This morning, I had the immense pleasure of participating in a conference call with a living legend of the comic book world—Stan Lee. Along with Andy Scheer, executive producer of Who Wants to Be a Superhero, they fielded questions and offered their own and often hilarious takes on not only the superhero mythos, but also psychology, baseball, special effects, and perhaps even the meaning of life!
Moderator: Hi everybody! Thanks so much for joining us here today. We have Stan Lee and [executive producer] Andy Scheer on the line to answer all of your questions.
Stan Lee: Or some of them, anyway!
Q: It’s a fine line between personifying a gritty superhero and going over-the-top to the point of satirizing the entire genre. How hard do you think it is for contestants to find that balance?
SL: Well, I don’t think they’re thinking of it in those terms. I think that they’re just trying to show that they have the goods—that they have the inner qualities that will make a superhero. As far as satirizing it, it really depends on how the viewer sees the show. We like to think of it as totally serious with a lot of humor.
Andy Scheer: I couldn’t agree with that more. These are all people who genuinely wanted to prove that they were capable of being Stan’s next great superhero, and we scoured the country—thousands of people applied—and we narrowed it down to the ten who we genuinely thought had the chance to win! So, there wasn’t anyone that had their tongue in their cheek in this adventure in the least.
Q: Why do you think audiences today are interested in shows like Who Wants to Be a Superhero, feature films like The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk . . . what do you think the main reason is?
AS: Besides getting to see Stan Lee? [laughs]
SL: No, I think people are interested in anything that’s a little bigger than life and that’s colorful. You know what they’re like? They’re like fairy tales for grown-ups. You know, when you were a kid, you loved fairy tales—stories of witches and monsters and magicians and so forth. And when you get older, you can’t read fairy tales, but you have your superhero stories, which are the closest things to them. Then, here’s a show for television where people wear costumes, where they pretend to have super-powers, and where we give them little tests, and I think it’s an amusing, entertaining concept, and it’s different. And, today, in today’s world, I think anything that’s unique and reasonably well-done will get an audience, and luckily, with Andy Scheer as the show-runner, I think it’s pretty well-done!
AS: Stan is also doubling as my publicist today! [laughs] I just want to add that I think it’s nice that we all want to dream and fantasize, and it takes us back . . . who among us didn’t read Stan’s comics and go on an adventure with him? It’s as timeless as ice cream to want to be a hero or feel that a part of you could be a hero.
Q: How has the second season been different from the first? Were there lessons you learned on the first season that you’ve applied to the second one?
AS: I wasn’t involved in the first season, but this time, we basically tried to do exactly the same thing that was done the first season, but, as they say, take it up a notch. We wanted to put Stan in more, we did bigger adventures, we actually have a narrative that arcs from episode to episode so that they’re not just doing exercises in a test tube, but they’re in missions and they’re going up against what we call “real bad guys.” Still, even when you gussy it up, it’s still, at its core, a reality show, and we tried to bring even more heart to it and more reality to it. So . . . it’s the same, but different. [laughs]
SL: It’s still a reality show, but I think we’re just trying to make it a little more of a production. A little more spectacular.
AS: Yeah, and we have live feeds! We didn’t do that last year! [laughs]
Q: What qualities do you think make up an everyday hero?
SL: I would guess, as we’ve mentioned on the show, qualities such as loyalty, devotion to one’s duty, self-sacrifice, dependability, courage . . . you know, the type of things you’d imagine that a hero should possess. The tests that we have on the show, while we try to make them colorful and perhaps even a little bit humorous, these tests are created in order to find out which of the contestants has those qualities in the greatest abundance. We’d like to think they all have those qualities, or we wouldn’t have chosen them to begin with, but now we have to find out which one has them the most.
AS: And the tricky thing is testing them in ways that bring it out—it’s not like a multiple choice question. We have to sort of be clever, because those are qualities that are displayed, and have to be displayed genuinely rather than just acted.
