Interview With ‘Masters of the Universe: Revolution’ Executive Producer Rob David

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Interview With Masters Of The Universe Executive Producer Rob David

Photos featuring Rob David by Michael Buckner (left) and Rich Polk (via Getty Images for Mattel)

We recently had the pleasure of discussing the Masters of the Universe franchise on Netflix with Rob David, Executive Producer and Vice President of Creative Content at Mattel Television.

Masters of the Universe: Revolution is an animated fantasy television series, and sequel to Masters of the Universe: Revelation. The series was animated by Powerhouse Animation, with Kevin Smith as showrunner.

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Rob David is an executive producer on Masters of the Universe and the vice president of Creative Content at Mattel Television. His extensive career as a story editor and writer has seen Rob work on multiple cartoons across Disney, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon, including Teenage Mutant Ninjas Turtles, Viva Piñata, and Wordworld.

In 2011, Rob David became the Franchise Creative Lead at Mattel, soon becoming a Head Writer & Producer working on shows such as DC Super Hero Girls, Max Steel, Polly Pocket, and More.

Since becoming Vice President of Creative Content, Rob has overseen the rejuvenation of the Masters of the Universe franchise to great success.

How did you first become involved in Masters of the Universe?

Rob: Well, I first became involved when I was a little kid in the 80s, like so many of us. I just absolutely got hit in the head by how awesome it was right when those toys first started coming out because there was nothing else on the market that remotely came close to what it was. And so I just got hooked on it. And then I realized that power-packed, how insanely cool, Masters universe toys were. And then, of course, inside every one of those toys, which you may or may not know, you probably do, was this packaged mini-comic that just started telling this crazy epic saga in this amazing world called Eternia that had magic, barbarians, robots wizards and jet planes.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and then, of course, the cartoon that came out right after that only added gasoline to the fire. I just loved He-Man and I loved all the genre stories. I love Star Wars. I love Star Trek. I love Marvel comics, DC comics, you name it.

I started a career in writing and producing for animation based in New York, and I was writing for shows like Ninja Turtles and others. Then Mattel recruited me to come inside the company to help them develop all kinds of new storylines for some of their great properties. Hopefully, I will bring them to life in all kinds of mediums, including the medium I know best, which is television.

Interview With Masters Of The Universe Executive Producer Rob David Ninja Turtles

Picture: The beloved TMNT cartoon from the 80s Rob David worked on – Nickelodeon Network

So, I’ve been lucky enough to write the DC He-Man comic books for many years. I was lucky to develop, executive produce, and show-run the CG animated He-Man and the Masters of the Universe that came out on Netflix just a few years back. And then also executive produced Masters of the Universe Revelation and Revolution alongside Kevin Smith, the showrunner. And it’s been a blast. I love it. I’m having too much fun at work. I try to stay cool and act professional, but inside I’m just completely geeking out.

It took 17 years for a new Masters of the Universe series. Why was that?

Rob: Who’s counting? Masters of the Universe is never far from the heart of many people who grew up on it. And I know it’s definitely never far away from the hearts and minds of people at Mattel, either. I think the timing for our new shows and new content is because of a few things.  In many ways, there’s never been a better time to bring back this classic that we all grew up with because the fans who knew it during the day in the eighties still love it.

Now, many of them have their own kids and families. So there’s this perfect opportunity to have this become a family and generational event, which is exciting for Mattel and others. Also, Mattel has been in the midst of an amazing transformation from being a toy company, or just a toy company, which is amazing because Mattel makes the best toys out there, and who doesn’t love toys? It’s the reason why we’re all here.

But beyond that, realizing that Mattel’s toys don’t just have customers, they have fans. We are in the midst of a transformation led by our CEO, Inan, to unlock the full potential of all of our brands and all of our intellectual property to tell amazing, amazing stories and create amazing universes of stories for each of the Mattel properties for people to enjoy emotionally because people have such an emotional connection to Mattel’s properties. So if you combine the will to master our own storytelling, if you forgive the pun, plus the passion that the previous generation of MOTU fans have for MOTU, plus the next generation coming up who love stories of good and evil and sci-fi and fantasy, it was just the perfect time to bring it back.

Interview With Masters Of The Universe Executive Producer Rob David Classic He Man

Picture: Classic He-Man from the 1980s – Mattel

Jacob: Growing up for me, I was born in 94. So I just missed the boat on Masters of the Universe. I grew up watching Power Rangers and Pokemon. So I will admit Masters of the Universe, I hadn’t watched but had always known about it because you couldn’t escape it.

