ADAM F. GOLDBERG, PART 2: The Death of Optimus Prime, BREAKING IN and GOBOTS

Adam F. Goldberg artwork
Credit: ABC

Newsarama's interview with Adam F. Goldberg, the creator of the hit ABC sitcom The Goldbergs, continues today. After Tuesday's first part, now Goldberg talks about the geekiest episodes of his first series, the cult fox comedy Breaking In, and the recent episode of The Goldbergs where his fictional counterpart is traumatized, as most children of the 1980s were, by Transformers: The Movie. Prepare to relive some dark times... and then come back for Part 3, where Goldberg takes on an 1980s trivia challenge.

Credit: ABC

Newsarama: Adam, I also wanted to ask – you did that Comic-Con International: San Diego episode of Breaking In, and a friend was asking if the bit where Michael Rosenbaum finds the Superman shirt was scripted? It’s been years since I saw the episode, but my friend said he had to pause the episode from laughing.

Adam F. Goldberg: That was interesting – it was based on how Sloth from The Goonies wears a Superman shirt, and Michael’s character is allergic to peanuts in that episode, and his face blows up like Sloth, and he was going to be wearing suspenders and the shirt.

What we ran into on another level was – obviously, he was in Smallville, but Warner Bros. did not want to let us use the Superman shirt! So I had to shoot two different versions, and ultimately go and ask for permission and be so relentless that  they had to let us use it. I think Michael even wrote an email like, “C’mon, let me wear this f***in’ shirt!” It was a big to-do!

But I’m glad people remember that and still bring it up! It makes it feel like it was worth it.

Nrama: It was a good episode, and a very convincing fake Comic-Con!

Goldberg: That show will always be very painful to me, because I loved that cast, I loved Christian Slater, and the network just did not want to do “The A-Team Meets The Office.” They kept retooling it and making me nuts, and changing the concept.

Credit: Fox

It was a big learning experience, which is: “At the end of the day, it’s your show, and it’s going to live and die based on what you do, and the worst thing you can do is have it die as a show you don’t even want to make.”

Nrama: That’s a Hollywood writer phrase I keep hearing: “Is this the hill you want to die on?”

Goldberg: Exactly, It’s funny, after we were canceled like the third time, and they’d asked for it to be retooled, half the cast fired, new people brought in…you try to make that work, but my biggest regret is that at the end of the day, you have to be proud about the product, and they wanted me to take out all the geeky stuff, which is what I loved about it.

But then they canceled us, and we were still contracted to do 12 episodes for the season, so I just wound up putting all that stuff back in anyway. So, it was a great learning experience, but it set me up for The Goldbergs, which is to make things collaborative, but also make it mine.

I still kind of claim I made the greatest, geekiest fan finale of any show that no one will ever see, which was: We were long canceled, and weren’t allowed to do security missions of the week any more, but I decided we’d do one last one, which is Martin Starr plays the biggest Star Wars fan on the planet, and he builds the Death Star in his house, and he steals Chewbacca’s suit – we had Peter Mayhew on.

And we did this complete Star Wars finale that was a big-budget blow-out – we recreated sets, did the trash compactor room, I got the 501st Legion to do all the costumes…it was awesome! And no one will ever see it! Well, it’s on DVD and maybe Crackle (Newsarama Note: It is! And you can watch it on this page!)

Nrama: Getting back to The Goldbergs, I want to get all James Lipton up in here for a moment. (affected accent) Blume in Love. A Touch of Class. California Split. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. And yet, I cannot say Oscar nominee George Segal has had a finer moment than when he was dressed as Optimus Prime.

Goldberg: [big laugh] It’s so funny you say that, because I have a photo he sent me in that outfit where he looks so confused, just playing along, being a good sport. (Newsarama Note: Goldberg provided us with said picture) And I wrote back, “I was f***ing nominated for an Academy Award – George Segal.” And he wrote back. “Ha ha ha ha.”