Q: The first season was very innovative and new. Is there anything you did differently this season that you’re really excited about, or that you think will really spark some new fans?
SL: Well, Andy is so excited about it that if I talk first, he’ll kill me!
AS: Well, we tried to stay true to being a reality show with heart, anchored by Stan, who’s wonderful on-camera . . . add a little bit more reality, a little bit more of the people—getting to know them, and then, on top of that, put them in bigger, larger-than-life adventures. Real missions where you get a sense that they’re inside a comic book, so to speak, and going up against nefarious villains. Because great heroes are made with great villains, I think Stan would say.
SL: And the thing is, by having a villain, we also have somebody for the heroes to go up against, as well as all the little tricks and little obstacles that we put in their way. The thing that really amazes me, or that has amazed me about the show, [is] in most reality shows, the contestants are really competitors, and they can’t wait for the other ones to be eliminated so they’ll win. But in this particular show, even though everyone wants to win, they seem to form a bond with each other, and there is genuine sorrow on all their parts when one is eliminated. The sympathy that they have for the one each week who’s eliminated is quite genuine! And, it’s amazing to see how these people come together and become friends and care for each other, even though they’re competitors. As a matter of fact, the ones from last season’s show . . . they still get together regularly and correspond with each other, and they’ve become best friends! I’ve never seen anything like that on a reality show before! I think it’s quite heart-warming.
Q: Andy, when you decided to come into the show—you’re obviously coming in the second season—were there some things that you said to yourself, “I want to accomplish this, I really don’t want to have this happening,” or was it a matter of it evolving as the season progressed?
AS: No, I got the call, and I went home and looked at all the DVDs, and I said, “This is a great show, and I want to do this, this, and this,” and I think, since Stan and Sci-Fi sparked my ideas. And basically, I wanted to keep the core of it the same: A reality show with heart, anchored by Stan, who’s just tremendous—I’m not just saying this—he’s tremendous on-camera, and he’s so genuine, you just sort of fall in love with him as a viewer. That was the main thing. Not disrupt that, but then on top of that, I wanted to put them into the sense of a real-life world where villains existed and evil was everywhere. So, we created a world where that existed. We were stepping into our Gotham, as it were. I wanted an arcing narrative, so you could follow week-to-week and the overall story progressed. And the tricky thing was to do what they did last year, which was surprising the cast. Because, I presumed that everybody did what I did, which was study the show, and we have to fool people who have studied the show. You know, you can’t get the genie back in the bottle. We had to fool them in creative, smart, fun ways. So, it was a very challenging and, ultimately, very fulfilling show. I’m very pleased with it.
Q: Stan, obviously you’re this iconic figure, and over the years, a lot of your characters sort of move on without you. Someone else has the helm; someone else is deciding what happens with them. Is that a tough thing for you to watch? Or can you just sort-of “let them go” and let them find their own story now?
SL: Well, I’ve had to let them go, because I couldn’t keep control over them forever, but I’ve been very lucky, because the people taking the reins after me—the people who are making the movie versions, for example—are so brilliant, and are doing such a good job, and the movies are so spectacular that they’re making me look better than ever! So, I’ve got no complaints, and I’ve never felt that kind of “pride of ownership” where I don’t want anybody to touch anything that I’ve created. You have to be smart enough to know that, at some point, other people will take over, just like Andy has taken over our show, and if the people are as talented as you hope they will be, and luckily they have been, you just enjoy the ride!
AS: If you ask the characters, they’d always say that Stan was their first love, though.
SL: [laughs] Andy, I’ll pay you off later on, after the interview. And tell mom I’ll be late for dinner! [laughs]
Q: I’ve been reading your comics for twenty years of my life, and with that, it feels like the average age of a comic book fan has run up. Some of the heroes on the show are “classic”-type heroes. But, with somebody like Fat Momma from last year or Hygena from this year, do you guys already have a plan in place to make her comic book appeal to that age group, or is that even your goal?
