Q&A with St. Louis' Jason & Randy Sklar
Growing up (I'm 25), Topps was always the, uhh, most boring baseball card company when compared to the flash of its newer competitors like Upper Deck and Fleer. But with the man who ruled Disney behind the wheel, Topps appears to now be aiming for more than just baseball card collectors.
St. Louis natives Jason and Randy Sklar – that comedy duo who happen to be twins, who also finish each other's sentences – have a new web-only series coming out called Back on Topps.
Although there is no launch date for the series, which should debut in the coming weeks, the Sklars say the series is more than just 25 five-minute episodes that act as commercials for the Topps company.
Michael Eisner, the former Disney CEO, and his Tornate Company are producing Internet-based shows, including Back on Topps, about the baseball card company Tornate bought late last year. The business of baseball cards tanked in the late '90s after a boom a few years earlier, but Topps (which printed the first card in 1951) has remained.
Those Sklar brothers (members of Parkway North's class of 1990 by the way) talked about their lead acting and creative roles for Back on Topps recently, via telephone (Jason in Los Angeles and Randy in St. Louis, visiting family.) You ever try to transcribe a phone interview between two twins? Over the phone? Shit.
The 25 Web-isodes, or Inter-sodes, or whatever, that will comprise Back on Topps focus on the lives of Leyland and Leif Topps (also twins), who are heirs to the Topps baseball card company fortune. Played by Jason and Randy Sklar, the adult brothers inherited the company from their uncle, Marvin Topps. Well, old Uncle Marvin had planned to give the brothers his company, but at the last minute, sold it to Michael Eisner.
Eisner doesn't appear in the show, but an actor plays him. As fate (or the premise of a clever comedy would have it), Eisner hires a corporate manager to run the company. This character doesn't like the Topps brothers one bit, so he suggests hiring a documentary crew to film their day-to-day lives. It's all an effort to catch those Topps brothers mucking up the baseball card process. But Eisner, thinking it could be good publicity for the company likes the documentary idea.
Now that you've read that series summary – somebody paste that into Wikipedia – here is the Sklar interview. They seemed a little wary of the Web show format, and expressed interest in parlaying this Web series into television work, particularly with Eisner's powerful Tornate production company.
It's still up in the air as to when this thing is going online. So yeah, wait for it.
With resumes that include guest-hosting the Jime Rome Show, creating ESPN Classic's Cheap Seats and most recently doing Hollywood show business spoof, Layers, the prolific Sklar brothers appear to keep their Midwestern work ethic.
So everyone can know your social and economic class and maybe try to pick you up in a bar in St. Louis, where did you go to high school?
Jay: Parkway North, where the school colors were acid wash
How did Back on Topps come to be? And some may think it's more or less a commercial for Topps baseball cards. Is it?
Jason: It's straight-up original comedy and I think it's our next project, as far as doing an original series. It just so happens that Topps is the backdrop. The Office is set at Dunder-Mifflin, but the The Office is not about the paper company.
Randy: I don't think that anyone would argue that the office is an advertisement for Dunder-Mifflin.
Jason: Think of it in those terms.
Randy: Michael Eisner's company Tornate had been watching us and were fans of Cheap Seats and The Bracket (every other Sunday on SportsCenter) and Jim Rome's national syndicated radio show.
Randy: We just did a web series for Super Deluxe (TBS' Web site) called Layers, nominated for a Webby. That was a super-meta concept, it was web series about a guy who was a guy who was an agent who represents other agents in Hollywood -- and we played his publicist.
How did this deal with Eisner and Topps come about? He just bought the company late last year.
Randy: Everybody knows Topps, it was like, "how do we take this company and bring it into the 20th century?" Create a web series and give it a web presence. We pitched them this idea we would play fictional brothers, Leyland and Leif Topps, heir to the Topps fortune. He was going to give us the company but then at the last minute, he decides to sell it to Michael Eisner.
Randy: We like the Meta aspect of (Back on Topps), like, ''is this real is it not real?''
Jason: It kind of plays out like those great SportsCenter commercials. And it is shot by the same director who shot Layers, Michael Blieden.
Jason: We're going to have athlete cameos... DennisRodman, Andre Ethier and Russell Martin of the Dodgers, Johnny Damon, Julio Franco.
Randy: We go on a quest in the middle of the series, in the middle we go on the road to get Julio Franco to go play the game again.
Didn't you try a similar thing with Jose Oquendo a few years ago, trying to get him into the Hall of Fame?
Randy: We tried to get Jose Oquendo in the Hall of Fame. With Julio Franco...
Jason: Julio Franco is this guy who is 49 years old, and in the show we are playing our age, 35-36 years old. All the players in the league now are younger, younger than we are, and there is no one to look up to. Being around Julio Franco makes you feel like you're 10 again.
You were creators of this show?
Randy: Yes and Tornate helped us develop it. Michael Eisner and Steven Cone. We have a writing staff who wrote on Cheap Seats and our go-to people have helped us write this thing as well. great comedy director like Michael Blidden. Hired actors how have great improving abilities that can go off of things.
When many kids were growing up, Topps was always like this nerdy short cousin compared to the rest of the baseball companies. It may seem odd they are taking on this early adopter stance of creating their own web series.
Randy: It's generational.
Randy: When we were growing up, Upper Deck didn't even exist. Fleer and Donruss were just coming up.
Jason: They realized they didn't have the cards that didn't reach back into older eras.
Randy: Topps were just like, ''lets just keep doing what we 're doing'' and Eisner came in and said, ''let's inject this company with new life.''
Jason: You can tell the guys at Topps are excited about it. They have helped us get athletes on the show.
Have all the episodes been filmed?
Randy: We have shot fourteen out of 25 so far. We'll shoot the last eight by October.
Jason: We're not sure about the air date. middle to the end of july.
What's next for you?
Randy: This thing is pretty all consuming in terms of time. With Tornate and Eisner behind it you know they are going to get it out there.
Jason: I think this is some way could be a stepping stone to a series.
Randy: This is a good way to sort of step in and start your relationship (with Tornate.)
Jason: Maybe our own sports comedy show on TV or a daily or weekly thing or who knows.
How does the Web factor into the impending Screen Actor's Guild strike?
Jason: We control it, we can meet the the guild's demands and stay guild-friendly.
You both seem to be always getting work; your work ethic is high, to what do you attribute that?
Jason: We had to chart our own path and go our own path.
Randy: And not go down the traditional route of, we can't be the Double-Mint twins or the Olsen twins. We cared more about what we were doing quality-wise to fall into that. There's is a ceiling of how high you can go to play those (twins) gimmicks out.
Jason: It's a theme that follows through our stuff. We want the fact that we are twins to be the backdrop.
Do you read any other sports blogs?
Jason: Those sites tend to be a little – harsh.
Randy: I like the writing i hate the posting. It's sometimes hard to put a piece of original content on.
Randy: I think it'd be the perfect thing for Deadspin. That blog once put up a post about us that was ''Sklars: Funny or Not?'' which kind of set us up for failure from the get-go.
Did you know the Bowling Hall of Fame has moved?
Randy: Why Why Why! We bowled a strike there once.
Have you been to new Busch Stadium?
Randy: We went to a World Series game, where Carpenter pitched the shutout.
How would you throw out the first pitch, if offered?
Jason: I think Randy would throw and I would bat and I would rush the mound.