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411mania.com Interviews: Transformers: Prime Creator Jeff Kline and Optimus Prime, Peter Cullen
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 08.02.2012

You may not know it, but Jeff Kline is one of the busiest writers in television today. Kline is creator and executive producer of the two hit shows on The Hub, Transformers: Prime, and the new more younger themed Transformers series, Transformers: Rescue Bots. Previously, Kline has also worked on The Hub's GI JOE: Renegades animated series and the hit animated series version of Men In Black which ran for 53 episodes on Kids' WB for several seasons. Kline in fact works which much of the same for that show on the current Transformers: Prime show which is in the midst of its second season. Prime is also confirmed for a third season. But what about some of the new characters Hasbro announced for the toyline like Ultra Magnus? Could we see him in the show? Kline addressed all this and more when we caught up with him at this year's San Diego Comic-Con. Kline was in attendance to promote the his Transformers shows along with the legendary Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime from Generation 1 Transformers and also Prime, Rescue Bots, the theatrical movies, and the new videogames from Activision. Cullen was interviewed earlier in a special panel by Larry King:

Images provided by The Hub.

Jeffrey Harris: What's it been like to bare witness to Comic-Con this week and seeing things like Larry King interview Peter Cullen?

Jeff Kline: The first time I did Con a few years ago with Peter, I had no idea what a superstar he is. And I knew he's a superstar, I deal with him. He's as big as Elvis in this world, and the love for him is tremendous so it continues not to surprise but to please. He's everything people assume he is which isn't always true and deserves every bit of accolade he gets.

Jeffrey Harris: One of favorite experiences was when BotCon came to Southern California last year, and you had almost the entire main cast of Transformers: Prime do a live table read. Frank Welker I think was the only one who wasn't there. What is it like to see that and be a part of that in front of all those fans? It was almost like a live radio play or live theater.

Jeff Kline: Which was exactly the idea. BotCon had existed for a while before us, Prime, had came into it. We were trying to think if we're in LA we were going to have access that we wouldn't have if BotCon is somewhere else. How do we make it special? How do we really blow it out? And whether it was me or Duane Capizzi, I don't remember, I as a fan would've wanted to see those actors not just answering those questions but performing an episode and they were all game which was fantastic. Because they weren't getting paid to be there. They did it because they loved the fans and they loved the show.

Jeffrey Harris: Regarding Rescue Bots and a question earlier, it seems Rescue Bots and Prime live under the same umbrella and storyline?

Jeff Kline: They live in the same continuity. They do. One of the reasons we had to put Rescue Bots on an island is to get away from the ongoing threat of war and destruction because we don't really want that in a show geared toward 3-6 year olds. So they absolutely live in the same continuity. When Optimus Prime travels and visits Griffin Rock, he's at the moment leaving the Autobots in Nevada going to Griffin Rock base.

Jeffrey Harris: That makes watching both shows much more rewarding. Was that the idea at all?

Jeff Kline: One of the things that drove it was The Hub very wisely said, "Look we're going to have these two shows on the same network potentially on the same day only a few hours apart. It may be very confusing to have two different continuities." And that was reasonably true because we worked really hard on Prime and other parts of the Transformers Universe worked really hard to sort of create one unified continuity. We're not 100% there yet, but it's been an ongoing agenda of Hasbro in Rhode Island. The videogame fits in. The publishing fits in. Whatever is coming down the pike fits in, so we didn't want to break that. And quite honestly as writers then, it motivates you a little bit. You have to come up with how do I solve that problem? How do I show about Transformers that isn't about battling Decepticons? Which is why we put them on an island, [and] which is why Optimus decided they would be ill-served in the war because they had no combat experience. They'd be much better as rescue personnel because they were rescue vehicles on their home planet. So if you want to kind of teach them and train them on a controlled environment, you put them on this island; of course an island off the coast of Maine probably not going to have that many fires and other calamities every day. So we created more of a sense that it's a technology testing site so we could get into all kinds of different rescue opportunities. But all that stuff rose out of a desire to sort of be true to the universe of Transformers.

Jeffrey Harris: And I like the sense of Optimus protecting the Rescue Bots. He's shielding them, but for good reason.

Jeff Kline: Absolutely. And again for us and we probably spend way too much time thinking about this stuff in the writer's room but eventually Optimus' hope is Cybertron is restored, the war is over, he goes home. In part, that's got to be a goal of his, so when that happens isn't he hoping for a future when Autobots and humans coexist? Not a secret but actually coexist on planet Earth, on planet Cybertron, in the universe. If that's the case, well Rescue Bots is a great opportunity for him to see how humans and bots interact on a day to day, almost extended family basis.

Jeffrey Harris: Between working on and creating two Transformers shows on the air right now, working on multi-part episode stories, and being a family man and being a dad, how tired are you right now?

Jeff Kline: Comic-Con is actually sort of energizing and in some weird way relaxing. Because when you walk that floor, there is so much stimuli. There is so much coming at you, you can't be obsessed about work. There's just too much stuff coming at you. So for me, this is actually a little vacation.

Jeffrey Harris: Have you bought any of the new Transformers toys yet?

Jeff Kline: The zombie Cliffjumper is pretty fantastic. The Terrorcon [Cliffjumper] is pretty fantastic.

Jeffrey Harris: Have you seen the Hasbro released images for Ultra Magnus based on Transformer: Prime?

Jeff Kline: Yes. I was at the panel. I was there. *Laughs*

Jeffrey Harris: What can you tell me about that considering Ultra Magnus in the past has served as Optimus' second-in-command and even taken over leadership of the Autobots as well? What does that mean for Transformers: Prime?

Jeff Kline: Being completely honest, just because it's a toy doesn't mean it's going to be in the show. [With the] toys, definitely a huge universe of characters they can pull from. So just because there is a toy does not mean it's going to be in the series. However, it would be very nice if he was in the series because that would help sell toy.

