I used to be an ambassador for PBS KIDS and the only reason I stopped is because my son is now a teenager in high school. Of course, that doesn’t stop us from watching PBS KIDS shows. But working with that group afforded me all kinds of amazing opportunities, including meeting the creators of many of their shows. I was thrilled when Tim McKeon, who I met when Odd Squad launched, called and wanted to talk about his new show that is being featured in the Amazon Pilot Season. We chatted about Will Vs. The Future, his journey in the biz, and his favorite pastime outside of television. (Hint: it’s delicious.)
Interview with Tim McKeon about Will Vs. The Future
How did you get into kid’s programming?
Honestly, I fell into it. I’m from Massachusetts and I went west for TV. I mean, I did plays in high school and college but I really wanted to get into TV. I like how collaborative it is. I started looking for sitcoms just like everyone else does in LA. But my first job was on a children’s show and I loved it. You can do weird, crazy stuff and be passionate about what you are doing and have the most fun. Kids are the BEST super fans.
So, you went from Gravity Falls to Adventure Time to Odd Squad. How different was all that?
Odd Squad was the one that was really different. Because it was educational show, there were all these parameters to it. But I love the idea of secretly teaching kids within a show that was action-packed. But as far as my career, each show informed the next, so it’s been a great learning experience.
Tell me about your new show, Will Vs. The Future.
A lot of people are saying that it’s like the Terminator, but for kids. I hope that isn’t off putting? Comedy in the kid’s space can be a little difficult and there certainly isn’t much in the way of sci-fi. Will is a smart, thoughtful middle school kid, struggling with life a bit – and then the Warrior comes back to destroy him because in the future he actually destroys the world. Will convinces her not to kill him and they team up to change the future. There’s a lot of Buffy flavor to it and time travel, including a big wink to Back To The Future because Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) plays the school principal on the show. That was a fantastic choice. We’re really trying to have something that a family can watch together – and enjoy – since there is such a gap in those types of shows at this age range. And the great thing for Will is that he’s exploring the themes of growing up and finding yourself, but using this sci-fi angle as a vehicle to make it fun.
There seems to be a lot of diversity in characters.
Yeah, honestly, I’m just sick of kid’s TV especially featuring rich, white people. My son’s adopted from Korea and that makes me sensitive to it, but also after hearing the fantastic response to Odd Squad where people felt like they were better represented, I think it’s so important to have diversity in your characters. I’m also a big fan of the Geena Davis Institute. They have reports about the underrepresentation of female characters that are fascinating. For our show, the three main characters are Will, Athena (the warrior from the future) and Will’s best friend, Hailey. Originally, that friend was a boy and we changed her to a girl because it made the story more interesting and we just love the girl that we cast in that role.
I have to say, I loved Hailey’s hair color in the pilot.
Right? If we get picked up, I would love to see her have different color hair in each episode.
How have different avenues for shows like Amazon changed the way you work?
Well, the Amazon pilot process is a way for people to judge shows and then Amazon, through multitude of ways … by how many people watch the pilot episode and specific testing and some internal factors … they decide who gets pick up. One thing we like is how, normally you made all episodes for the season and they’re done before the first episode airs. Whereas, this time we have the one show out there and we get to hear what people think before we make next one. So, feedback matters a lot and we’re excited about that. Also, this show could not be have been made without Amazon. It so niche. Of course, when you have better opportunities to focus on creating better stuff, there’s more competition. (Pause). But for the record, I would’ve created better stuff anyway. (Laughs.)
You said you have a nine-year-old son … does he inform the show?
Yes, definitely just by being around a nine-year-old’s sense of humor. The good and the bad of it. Watching how they interact and being aware of what their world is like really helps me figure out what would work for Will.
What do you do for fun?
Really? Baking or eating them?
Both. My grandmother and mother made pies as I was growing up and it’s a family nostalgic thing … so when I used to want to have their pies and couldn’t, I just started baking them on my own.
What’s your specialty, then?
Strawberry rhubarb. But I make a mean lemon meringue, too. You think I’m joking about this but we did an entire road trip that was planned solely based on the best pie shops around the country.
Ha ha, OK, what’s the plan for the show?
Well, now we wait and see until the pilot voting is finished. The time to watch the show is till September 30th. And then, of course, I also have a bunch of other irons in the fire … such is the way of a writer. But I love the show and I really hope we get picked up and can’t wait to work on it. It’s weird with kid’s TV. Most people expect that it’s all just bad. In this age range, it’s particularly hard to find good quality television. We’re just trying to make shows that are fun and character-based that no one in the family is “doing each other a favor” by watching it, whether it be on the parent or child side. This is really a show that everyone can enjoy together.
Many thanks to Tim for taking the time to chat with me. I have watched the pilot and I certainly hope it gets picked up – I promise you I liked it not just as a parent and also as a person. I remember bemoaning exactly what he talked about all through middle school – there was so little we could watch together as a family, and actually enjoy.
Cheers to Will and his future!