satirical take on a ska band, we invited our own uniforms or costumes, and we all played different instruments. We liked ska, but it more kind of having fun by playing with it, satirizing it, spoofing it, and generally not taking it super-seriously. Most ska shows were fun, the people were having fun and dancing, but then there were the people who were taking it so seriously, and that just seemed ridiculous to us, so we were, like, “Okay, let’s make this giant ska orchestra,” making it kind of a joke, but as the band evolved over the years… It was never a deliberate thing, but I think it just naturally happened, because there’s a lot of different styles of music that we play.
I’ve always been into bands like Ween and things like that, that can chameleon-like drift from genre to genre and play whatever music they want. I mean, even Weird Al: you add a little bit of humor in there, and you kind of have a license to do that. You have the opportunity write a country song, write a hip-hop song, write whatever you want. And that’s always been more attractive to me, because there’s no boundaries. If you set yourself up as a punk band, then you pretty much just have to play punk. Or if you’re a ska band, you just play ska. So that was a natural evolution that was always going to come out of our band. We do still get lumped in with that because that’s where we began, playing with other ska bands, but we were secretly always having a laugh, so to speak. [Laughs.]
BE: With the music for the show, will it be strictly new songs, or are you going to be reviving some of the older songs?
CJ: I think we’ll bring some of the old songs back. I don’t think we did any for this first season. No, wait, I take that back: there are a couple of older songs. But, y’know, I think we were just so happy to be able to do the Aquabats full-time as a job this year… [Laughs.] …that the amount of music that came out was pretty significant, and we just came off of writing an album that came out last year, so I guess we were just kind of in that mode of writing new music and being excited about it. Because, y’know, we haven’t been full-time as the Aquabats as a job since the very beginning. I think in 1997 we had a record deal that permitted us to be the Aquabats for about two years full-time, but then that was it. For this whole time since then, it’s been a part-time thing and very much more like a hobby. So, yeah, there’s lots of new stuff as a result of that, but we do want to bring back some of the old classics and weave them into the fabric of the show, for sure. If we get the chance to do a second season, that’d be awesome.
BE: This really must be a case of living the dream for you: not only do you get to do the Aquabats full-time, but you’re also able to utilize this other career you’ve built in TV production at the same time.
CJ: It is literally a dream come true. This is something that we always thought… I mean, we’d be on the road, going out and playing for maybe only 50 to 100 people, and having a great time, but we’d be thinking, “Man, this would be awesome if we could do this full-time.” There was just no way to sustain it. But we always thought, “If we could turn this into a television show and get some exposure and grow the Aquabats…” It just seemed like something that could take off, so that’s why it’s always been a goal to make into a TV show. We’d be, like, “We’ll be the Aquabats during the day and sleep in our own beds at night!” [Laughs.] So it is. It’s the dream job. And we’re also doing “Yo Gabba Gabba!” at the same time, so it’s been crazy. I’ve never been so busy and slept so little and been so happy.
BE: To bring this conversation full circle, it’s pretty fantastic that the first episode features Rip Taylor playing a genie, given that he played Sheldon the Sea Genie in “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.”
CJ: [Laughs.] Of course! See, you got it. It’s perfect, right? We wrote these really elaborate scripts for every episode, then we looked at our budget and realized, “Wow, we’re basically writing cartoons that we can’t possibly pay for.” So we slimmed and trimmed and cut stuff down – the character of Man-Ant had this elaborate back story that we had to just cut out – and then someone just made the suggestion, “Hey, what if, like, Crash found a lamp, and there was a genie in it?” “Beautiful. Go with that.” And then it was, “Well, who’s gonna play the genie?” And everyone said at the same time, “Rip Taylor.” [Laughs.]
BE: Are there any other guest stars in upcoming episodes?
CJ: Oh, yeah. There’s Rip Taylor, Lou Diamond Phillips is in an upcoming episode, “Weird Al” Yankovic is in two episodes, and we’ve got Jon Heder from “Napoleon Dynamite.” Samm Levine’s in an episode, too. It’s similar to “Yo Gabba Gabba!” in that, like, on that show, you’ve got guys like Mark Mothersbaugh, who’s a music legend, and then these new up-and-coming bands. With the Aquabats’ show, we’re doing the same thing, except with guest stars. So you’ll have someone like Rip Taylor, and then we’ll be spotlighting some newer and more underground comedians who are really good as well.
BE: Having “Weird Al” Yankovic as a guest star certainly makes sense, given his own history with a kids show.
CJ: Oh, yeah, and that was fun talking to Al about that on the set, not only his experience making “The Weird Al Show,” but how much we loved it. And, of course, “UHF” is in my top-10 movies of all time, for sure. And it especially was at the time it was released, because, y’know, it spoofed everything, it was silly, and, most importantly, it was just Weird Al on film. [Laughs.] And Al’s so down to earth. He actually cameos as two different people in the series…or he could be the same person. We kind of leave that open. But he’s great. We’ve got such a tiny budget on this show, but we’ve had such a great response from people. It’s just been really, really cool.
The Aquabats! Super Show! premieres at 11 AM EST / PST Saturday on The Hub.
Tags: All in the Family, Annie Potts, Aquabats, Batman, Bryan Cranston, Chad Larson, Christian Jacobs, Gleaming the Cube, Gloria, Godzilla, Ian Fowles, Jon Heder, Knight Rider, Manimal, Married...with Children, Power Rangers, Pretty in Pink, Rip Taylor, Roseanne, Samm Levine, Shaw Brothers, Sid and Marty Krofft, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, Supertrain, TCA Awards, The Hub, The Light from the TV Shows, The Weird Al Show, Tom Hanks, Twilight Zone, UHF, Ultraman, V, Weird Al Yankovic, Wild Wild West, Will Harris, Yo Gabba Gabba!