SL: No, we’re not really thinking of age group appeal. We’re just thinking of getting some interesting, colorful variety. If we just chose ten people—ten men, let’s say, who all were very strong and powerful-looking—I think it would be a dull show. So, we want to get all types, because, basically, and I’m sure you’re aware of this if you’ve been reading the comics, anybody could be a superhero! Spider-Man was just Peter Parker, a nerdy kind of teenage boy. So, to make the show interesting and colorful, the more variety of characters we can get, I think the better it is.
AS: I think what’s amazing about the show is that it isn’t just the adolescents . . . it’s not just one sort-of type of person that aspires to be a hero or that was touched by Stan’s writing and by comics, in general. That’s what’s great. Yes, we look for diversity of cast, but it’s out there, and it’s not hard to find.
SL: You’re right. You know, you’d be amazed if you could have seen, literally, the thousands of applicants that originally applied to be contestants. They were every size and shape and age and type of person! They were so different, all of them, and I thought that was great to know that in this country, so many different types of people really feel, “Gee! I’d really like to be a superhero!”
AS: We had people from across the country, all walks of life. Not just the moms that you mentioned, but cops, circus performers, researchers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, teachers . . . we really had full gambit of professions. Everybody was represented.
SL: You’d be amazed how many of people who applied were, literally, professional people. There were quite a number, as Andy said, of doctors, of lawyers, architects, people who you wouldn’t expect to volunteer for a show like this, and yet, there they were!
Q: From the time that you were creating some of your characters in the past, now that we have reality TV shows such as Who Wants to Be a Superhero and we see these blockbuster movies coming out, do you think the world and fans of comic books have changed over the decades? That tastes have changed or that there’s been any specific change in the audience and what they’re looking for or expect when they see something from the comic book genre?
SL: Oh, everything changes from year to year—movies, television, comic books, video games. Everything changes and morphs into something else, and comic books have been changing, too. But, the one thing that remains constant? People want to be entertained. Sometimes the methods in which they’re entertained [or] the style of entertainment may vary. That’s why a show like Who Wants to Be a Superhero, we think that that is one of the things that’s good for today. If the tastes change tomorrow, we’ll adapt the show and make that a little different, too. But, nothing is constant. If you look at the early movies, the silent movies, the stories were different. The rhythm of them was different to what they are today, and even the early talkies. And if you read the very earliest comic books and compare them with today’s comics, they’re written a little differently. The artwork looks different. And the same with television shows! Sure, everything does change, and I think that’s a good thing. I guess there’s no way to answer it than like that! [laughs]
Q: And what do you think about where comic books have gone, movie-wise. You think of what DC was doing about twenty years ago with Batman and what we’re seeing now with Marvel in the movie industry . . . what are your thoughts on where that’s gone?
SL: I think they’re getting better and better, because they’re able to do better special effects. So, the movies now, besides concentrating—of course, which you have to do—on characterization, they’ve also become eye candy. And, to get back to Who Wants to Be a Superhero, by giving all our characters costumes and so forth, and interesting costumes, we hope, we try to make that eye candy also, for the viewers. How’s that for a segue back to the show? [laugh]
Q: Well, this is hopefully a good segue from the last question! With all the added special effects and production touches that are in this season of the show, how much fun do you have doing the show? And, are there any parts surrounding the production which you find particularly trying?
AS: The whole thing, the combination of the two is a ton of work. You’ve got a lot of people you’ve got to get on the same page, some people you haven’t worked with before, so you’re learning about each other, so there’s challenge to any production. But, I have to say, this is probably the most fun I’ve had on any show, because we were doing this crazy adventure and doing something that really, kind of hadn’t been done exactly this way before. People stepped up, we laughed all the time on the set, Stan is an absolute pleasure to work with, and I can’t believe I was actually shoulder-to-shoulder writing with him on some stuff. But, it’s a lot of hard work and a lot of hours, so it’s a combination of the two. But, honestly, I think that everyone on the show felt that we were making something pretty special, because it had a great vibe on-set and it hadn’t been done exactly like this before.