Credit: ABC

This is one of the greatest actors ever, who is just coming here to have fun. And I am doing the most confusing stuff to him, this stuff people love, and he just goes with it. I went to him and tried to explain who Optimus Prime was, and what Transformers: The Movie was about, and he just went, “Ahhhhhhh! I don’t need to know all that.”

Another point, he was in a Tron costume, and he spilled juice all over the Tron costume, and he was trying to make good with Adam saying, “I could be a Fruit Punch Robot.” There is so much wrong with what he’s saying, but it all comes George not knowing what I’m writing about, but understanding that it means a lot to a lot of people. That’s George. It’s so great.

Nrama: I was very impressed you did an actual video of your saving Optimus Prime. Because – that was our generation’s Bambi, Adam.

Goldberg: For sure. For sure. The thing that’s so weird for me about that episode was that all the writers in the room – I have maybe one kindred spirit, I don’t surround myself with pop-culture geeky guys, because that’s what I do, and I don’t need that, I need women who can help with Erica stories, I need people with smothers who come from similar experiences, I can write all the Transformers and Gobots jokes.

And everyone in the room said, “You can’t do this story, no one knows that movie.” And then --  when I went to get permission to use the movie, no one knows who owns it! The writers said, “This is a sign! No one will even claim they own the movie! No one will know what you’re talking about!”

So I just did this because I thought it was something for me – like, my two greatest heroes were my grandfather and Optimus Prime, and I felt that parallel was something we’d never seen on TV before. And the writers said, “There’s a reason. No one wants to see a story about Optimus Prime dying, and a boy‘s struggle with that. It’s so bizarre.”

Nrama: But it’s what you do on the show – you take the pop-cultural bit and you tie it to the emotional story.

Goldberg: Right, right. That was exactly my explanation – and I went, “Look, I’m going to be very proud of this episode, I need everyone in on it.” And they said, “Okay.”

And then the episode came out and got all this attention, and everyone was stunned it got this much attention – it’s like you said, it’s Bambi for a lot of people. And it’s a lesson – never underestimate the power of nostalgia, and memory, and what you experienced as a kid.

We got so many Tweets! And so much attention! And it was because so many people had the same experience I had, which was going to the theater and sitting there and saying, “What the hell did I just watch?”

Credit: Hasbro

Nrama: I got some third-party figures of the Quintessons staring at me from across the room. That movie sticks with you.

Goldberg: I know exactly what you’re talking about. I’ve been on eBay and gone down that rabbit hole. They even get the packaging like the 1980s!

Yes, I have such anger toward the filmmakers toward that. And they made the cartoon so dark, I didn’t even know what I was watching anymore!

Nrama: I felt the same way as a kid! And you watch it years later, and it’s actually kind of better-written, with people like Steve Gerber and Marv Wolfman writing episodes, and being very subversive and such – but it’s not for kids!

Credit: Tonka

Goldberg: It’s so bizarre. It’s really like…we forgot the point of these cartoons was to sell toys, and we took them so seriously.

One of my favorite things was I got to work with Avi Arad on a movie for Sony, and we don’t realize this, but he’s the reason toys were sold off of cartoons, more or less. He created the Gobots!

I am a Gobot junkie, and I pitched the Gobots movie as an animated movie a few years ago, and we’re trying to work something out now that the rights are cleared. But that’s my dream project, besides The Goldbergs, doing a Gobots movie.

Avi designed the toys! I get what they are: “This is a tank, and his name is ‘Tank!’” So I just love the simplicity of Gobots.

But at the end of the day – all these things were commercials to sell toys, but we looked up to them. We looked up to Optimus. So with that movie, all these Transformers killed off to make a new wave of things for us to buy – in a way, it made me bail on Transformers altogether.

Nrama: It had an effect on people.

Goldberg: It did. It did.

Next: Our interview concludes with the HARDEST ‘80s GEEK QUIZ we could think of. And Adam Goldberg is ready.

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