Right after the mid-season premiere of “The Walking Dead,” AMC is making a foray into reality programming with “Comic Book Men,” which premieres Sunday at 10 pm Eastern. It’s basically a look at the goings on at Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, the Red Bank, NJ comic book store owned by filmmaker and podcast magnate Kevin Smith.
When Smith spoke to us about the show during the TCA press tour, he told us that “Comic Book Men” will show a group of guys that are a “different slice of Jersey” than the other Garden State-centric reality programs have shown us.
“The dudes don’t go to the gym, they don’t tan, and I don’t think anybody’s done laundry in years. Those people [on the other shows] are filled with an unbelievable amount of confidence. Our show? Totally the opposite. They don’t believe in themselves, they don’t believe in anything. It shows a corner of Jersey that hasn’t been televised at this point.”
What else is there to know about what we’ll see on “Comic Book Men?”
Smith admits he’s ripping off “Pawn Stars.” The largest element of the show is when a customer brings in a piece of memorabilia, and Smith’s childhood friend and store manager, Walt Flanagan, and his crew try to figure out how much it’s worth. When AMC wanted to get into the reality business with Smith, he told them that “if we were going to do anything, the cheapest and quickest thing to do that geeks would like is just hold up a mirror to them, man, just make ‘Pawn Stars’ in a comic book store kind of thing. Just do what someone else did. You just go find the most acerbic crew in America, erudite behind the counter, and shoot ‘em for two months.”
After they shot a demo episode in the Stash, AMC realized that they didn’t need to go any further for who to build the show around; Flanagan and his crew — Bryan Johnson, Mike Zapcic and Ming Chen — were funny and entertaining enough to carry it. “I pitched a rip-off show, and when I saw the first episode of the show completed, I was like ‘Oh, this is ‘Clerks’ the reality show! You ripped me off! This is amazing!’”
You won’t see the usual reality show confessionals. The glue that holds the show together is more along the lines of the podcast Smith does with the crew every week; the five of them sit around a table, making like they’re doing the podcast, and the guys talk to Smith about the stuff that happened during that particular episode.
“Being able to find a different way into it, a little more graceful way into a transition, just makes it stand out that much more,” Smith said. “Plus having five dudes sitting around a table talking to each other, you’re going to get a more funny s–t than one guy talking on camera.”
What do they talk about? “We make a GI Robot joke. That’s so obscure dude, I think five people on the planet are going to get it, but (AMC) let it ride. There’s definitely like, ‘What superhero would you most like to be?’ the kinda easy stuff that people like to do, but then we get into deeper discussions more along the lines of ‘Clerks’ and ‘Mallrats’ when we get into it.”
It’s a “sausage party”… for now. During the first, six-episode season, we’ll just see how the four guys in the store interact. Flanagan is the shy, put-upon boss; Johnson is the guy who’s there to mostly hang out; Zapcic is the “muscle”; and Chen is the young go-getter that’s takes the brunt of the geeky abuse. According to Smith, the producers and AMC wanted to get a girl into the mix, and got one for the demo shoot, but ended up backtracking.
“I thought that was kind of bold, man,” he said. The network told him,”‘Let’s grow to know your friends before we start cramming things that aren’t real into the show.’ I was OK with that.” The reality is that in the store “it’s just four dudes. It’s not like women don’t come into the store; half the transactions are (from) chicks, but they’re not behind the counter this season.”
There will be some Jersey flavor in the episodes. For instance, in the premiere, Flanagan challenges the staff to unload the store’s junk at the Collingwood Flea Market. Smith himself will mostly just appear in the podcast segments, but he did shoot a hockey game with the guys when he was in town.
What comes in for sale can be surprising. Like in “Pawn Stars” the people selling think things are worth more than they actually are. But it’s still amazing to see an original Steve Austin action figure in the package or a sketch of Batman and Robin from the man who created those characters, Bob Kane.
Smith recounts a story of one interesting transaction: “We had this guy bring in a Superman poster — I’ve seen a lot of Superman posters, but never this particular one. And the backstory he gave to it was f—-n’ astounding. He was like ‘This is Gay Superman. The guy who painted this was gay and he wanted this to be the representation of the ideal gay Superman.’ I’m well studied and I’ve never heard of this, never seen this depiction at all. And then Flanagan started buying into it, saying ‘Look at his foot, he’s curling his toe.’”
Flanagan, though, is a tough buyer. “Our store is not a buying place,” said Smith, citing that Flanagan “doesn’t leave stuff up there forever. So we got all these people coming in to do transactions and Walter’s like ‘Nah, it’s too much for us.’ And a lot of people look deflated. He didn’t clown it up and fake it for TV. He was like ‘I wouldn’t buy this s—.’”