A Conversation with Tom Lynch, Godfather of the Tween Genre

Toronto has become a hub for the production of TV shows aimed at tweens, but you may not realize that the person who started the genre is right here working on two of these series. Tom Lynch is the creator of current tween hits Make it Pop (Nick/YTV) and The Other Kingdom (Nick/Family Channel), but he’s been producing shows since the 80s including the one that started it all: Kids Incorporated.

People who know me well know that Kids Incorporated was very important to me growing up. It was probably my first TV obsession — to the point that when I was so sick the doctor wanted to keep me in the hospital, I insisted I had to go home because Kids Incorporated was on the next morning and I couldn’t miss it. Imagine my delight when I was given the opportunity to talk to the man who started it all! Here’s my conversation with Tom Lynch, in which we discuss some of his past hits plus the two shows he’s working on in Toronto at the moment.

Kids Incorporated was the show that launched this genre. What was your experience with creating that show?

Kids Incorporated almost didn’t get made. I literally was shooting that show and I had no distributor. I remember putting that show on and there was no other live action kids show in the United States at that time. K-Tel Records was our partner and they went bankrupt in Episode 8. It was this crazy thing, but somehow it survived and ran for 10 years. All of those kids keep in touch with me. I ran into Fergie recently — you have to call her Fergie, you can’t call her Stacy — and she’s a lovely wife and a mother and doing her thing. Ryan Lambert, he’s in San Francisco and doing good. Rahsaan [Patterson] I saw when I was home. They were all really good kids.

Personally, I think it’s time for a reunion.

They talked about that. I was asked to do Kids Incorporated again, and I talked to Mario Lopez and Fergie. They were asking me and I’ve always avoided doing it again because I think shows only work in certain a time. I said if I did this, I would want Mario to own the club and I’d want Fergie to come and open it up for him. They were open to it, they were cool with it, but the business side got in the way — not with them but with MGM.

You are the person who set all of this in motion, all of these shows aimed at tweens and teens.

I’ve been called the creator of the tween genre. I was so enamoured with watching shows and going, “The kids aren’t talking, or they’re not talking like normal people,” like you and I would talk. In my time, people were talking down to kids and I just thought for some reason in my brain that didn’t work. Throughout my career, people always say, “Your shows are always so positive, don’t you want to do something darker?” and I kinda go, “I write and create shows about how life should be.”

Real life gets ugly enough, and kids need an escape.

Although if you look at South of Nowhere, which was a show about a young girl coming out, that was as dramatic as anything I’ve done. I’ve been fortunate. I think I’ve been really lucky.

How was it that Toronto become such a hub for the production of these shows?

I think it’s¬†because of a man named Steven DeNure and he runs DHX. Steven had a company called Decode Entertainment and they were doing stuff up here 10 or 15 years ago. He loved the teen business. He was the one that attracted me up here because we had known each other professionally. When I was getting ready to start Make it Pop, I was looking at Vancouver where I traditionally shoot, or I was looking at doing it in Europe or somewhere that I could kind of change it up, and he came and spoke to me and he said, “We can provide you with a creative environment.” I said, “Steven, I’ve heard that from every distributor in the world.” And he said, “Tom, whatever issues you have, we’ll work them out.” And he absolutely has done that. I think that Canada really appreciates youth.

In America, they always look to Canada as having a lesser population and maybe not as much talent, and I think that’s not true. There are incredibly talented writers here, directors, the creative pool is really, really deep. Maybe the reason is that in the past 10 years or so, kids have started going to classes more — dance classes and performing arts classes — and it’s really grown up. The tax credit is certainly one of the things, but there’s also an appetite. YTV, Family Channel, you have networks that can become partners. People have a cool head here. For me, I have to look at whether we are going to be in a safe environment. On Make it Pop, [our cast is] still young and you want to provide a safe environment for them. And Toronto’s as cool a city as I’ve ever been in. Summer time in Toronto — it’s one of the greatest cities in the world. I’m out of here before February.

What inspired The Other Kingdom? I’m definitely noticing some Midsummer Night’s Dream influences.

This is my 34th or 35th kids series. And people go, “How can you do it?” and I say, “How can I not? They let me do it, I’m happy to do it.” I still come on to my sets and they always get mad at me because I laugh out loud at stuff that I’ve written. My relationship with Nickelodeon and with Disney is good, so I’ll go, “This is the next show I want to make,” and people are usually pretty good with it. They’ll let me do it. With Make it Pop, I was just looking at the second season cuts and it’s fantastic. It’s joyful, and viscerally it takes an absurd look at life but every kid can relate to the joy and fun of it. It grabs the audience right away with the sound and visuals, and then I go to The Other Kingdom and it has to grab you by the heart. It’s this story of a girl — a fish out of water — and she’s got these magical fairy powers, but underneath it is this whole substory of technology vs environment, and how those two are going to have to work together, so there’s a bigger theme to it. I’ve mapped the show out for four seasons going forward, and I have six graphic novels being done about the prequel to it.

The idea came to me at the Degrassi studios. There’s a little kitchen with an interior garden. It’s February. I live in Los Angeles and Hawaii, so I’m used to being warm, and I’m freezing. Your winter was brutal, even for Canadians it was brutal. And the whole garden was filled with snow and I just went, “Wow, the fairies must live in there. They must be cold,” and that’s what started the show. I had this idea of what would it be like to do a fish out of water [story] with a girl has to make a choice: do I leave my family or do I stay? It starts out with a boy — always a boy — but it ends up with so much more. She’s an independent girl and I was very careful to make sure that young women would see that they make their own decisions, they’re not dictated by anybody. It’s a Tommy Lynch show: it’s family, it’s magic, it’s drama, it’s what I do!

You talk about female characters on TV and wanting to make sure that younger girls are seeing that they are in control of their own lives. Are there any other female-centric series where you see that happening?

I’ve been watching Jessica Jones and it’s interesting. The idea of a strong woman making her own choices — obviously for an older audience — on what she’s going to do, how she’s going to live. I think we’re in the century of the woman. This is from a man who was raised by a single mother, and has a very strong wife. The woman’s influence has been very strong on me, but it seems now that it’s getting into the larger narrative.

We’re in an age of television where shows have to engage their audiences in between seasons. How are your two current shows doing this?

What we’re doing with The Other Kingdom and what we’ve started with Make It Pop is that we have to supply the audience with a tour and with a single, or with a graphic novel because they want to stay engaged.

Why was now the right time to bring The Other Kingdom to television?

The trick with this show, which is the magic of this show, is that a) I couldn’t have done this show five years ago, the technology wasn’t available for me and b) [audiences being open to] the idea of telling a dual story where this young girl has to go from being a protected princess in a bubble into a world where she thinks it’s about a boy, but it’s really about becoming a young woman. The basic concept is everybody’s got magic. You just gotta go get it.

The Other Kingdom concludes tonight in Canada on Family Channel.

2 thoughts on “A Conversation with Tom Lynch, Godfather of the Tween Genre

  1. Dear Televixen
    Wow!!! I am blushing. Such a great interview. I can’t tell you how grateful and appreciative I am for your interest. I hope to see you soon and thank you for watching.

    Best Tom Lynch

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