SL: One thing I like about this show. I remember years ago when I was doing the comics . . . I really loved what I was doing, and the artists I worked with loved it, too. And I find if you enjoy what you’re doing, that comes across to the viewers or the readers, and on this show, every one of us involved in the show is having such a good time! We are enjoying what we’re doing so much, and the contestants are enjoying it so much. I just think that that feeling . . . if it’s fun for us, somehow or other, that’s got to translate to the viewer, where it will be fun for the viewer also. And judging by a lot of the comments I’ve heard, apparently it is. One thing that’s made me the happiest . . . a lot of people have written and said that this is the one show that they enjoy watching with their whole family. They think of it as a family show, and I think that’s kind of gratifying.
Q: Stan, you’re so vital and passionate, and I’m convinced that that’s one of the keys to longevity and good health. Outside of the obvious, what makes you passionate, other than creating iconic comic characters and doing great reality shows? What are some of your secret passions that maybe your fans don’t know about?
SL: I’ve never really thought about it! [laughs] I think, maybe, the thing I’m most passionate about is enjoying what I do and trying to transfer that enjoyment to the reader or the viewer that I’m involved with. A lot of people have asked me, “What do you think is the most important thing in choosing a career?” You know, as if I’m any big guru about that . . . but, in trying to answer, I’ve usually said I think the most important thing is do something that you enjoy doing. Because, then, you don’t feel you’re working. It’s like you’re playing! I enjoy this show so much, and the people I’m working with, that I can’t wait to come to the studio every day and do what I have to do! And I think the only thing worth being passionate about is you’ve got to enjoy the person you’re married to, your children, your family, your work. Just to enjoy things, because there are so many bad things in the world that the more you can enjoy what you’re doing and the more good things you can get ahold of, and I’m getting very dull and I’m confused, and I’m going to stop talking now. [laughs] I had an idea of what I wanted to say; I think I lost it somewhere along the way. [laughs]
Q: Are you a Yankees man or a Mets man?
SL: Oh, golly. You know, I’ve stopped really being a baseball fan. In fact, today, you ask that question and I’m wondering, “Which city do these teams belong to?”
AS: Oh, Stan. [laughs] Well, I’ll answer it for him. I’m a Yankees fan. He’s a Yankees fan.
SL: Are the Yankees still in New York? Oh, well, I was a Yankees fan, so there’s no reason to change . . . I’m a Yankee fan! [laugh] Did DiMaggio and people like that, you know, I don’t even know the new players. [laughs]
SL: [After pause] Well, are there any more exciting questions about Who Wants to Be a Superhero?
Q: Who has been your all-time favorite superhero throughout the comics, and does that actually have some sort of influence on what you see in your show and who you like better than the others?
AS: What can I tell you? I grew up a Spidey fan . . . enough said. But, you know, in putting together the show, if I had a favorite, I couldn’t tell you, and I didn’t have any favorites, of course. Every person on the show, you fall in love with them to some degree. That’s why, when you go through casting, there’s something about them you love, and that’s how they distinguish themselves. And, in terms of the creation of the show, we created the show independent of . . . the adventures are just like, what can we do? What kind of crazy stuff can we do that will fool them and excite them, and I guess I wasn’t harkening back to any one particular hero, but just my whole love of comic books. And I think constantly we were trying to think about what would this experience . . . what credo that Stan has written about, or what qualities of a superhero might come out if we put our aspirants in this environment. So, we were constantly thinking of the qualities that are exhibited in a superhero but never, to be honest, focusing on one particular hero that I grew up reading.