Rob: Iconic in many ways!

Jacob: Yeah, exactly. He-Man, Prince Adam, and Skeletor are these incredibly iconic pop culture figures. So, it wasn’t until the Netflix series came out that it piqued my interest. I dipped my toe in there, and I was really impressed.

Rob: Oh, that’s terrific. You know, we wanted it to be something that, you know, fans of the original could recognize and love. Still, we also definitely wanted it to be future-forward and open to people, new people coming in. And getting into it because I’ve said this before, and I mean this with all love, it’s a weird property. Very weird in the best sense of the word because of how much of an amazing, crazy cocktail of all these different ingredients it is. You know, sci-fi and magic and skull-faced demons, but handsome princes and you name it, talking dragons and self-aware robots. I mean, there’s really nothing quite like it.

Jacob: In one way you could compare it to franchises like Naruto and One Piece because they both exist in a world where you have this mixture of futuristic and medieval elements. You blend all that together and it’s no wonder why it’s so popular.

Rob: And it’s fun. Everything you just mentioned at the root of it is just fun and emotional. You care about these characters. They have very basic, relatable human wants. And then they express those wants in this kaleidoscopic world of good and evil. So, I mean, it’s just a lot of fun.

Jacob: Even the simple notion of good versus evil is such an easy concept for kids to rally behind and enjoy, right?

Rob: Yeah, completely. It’s got a central theme of self-empowerment and that idea that inside everybody is, is there something truly special? If you can unlock it and master that,  you could have the power to transform yourself in the universe. It’s not just limited to He-Man. That’s one of the things that I thought was true of the original show in the subtext, but we’ve made more of it in the newest incarnations is that idea that what’s true about He-Man is really true about everybody. Everybody has something specific that is their greatest strength. Characters like Stinkor. He smells really bad, but it doesn’t depress him. He made something of it. I mean, for evil, but in his case, but you’ve got characters who’ve got long extending necks, that’s the, you know, and they’ve got this incredible value to spot the enemy coming from miles and miles away. I mean, it’s just, it’s truly special in that way.

I think people who watch it, they recognize that. They see that. They’re like, hey, you know, I just won a race at school, today maybe I’m the master of speed? Maybe I could be if I put my mind to it. It’s really something that I think speaks to people of all ages.

Jacob: I remember there was some discourse when Revelations was first released because Prince Adam took a back seat, and Teela came forward. But I feel like the show did a good job of distributing of having everyone have their moment in the sun. They stepped up.

Rob: I think I really appreciate you saying that. Yeah, it was never our intention to keep He-Man away for very long. But having him be off the grid for a beat, you know, to your point, allowed other people to step up. And the great thing about it is that even in his absence, he was so incredibly important. Without him, you saw that the world was trying to fall apart in many ways, but then also, he represented something ideal, that they could speak to the other characters. I mean, Teela is able to kind of reach her new heights in large part because of the example that she recognizes that Adam sets and what he means to the world. So that was our intention and our goal. And then of course, when he comes back, it’s, you know, get ready, the world’s gonna shake.

Interview With Masters Of The Universe Executive Producer Rob David Prince Adam

Picture: Prince Adam in Masters of the Universe: Revelation – Mattel / Netflix

Before Revelation and Revolution Netflix released She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Was that series influential in the return of Masters of the Universe at all?

Rob: It didn’t directly in any way influence what we were doing with Masters of the Universe and He-Man. It’s of course, other than the fact that it’s a wonderful thing and it definitely, any good news and response in the genre, but particularly in something like this is great news, but we were already planning for a while to bring it back and how to bring it back. We were just celebrating the win for She-Ra because part of the family. He always roots for his sister and she’s always rooting for her brother.

How did Kevin Smith join the project?

Rob: Kevin was my idea because I’m a good friend and work very closely with Ted Biaselli at Netflix, who is an EP along with me and Kevin on Revelation and Revolution. So, Teddy and I were already thinking of what we would wanna do with the show and how we would wanna bring it back to life for old fans, but in a fresh way. And I thought of Kevin to come in and kind of carry the torch with us because as much as I loved his films growing up, I also really liked his comic books.