Jeffrey Harris: Why did you kill Bulkhead?

Jeff Kline: You've asked me this before. I don't know what you are talking about. Any character in our universe potentially may have something bad happen to them. We established that pretty early on. And I will tell you it doesn't suddenly get all happy ending as we keep going. The war continues.

Jeffrey Harris: Any hints or any ideas for the latter half of season 2?

Jeff Kline: I obviously don't want to give any spoilers or give anything away. I will just say that we actually plotted it out across three seasons when we started. Not specific seasons two and three, but key things we wanted to get to. We're kind of in the middle of that now. We're in the middle of seasons two on air. And that for us means there has to be a game changer pretty regularly; at least twice a year there has to be a big game changer. There will be a pretty big game changer if not more than one coming down toward the end of season 2.

Jeffrey Harris: I loved the Men In Black animated series. I remember loving the original movie and how clever it was and I think the series carried that on. And after we saw more MIB movies, I think I preferred how the series took the first movie as the base point and ran with that and evolved and extended the universe. So that being said who was the favorite character you created for the TV series that didn't appear previously like Agent Alpha for example?

Jeff Kline: It's been a while since we did that show. We had an alien agent character [who was partnered with Agent L]. That was a case again of something that potentially could've been a negative became a positive. If I remember correctly, I may be getting the timeline wrong, I believe we were going to start season 2 of MIB on Kids WB at the time. The network's whole schedule was skewing just a little bit older than they wanted. So one way a network can deal with that is that they come and dictate what they want you to do in the next season to age it down. But Kids WB was very smart and really good partners and instead they came to us and said, "Here's our problem. We feel like all our shows are maybe a little bit too old. We love the show. It's doing great. Can you think of anything that might help bring in a slightly younger viewer." So we all sat around -- Duane Capizzi, myself, and some of the others and we went, "what if we made an alien character a regular and also some comic relief." It could've really been a "do this" and we would've resented it. Instead they handled it really smartly and it became, "we're challenging you to help us." The Hub as well quite honestly are fantastic partners because that is the effigy they take. They sort of come to us and say, "This is the kind of thing we're thinking about. Could you think of a way to make it work for us?"

Jeffrey Harris: It was a great show and I enjoyed the way you took it to places the sequel movies didn't and I think should have.

Jeff Kline: It was a great show. I will tell you we're all very proud of it and a lot of the people on Transformers: Prime worked on Men In Black.

Jeffrey Harris: Thank you Jeff. You got the touch. You got the power. Till all are one.

Jeff Kline: Till all are one.

Images provided by The Hub.

Interview Clips with Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime)

During San Diego Comic-Con we also got the chance to participate in a special roundtable interview session with Peter Cullen [along with Kline as well] following his milestone interview with Larry King earlier during the convention. Cullen originated the voice of Optimus Prime in the original Transformers animated series from 1980's. In 2007, he returned to voice the character in the live action theatrical movies and also the new videogames based on the movies and more recently, Transformers: War for Cybertron. Currently, Cullen voices Optimus Prime in the ongoing Transformers: Prime animated series and in special appearances as Optimus on Transformers: Rescue Bots. He will next appear as Optimus in Activision's Transformers: Fall of Cybertron videogame.

Jeffrey Harris: What was your reaction when they made you a Decepticon in the series and did you get emotional about it at all?

Peter Cullen: Not a bit.

Jeff Kline: He trusted me.

Peter Cullen: I did. And for good reason. Because I was told that I wasn't going to be a Decepticon after all. I was aware of the development that was going to go on and I thought that was a real flavorful addition to it because it gave me a sense of further opportunity to delve into other than Optimus Prime. I could be Prime as Orion Pax and I loved it. In search of the former days of Cybertron, that gives me a sense of -- it's a thrill. To wonder what it's like before you get the Matrix, before all that and that you actually become the real Prime; the only Prime. It was great. I liked it.

Jeffrey Harris: Can you speak at all about how rewarding it has been to bring back your Optimus Prime with the new shows, movies, and games not just for the older fans but the new kids and generations as well? Like Rescue Bots which introduces Transformers to younger kids and newer generations?

Peter Cullen: I am more grateful for the fanbase that stuck behind something they loved, shared that information with me by making themselves heard, which in the final result gave me the opportunity to be Optimus Prime again in 2007. It's a fanbase that I love. I said it from the very beginning. There's a communication. There is something that I do that they understand and what we have is very special. And that I'm extremely grateful for. I mean that to me was the birth of something that gave me a confidence and a sense of belonging and a sense that I've accomplished something that I would never have accomplished unless that had exploded. And I am so grateful for that. That is unconditionally one of the greatest experiences of my life, that communication between the people that believe in me and what I believe in what we have in common. That's a great communion.

Jeff Kline: And I think that Rescue Bots grew out of that. That fanbase wanted to be able to share that with their kids now. Or multiple fanbases wanted to share it with their kids. Prime probably not appropriate for 3, 4, maybe even 5 year olds. The videogames, the movies, what is available for them? There wasn't realy a version of Transformers more recently that was appropriate. So when we first told you what we wanted to do with Rescue Bots, Peter was on board immediately. There was not a moment of hesitation. All it would do is introduce a slightly younger audience to the principles of Optimus Prime, everything Optimus Prime stands for, and Peter believes in everything Optimus Prime stands for.

New episodes of this season of Transformers: Prime will hit The Hub starting August 24. New episodes of this season of Transformers: Rescue Bots air Saturday on The Hub. Thank you to Jeff Kline and Peter Cullen for taking the time to speak with us. Transformers: Fall of Cybertron will be hitting PS3 and Xbox 360 on August 21.


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