SL: We can show no favoritism in this show. We are as impartial as great judges should be! [laughs]
Q: (To Stan) I’ve noticed that you’ve been in a lot of other films doing cameos and stuff, especially in your films. It seems like you try to show up for at least a little bit. I was wondering if that’s kind of a tribute to other great directors, and such, like Alfred Hitchcock, who always tried to have a cameo, or if you just do it for the fun of it?
SL: No, it’s just my own vanity! I’m trying to do more cameos than Hitchcock did. See, I’m Barry Bonds—I’m going for a record here. [laughs]
AS: I thought he carried Fantastic Four 2.
SL: By the way, I don’t want to get mad at you, but I do kind of resent [your] referring to them as “cameos.” I think of them as the leading role! I’m amazed my name isn’t above the title! [laughs all around]
Q: Do you have any plans for new Sci-Fi shows or movies?
SL: Well, I hope the people at Sci-Fi are listening, and I hope they’re saying, “Gee! What a great idea! Let’s feature Stan in a few movies!” I hope you said that loud and clear. [laughs]
Q: Was there some character that was so bizarre and out there that we didn’t even get to see them in the first episode that you guys had to turn down?
AS: Well, we had a lot of people who just didn’t make it for a variety of reasons. Some people are very compelling in short verse, but you think, they’re not really going to make it through the whole, grueling experience. In the road to the final ten, we had Loud Man, we had Homeless Man, we had the guy in the banana suit. . . .
SL: We had people in suits that represented almost every fruit and vegeable you can imagine! [laughs]
AS: So, I don’t know if that answers your question, but we saw thousands and thousands of people, and there’s people that got very far down the road on the audition process, but just didn’t make it for a variety of reasons. Those were equally compelling guys, too, like Thorn was very close . . . he was actually on the internet vote, and he came from another planet and had a whole backstory, but he didn’t make it past the internet vote to get on. Does that answer your question? Vaguely enough? [laugh]
SL: One of the contestants on this show had tried out for the previous show and didn’t make it, so he tried out again.
AS: We had a couple! Braid had tried in the first season, and then we also had Hyper-Strike.
SL: And didn’t Mindset, also?
AS: Oh, I don’t know if he applied last year—I never learned that—but he was the first audition in one of the first cities.
SL: No kidding!
Q: It’s clear from this call how much love you both have for the project, so I’m wondering if you see yourselves doing this five, ten years down the road? And, if you’re already thinking ahead to the future, are you thinking of things you might want to do in season three, four, or five? Or, are you just focused on the job in front of you?
SL: Well, I haven’t thought that far ahead, but we had received an inquiry from England—they wanted to know if they could do a junior version of the show. I don’t know what the response has been yet, but I thought that was interesting. We kid around among ourselves that, if we need spin-offs, how about doing Who Wants to Be a Villain or Who Wants to Be a Sidekick or Who Wants to Be a Damsel in Distress . . . you could go on and on. We could take over all of television with different versions of this thing! [laughs]
AS: For me, this is a great franchise, and as I was making it, I kept a little notebook of ideas of things for season three. You never know what happens with TV, but absolutely! You get your mind around something, and you’re going, “Hmm!” We’re obviously down the road a certain ways with the creative ideas steering this, but let’s put that idea which you just thought of when the bees are swarming and save that for season three. You keep your mind active, and you’re going to come up with some fun stuff, and that definitely happened.
SL: Well, I do have an idea for season three. I’ve been a little upset that everybody wears a costume but me, and in season three, I’d like to figure out how I can be a costumed character, too. But we’ll talk about that after this is over, Andy. [laughs]
Q: Stan, I actually have two questions for you. Did you film your role in Iron Man yet? What was it?
SL: All I can say is it is probably the greatest one I’ve had so far, and the funniest, and don’t you dare miss it! I’m not allowed to say what it is, but it’s very surprising and I loved it.
Q: Why do you think comic book readers are skewing older?