I’m a huge comic book geek. And I read Kevin’s run on Daredevil and Green Arrow, particularly Daredevil where Kevin was very much in awe, like all of us, of Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil. He was able to tell a new story that had a lot of callbacks to Frank Miller’s work but also felt fresh and had new things to say. That was really what we were trying to do with Revelation, which was kind of embrace the past, but also have a lot of surprises along the way. And the other thing about Kevin was that he has kind of a Stan Lee-like quality. And I mean that in the way that he can really create a clubhouse feeling and speak directly to fans. We wanted this to be a pop culture celebration and he’s such a great embodiment of pop culture fun. He’s also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

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Kevin Smith, Ted Biaselli, and Rob David onstage at the “Masters of the Universe: Revolution” panel at the 2023 Comic-Con International: San Diego at the San Diego Convention Center on July 20, 2023, in San Diego, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Variety via Getty Images)

He threw himself into the work. He knew the material before. He’s a genre fan. It wasn’t his number one franchise, but the first time I met with him, I brought him over a Masters University encyclopedia. The second time I met with him, he had marked it all up. He had read the whole thing cover to cover, and he just progressively got more and more into it. He’s like Neo in the Matrix. He’s like, I know Kung Fu. So, it was just a blast working with him. So me, Kevin, and Teddy, whom Kevin refers to as the triumvirate, the three towers of Preternia, because on Revelation and Revolution, it’s really the three of us having a blast together every step of the way.

Jacob: I grew up watching Kevin’s movies as well. I’m also subscribed to his YouTube channel and regularly watch his podcast [Fatman on Batman]. He’s always come across as exceptionally passionate.

Rob: He really is. Yeah, he will watch an animatic, or he’ll read. He’s either writing a script or he’s like reading one of the scripts that have come in from one of our writers. And if something moves him, he’ll text me, just being like, “Oh my God, did you watch the scene? I’m in tears.” I mean, he really is genuinely an emotional guy, and it comes through in his work, which has a lot of heart.

What was it like working with the animators at Powerhouse Animation?

Rob: Powerhouse is a studio that Ted Biaselli had worked with before on Castlevania, and he introduced me to them because he thought maybe they could be a great addition to this.

I met with Brad and Shane over there, and Brad is one of the owners and he’s the creative director of the entire studio. Shane has a background in storyboarding and actually runs their production wing. Also, Shane has a series of Master of the Universe tattoos up his arm and across his chest. He’s the real deal in terms of fashion, and I was like, I can totally see it.

I can totally see how these guys are gonna be great partners, and they are. Then they have two directors there, Adam and Patrick, who are complete fans of MOTU, but also two of the most thoughtful directors I’ve ever worked with.

I mean, if you’re trying to design something, right? Part of our philosophy on this was to bring back the classic, right? To basically take all the work of the 80s and say, that’s text. That’s where we’re starting from, but then give it this extra level of groundedness in realism and grit and strength to make it feel very visceral, primal, real, and more mature. We wanted the actual property to feel as mature as the fans who were kids in the 80s. They’re grown up, they’re adults now. We wanted it to kind of mature along with them.  And then also to allow new designs, new costumes, new upgrades, new lands we might visit that could be sharing the same type of aesthetic philosophy, but be all new.

These guys dove into that. So anytime they were designing something, they would wanna know about its history, the lore, and how it fits in. And if I didn’t have an answer for it, they’d be like, hey, here’s an idea, and we would just kind of shape this together. Then, when it comes to storytelling, those boards are insane. The fight scenes are insane. Kevin likes to joke that in the scripts, we just put in fighty fight. Whenever characters fight, we let Patrick and Adam and their board artists just kind of have fun. They know the story beats we need to hit, but they’re just like, I would never wanna brawl with them,  just to put it that way,  because these guys know how to throw a punch. And they’re just really some of the best collaborators I’ve worked with in the business.

Gettyimages 1168844260

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 18: Rob David of Mattel TV and writer and director Kevin Smith delighted He-Man fans at 2019 Power-Con with his announcement of a new anime show coming to Netflix: Masters is the Universe: Revelation. Smith will serve as writer and show runner and Smith and David will both serve as Executive Producers. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for Mattel)

Jacob: I think it’s one thing that translates very well with Powerhouse’s animation style is you can very much tell they make it, but at the same time, as you said, they’ve taken some of the old designs, modernized them a bit, give it a fresh look, but still very much He-Man.

Rob: Very much. Yep. That’s exactly the kind of ethos and the mantra we were going by. I have a phrase that I got from a partner here at Mattel, many years ago, which stuck with me, that I think is terrific, which is, “We can be nostalgic, but we’re never retro.” Right? So, we are honoring the past, but it still needs to be fresh and feel future forward, and I think that’s what we were trying, definitely with the CG animated show, but also with something like Revelation Revolution. It’s the same idea.