SL: I think comic books themselves are getting more literate, and you know, we now have people who are screenwriters and television writers and novelists—well known, who are writing for the comics. For some reason, they love doing it, and some of the art work in the comics—I mean it rivals anything you’ll see hanging on the wall of museums. They’re illustrations more than drawings, and older people are discovering this, and they are turning on to it. Comics are really starting to be sold in bookstores now. You know, graphic novels. I just hope we don’t eventually lose the kids. I hope there will always be comics for kids, also, but one of the things that will keep the kids—he says, trying to segue back to the show—is I think shows like ours because, since a lot of people think of it as a family-type show, the kids watch it with their parents or their older sisters or brothers, and I think that gives them a fondness for costumed-characters, and where do they find them—but in comic books. How’s that?
Q: Sounds great. Thanks. Do you think that the price of comic books are a factor?
SL: Oh, I don’t know. I’ve been away from it so long I’m not even sure what comic books cost now. Comparatively, they have always been one of the cheapest forms of entertainment, except for TV, which is free. Except for a show . . . I should have said, “Except for a show like Who Wants to Be a Superhero, which you could watch for nothing!” [laughs]
Q: That’s why I’ve always loved you--the ability to just promote!
SL: [laughs] My wife says I’m just a flim-flam man.
Q: My last question is could I steal you Excelsior sign-off for my newsletter?
SL: Oh, sure! Just the usual copyright symbol after it, and the usual fee. After the show, I’ll send you the address, but, sure, feel free! [laughs]
Q: I was thinking about comic books, and comic books are pretty much known for a lot of cross-over, especially in the Marvel universe. Do you think you’ll have past characters from the previous seasons come and visit or at least play a part?
SL: Well, Andy can even tell you we’ve been using Feedback a little bit. You tell ‘em, Andy!
AS: Yeah, Feedback. Did you get a chance to see the premiere? Well, you’ll see Feedback has a crucial role in bringing all of this year’s contestants from their hometown to Stan’s lair, so he’s got a very crucial role there, and he’s got other stuff that I’m not at liberty to reveal at this time—very much like Stan’s cameo in Iron Man. [laughs] We do embrace them all, and you’ll see them when we do public events, we bring them as well.
Q: Because of the amount of comic book movies, especially like science fiction movies [such as] Heroes on TV and the Fantastic Four and everything, do you think that comic books will just continue to become popular, or do you think that it might start tapering off?
SL: Well, comic books sort of follow with the movie. If people see the movie, and if they are interested in the character and want to see more of the character, they start buying the comic books. So, a good movie helps the sale of a comic book, and the comic books help the movie, and one hand washes the other. So, I don’t think there is any reason to think comics will die out. I think actually they are selling better than ever these days. I couldn’t figure out any way to segue into the show with that answer, but I’ll try better next time. [laughs]
AS: But, you did at the end very cleverly. [Stan chuckles some more.]
Q: [Momentary silence on their end]
SL: Isn’t it a dramatic phrase when you hear your line is open, and suddenly the whole word is listening, and it gets you a little nervous, doesn’t it? [laughs]
Q: Stan, a lot of the great things about a lot of your superheroes is there is such a nice balance between human flaws and super powers. How do you think the characters on the show do as far as that balance? How do you think they. . . .
SL: I think, again, Andy can tell you this, but they are as flawed as anybody you could find. We’re all flawed, and none of us is perfect, and the beautiful thing about our characters is they have great qualities, and they have their flaws—as Andy is now about to tell you! [laugh.]
AS: That’s the thing. We’re not really testing, doing the show, where the strongest, the fastest wins. That’s just not our show. We’re looking at, you know, to see, as Stan would say, the heart and soul of the hero—if they have that. So, you might call that flaws; it’s more like foibles, and that’s basically how Stan’s deciding who stays and who goes, so that’s very much a part of our show, and I hadn’t thought of it until now—sort of going off your idea. Who more apt from the comic world than Stan, who really did change the comic book landscape, by making Peter Parker into an adolescent and flawed and normal all at the same time.
SL: As normal as a Spider-Man can be, that is! [laughs]
AS: Exactly, but with real-life issues. So, that’s really the crazy little juxtaposition on our show. We need them to be human, we need to get to know their foibles, and at the same time, we’re giving them this larger-than life adventure that any of us that ever dreamed of being a hero wants or wanted.
Q: Some of the tests that have been devised for the superheroes, like assisting the woman with the walker to her car, or trying to pick up a lost dog—in fact, whatever happened to that lost dog?—I’m just curious how you come up with the tests that you’ve devised for these heroes. They seem so simple and commonplace, and yet, so practical as well, and so superhero-ish.
SL: Well, that’s part of the genius of Andy Scheer! I’ve been wondering myself—how do you do it, Andy?
AS: It’s really all of us. We started this process months before we started taping, and it’s really sitting in a room with Stan and others, and just saying, “What if?” What if this happened? And you then you have to be merciless. You’ve got to go, “No, that wouldn’t work,” or you go, “Yeah! But then this, and then that!” And I remember the moment that the lost puppy popped out. We were trying, struggling, so to speak, for a moment where they would get a hidden test more interesting. And it was, “What if they missed a lost puppy and a sign?” And then we visualized this as a minefield of a bunch of bogeys, where they were being distracted, and the real thing was . . . certainly, their car was jacked and the tires were missing, but we just visualized a bunch of different, hidden tests that they would be surrounded by, and that’s kind of what happened. It’s like any show. I think this show is more challenging, because you know that your audience is familiar with you, and you have to still fool them with hidden tests, because that’s the only way you’re going to get at those core values of the heart and soul of a hero, because you can’t get it directly. People reveal those, rather than fill out a multiple-choice, as I said before. And, we’re testing for elusive qualities, so it’s not like who can sing the best or who can dance the best . . . who can remember the lyrics the best. It’s a soft science. So, I’m not trying to applaud, but I think it’s a very challenging and fulfilling process, and you just sit in a room, you put index cards up on a wall, and map it all out.
SL: See, people think this is just your average, magnificent, television reality show, but it’s so much more than that. I mean, you have to be almost a nuclear scientist or a brain surgeon to be able to devise these intricate tests that we give these candidates, and you have to be a psychologist because we’re going inside the Id and the Ego of each person, and trying to bring out facets of their personality that they, themselves, aren’t aware of! In fact, I’m amazed that this show isn’t a part of every college course at your better universities, where they study it from the point of view of a scholast . . . well, you know, I’m getting too emotional, so I’d better stop. [wild laughter]
AS: The thing is, you wouldn’t normally think that a superhero idea would fit into a reality show, because we’re not genetically altering people to make them into superheroes, but that’s why it’s a heartwarming show. Because we are testing these things, and a reality show is kind of perfect, because you have to let down your guard. A reality show is about being yourself, so it kind of, in an odd way, works.
SL: See, it’s all in your point of view. From my point of view, there’s nothing more real than superheroes!
Q: Stan, that’s kind of funny that you mentioned this being part of a college curriculum, because I used to teach at a college where I taught psychology of science-fiction and fantasy films.
SL: You are a great human being! [laughs] It’s funny. Years ago, when I used to lecture a lot, I was amazed because I’d be invited to lecture at different schools, where they had courses that were involved with comic books and superheroes! I didn’t realize there were that many! So, you’re one of them, huh?
Q: Yes I am! Well, I love you and I love your show, and thanks for the great entertainment!
SL: You are the best last-questioner we could have ever had!
AS: And don’t miss tonight’s episode! I’ve got to tell you, it’s a great episode.
[At this moment, another caller was patched through]
SL: Oh, I thought he was the last one! [laughs] Oh, okay, great! We have more!
Q: Sorry to disappoint you! [laughs] I have two last questions for you. Since the show is so scripted, how do you walk the fine line before it ceases to be a reality show?