Jacob: It definitely feels like the right balance is there. Because Castlevania is one of my favorite animated shows, and I can’t wait for the next season or next season of Nocturne, I should say.

Rob: They’ve [Powerhouse Animation] got other shows as well. Blood of Zeus, and they’ve got some stuff that you haven’t even seen yet, which is coming out, which I’m really excited about because it’s going to be amazing.

What is the future of the Masters of the Universe franchise after Revolution?

Rob: Tons of stuff. Spinning out of Revolution,  we have a prequel comic book series that we’re doing with Dark Horse. It’s all about Skeletor and Kaldor becoming Skeletor and becoming the time he served as a pupil to Hordak with a story by me, Ted Biaselli, and Tim Sheridan, who was a writer on Revolution and Revelation and is an associate producer on Revolution and written by Tim.

It’s going to be pretty cool. So if you liked Revolution and you liked the stuff that we did with Mark Hamill and William Shatner and Skeletor and Kaldor and Keith David as Hordak,  and you want to see the backstory that was hinted at at Revolution, this series is for you. We’ve got an incredible publishing line that’s going to continue to come out from that.

Interview With Masters Of The Universe Executive Producer Rob David Technology

Picture: Hordak, Skeletor and Motherboard – Mattel / Netflix

Then, of course, we’ve got lots and lots more stories to tell, possibly, you know, an animation spinning out of Revolution. There were a lot of excellent little cliffhangers and extra scenes in the end credits to let you know where we might be going with things, or we could go with things, which are very exciting. And then, of course, Mattel has a movie in development for Masters of the Universe, but Mattel film is at the helm, and we’re excited about that.

So I think the future is bright. It’s absolutely bright for Masters of the Universe. I mean, this is an endless epic that has had tons of great contributions from so many different storytellers over the years. And it’s like a myth. It’s a living myth that hopefully will go on forever.

With the CG show, we were doing a re-imagining reboot for a fresh generation, still staying true to the essence and the core but expressing it in all new ways and also starting over. The first time Prince Adam finds his sword, but in Revelation, Revolution,  since we knew we were primarily trying to speak to people who remembered it, we didn’t want to start over, right? We wanted to have a follow-up to the entire ’80s canon. The entire world of MOTU from the 80s, but also do new things, tell new stories, and raise the stakes. It’s really important that any story, any property, doesn’t get frozen in amber.

Things have to have the capacity to surprise you because if they don’t surprise you, they’re not alive. They might as well be dead. And if something is gonna be alive and vital, it’s gotta feel relevant and surprising, but also very true to what made the original good.

Jacob: Like with Skeletor’s – I don’t know what the exact wording of it is, like his champion form? If you want to call it that?

Rob: Skele-god?

Jacob: Yeah! It looks so cool.

Rob: That was something we did in the DC Comics initially, and it’s something called Eternity War. It was great to see it wholly brought to life even more in animation. And it’s a moment that Skeletor waited for all his life. So I’m glad he got a chance to dress for it and enjoy it.

Jacob: All his life and his death.

Rob: Yeah, exactly. That’s true.

Interview With Masters Of The Universe Executive Producer Rob David Revelation

Picture: Skele-god – Mattel / Netflix

Who are your favorite Masters of the Universe heroes and villains?

Rob: Well, that is such a tricky question to ask because we’ve got so many great characters across the board. And for the heroes, both my answers are going to feel a little bit basic in the sense that I’m not going to go too obscure, but there’s a reason why I love these characters so much. I really love Man-at-Arms, Duncan.

I find him so compelling because in a world with such powerful magic users, the fact that he’s like a tech guy kind of in that world, but yet can hold his own, is really extraordinary to me. Plus, in classic MOTU, that idea that he’s a mentor figure to Adam. I think it’s really important in any incarnation of MOTU for Adam to have that parental figure in his life, even if it’s not his actual father at any given moment.

I think that’s something really compelling. And the fact that he also has a strong connection to Teela as well, especially in the sorceress. You’ve got the magic and tech, which are both essentially part of the family for Adam. So I love Duncan so much. And then, for the villains, really as obvious as this is, it has to be Skeletor. I mean, it really has to be Skeletor.