AS: Well, I can tell you, it’s not scripted. You have to remember, it’s like any reality show. You plan, and you figure out adventures for your cast members, but then what happens . . . who knows? Then, you have to react to that, but, think about it. We’re never putting words in our contestants’ mouths. Yeah, we have them get caught by a gorgeous villainess named Bee Sting, [but] we don’t know how they’re going to react to that. We don’t know how they’re going to react in the wind tunnel, with Mr. Long, and with the car-jacking and the lost puppy . . . who did find his way back to his home. But, really, ultimately it’s not about ever asking our cast to “act.” It’s mostly to react to the things and “gotchas” and adventures that we’ve spent all that time creating.
SL: As a matter of fact, it’s very much like the way it was when I used to write stories. I’d have a general idea in my mind of what the story was, and I’d start writing it, but I never knew what the next page was going to be until I started writing it. Because I always tried to put myself in the position of the reader, who is in suspense and wondering what’s coming next. So, if I could feel the same way, then, hopefully, the reader would relate better to the story. And that’s the way it is, really, with this show. We have a general idea of what we want to accomplish, but everything works out by itself. We’re as surprised by the developments as the viewer might be! And that keeps us on-edge all the time, too, and I think it keeps the excitement going for all of us.
Q: Do either of you have time to follow any of today’s [comic] adventures? If so, which are you reading right now?
SL: You know, I’ve been so busy with the show that I just haven’t been reading comic books lately. In fact, I haven’t been reading comics for a while. Because . . . there’s no point to it. [laughs] I’m busy doing the other things I’m doing. So, I don’t even know what’s happening. The one thing—Marvel’s Civil War series. I was aware of that; I thought it was very clever. But, beyond that, I’m really not into the regular comic books anymore.
AS: For me, I keep up on, basically, the TV and film side. I have to say, my comic book reading has waned, though I still love it and occasionally pick up the comics. I’m a huge Frank Miller fan . . . all over the Dark Knight stuff as it was coming out for the first time, but you just get busy!
SL: I think the last comic I wrote was the one about Feedback, who won our last series, and one of the prizes was a comic book. So, I wrote that for him, and I guess I’ll be writing the comic book for the winner of this new series. So, I’m not totally out of the comics, but that’s about it.
AS: I have to correct myself—that is the last comic book I read, the Who Wants to Be a Superhero “And the winner is . . . Feedback” comic. Forty pages of comic genius.
SL: [laughs] You’re a great man.
AS: [laughs] And observant!
Q: You just talked about how busy you are, and especially you, Stan. One of the things that’s always impressed me has been your output of material. You work on straight-to-DVD stuff like Condor; you work on video games, like Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. Are there any other projects like that coming up that you can tell us about?
SL: Oh, yeah, we’re working on a lot of things. We have a project with Ringo Starr that we’re doing, and we have a couple of movies that are in development now at Disney—I’m not allowed to mention any more about it—and other things. But, frankly, I’ve been concentrating a great deal on this television series, because there’s something so immediate about a television series. I mean, it’s there week after week after week, and you’re a part of it, and I really find that tremendously exciting. I’ve never enjoyed anything more than doing this series!
Q: Really? Wow!
SL: The only thing that bothers me is I’m just a disembodied head in a television screen in this thing! I don’t get to a chance to move around very much! Although, Andy gave me a couple of scenes where I actually am a person moving, rather than just a head on a screen. I don’t know . . . have those scenes popped up yet?
AS: No, Stan! That’s part of the big surprise to come!
SL: Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything!
AS: No, no! I think it’s exciting! You’re going to see even more of Stan Lee this season.
SL: Yeah, he moves! He walks! He talks!
AS: That’s right! He’s not just an incredibly virile man from the waist up! [laughs]
Many thanks to the Sci-Fi Channel, Stan Lee, and Andy Scheer for making this conference call possible!