I mean, I love Trap Jaw. I love people even like Count Marzo to go a little bit deeper, but Skeletor is one of the best villains of pop culture history. He’s got essentially a bodybuilder’s body. So he looks in some ways very healthy. I mean, he’s blue, but aside from that, he looks incredibly healthy, but then you mix that with the literal face of death. And then he’s a warrior, but he’s also a magician.

Right? And then that’s not even getting into the fact that, as we know, he’s also related to Adam. He has a legitimate claim and legitimate grievances, but he’s not entirely sympathetic because he really is truly a dick, pardon my language, unrepentantly so. But yet he’s also funny and charming and witty. I just think he’s like the best. Also, you do feel for him a little bit because of the fact that he’s so single-mindedly obsessed with one thing, and it doesn’t really work out for him, but it doesn’t stop him from trying to go for it the next time. So I just think he’s the best.

Interview With Masters Of The Universe Executive Producer Rob David Man At Arms

Picture: Duncan, aka Man at Arms – Mattel / Netflix

Jacob: Is it basic to say that my favorite villain was probably Evil-Lyn?  Even though she didn’t really turn out to be evil by the end?

Rob: Right! “Good-Lyn.” The way that John Delancey delivers that line in the end totally gets me. Yeah, Evil Lynn, of course. She’s so complex, and her relationship with Skeletor is truly awesome. We’ve got great things ahead for her.

Jacob: I thought Lena Headey’s performance was absolutely fantastic!

Rob: She nailed it, and she is so professional and so nice, and she was a fan of Evil-Lyn growing up. When we approached her, she was like, “Are you kidding!? She was my favorite character when I was a kid!” and she showed up to play. She was completely into it. It blew her mind because one of the days she came in, Mark Hamill was there, and they got to actually do their scenes together, which is not very common in animation, believe it or not. Most of the time, people are recording separately, but they were there that day together. And she was completely geeking out. Like she was telling us, she was trying to stay calm, but she was like, “I am acting with Luke Skywalker right now, and it’s really hard to process.”

And she just brought so much to the role, and the character is great. And I love the relationship that we were able to kind of craft for her and Orko together.

Jacob: Ironically, I was about to say that Orko was actually my favorite hero.

Rob: Yeah, he’s really great. One of the things in the writer’s room on Revelation that we all said we wanted to do was we all loved Orko, and we knew that there was some part of the fans that didn’t like him. They thought he was annoying, right? But we all knew that he was really one of the best characters in the whole show. And he was a child. He’s a child archetype, right? And he means well. So we thought, let’s dive into that. And some of our writers, Tim and Eric Carrasco, really had a lot to do with kind of mining that. Then Griffin Newman, of course, playing him just brought so much of that emotion to the humor of Orko.

Jacob: Just quickly coming back to Evil-Lyn. Her bat sorceress outfit has a phenomenal design.

Rob: Yes, that’s another thing that we first did in DC Comics in the Eternity of War. It has a deep lore link to the Horde and Hordak and a concept that I put in the comics called Horokoth, which is the end of the world in Horde religions. If we were ever able to tell that story, why she might be wearing it, what it means, it would be pretty cool. So we’ll see.

Interview With Masters Of The Universe Executive Producer Rob David Evil Lyn

Picture: Evil-Lyn in Masters of the Universe: Revelation – Mattel / Netflix

What other properties from Mattel can we expect to see on Netflix?

Rob: Oh, I can’t spoil things. But I will tell you one that is really exciting, which people are starting to hear about and comes out on this March 4th, which is Hot Wheels Let’s Race, which is a show that I co-developed with Melanie Shannon and Jordan Gershowitz.

It’s a fantastic story. It’s for kids, but the whole family can enjoy it. Set in Hot Wheels City with this next generation of Hot Wheels racers who were at this Hot Wheels camp and school, and they’re learning how to be great racers. And we’ve got an amazing theme song and score by Patrick Stump, who, when he’s not creating our tunes, also is the lead singer of Fallout Boy. He’s also a massive MOTUfan. So it’s really going to be an exciting show.

Please check it out, give it a double thumbs up, and spread the word, as I’m very excited about that. Then, of course, we’ve got great Barbie shows coming out more and more and other things that will totally surprise you, which I can’t talk about but would be exciting for people to see one day.

Did you enjoy Masters of the Universe Revolution and Revelation? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jacob joined What's on Netflix in 2018 as a fulltime writer having worked in numerous other industries until that point. Jacob covers all things Netflix whether that's TV or movies but specializes in covering new anime and K-dramas. Resides in Norwich in the United Kingdom.