It took 41 years, but Kevin Smith is finally proving his parents wrong.
"They always said, 'Your friends are idiots. You can't sit around and goof off with your friends.' I was like, 'Yeah we can,'" Smith tells TVGuide.com of his new AMC reality series, Comic Book Men, starring his childhood friends-turned-comic book store employees Bryan Johnson, Walt Flanagan, Mike Zapcic and Ming Chen.
Comic Book Men (Sunday, 10/9c) is best described as Pawn Stars plus Clerks multiplied by comic books: one part docu-series about the crazy clerks, quirky customers and collectibles at Smith's Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash comic book store in Red Bank, N.J., and one part talk show, where the guys gather together — no confessional needed — to discuss the store's newest and coolest acquisitions and beyond. And unlike those other Garden State-set reality series, the fist-pumping is kept to a minimum and the closest viewers will get to on-air drama is a bidding war at the Collingwood Flea Market. "It's not about real life," Smith says. "The store is where they go to f---ing escape real life and the live the fantasy of childhood."
If a chatter-heavy reality show like Comic Book Men is an unlikely addition to the reality genre, then Smith is happily its oddball ringleader. The foul-mouthed indie filmmaker, best known for movies like Clerks, Chasing Amy and Dogma, has stepped out from behind the camera and into the limelight in recent years. He's released four books, fills venues across the country for his infamous Q&A sessions and oversees his own SModcast network of 13 regular podcasts, which includes "Tell 'Em Steve-Dave!", featuring many of the stars of Comic Book Men. "I'm there to set you up and bring you in to the world, but you're in safe hands with the boys," he says of the show, which he developed, executive-produces and co-stars in.
Although Smith happily owns up to reality TV indulgences like Oxygen's Snapped and Tori and Dean, he never saw himself returning to the small screen after ABC turned Sundance sensation Clerks into an animated series and canceled after two episodes in 2000. "The cartoon was such a bad experience," he says. However, when Smith was approached by a producer about doing something for AMC he couldn't pass up the opportunity to work with his favorite channel. "You don't want to be the one show that comes on like, "Oh, that's where AMC went wrong — with Kevin f---ing Smith," he says.
Following the smash success of comic book series-turned-TV show The Walking Dead, AMC wanted a companion show that would keep the geeks glued after the zombies had gone off the air. Smith pitched the show and when AMC wanted to see and hear more, he decided to film the pilot presentation in his own store with the store's four main employees (all from the "Tell 'Em Steve-Dave!" podcast). The show was supposed to then find a different store and different cast for the series, but AMC thought otherwise. "[My producer] went, 'Dude, you're out of your mind. That's the show," Smith recalls.
Aside from The Walking Dead's after show, Talking Dead, Comic Book Men represents one of AMC's first forays into reality television. "They're on a real hot streak, and they've figured out how to do reality with our show where I can hold my head up," he says.
AMC also matched Smith's less-is-more belief when it came to marketing Comic Book Men. He famously brought his 2010 indie horror flick Red State to Sundance to auction the movie off, only to sell the distribution rights to himself in what was seen as a slap in the face to film studios. In the case of Comic Book Men, Smith is happy to promote the show himself (his more than 1.9 million Twitter followers could help) rather than see AMC shell out big bucks for billboards. "It's almost like a mid-90's Miramax sensibility," he says, referencing the film studio that helped bring indie films, like his own debut Clerks, into the mainstream. "AMC was really frugal in making the show," he says. "They're happy with a very small number. America has to really hate my f---ing friends in order for this not to work."
Comic Book Men's debut comes as Smith is undergoing a major career renovation. He says his next film will be his last and and hopes to focus on his Q&As and podcasts full-time — ironic for the man known to millions simply as "Silent Bob." Smith is even shopping a daily Chelsea Handler-esque entertainment news talk show called Tonightly, which he would co-host. "The older you get, you wind up doing sh-- you never in a million years you imagined you would. I never thought I would get to a point where I don't want to make film anymore. Life changes," he says. "TV answered my view in a weird way this year and I wasn't pursuing it. It just happened."
Comic Book Men premieres Sunday at 10/9c on AMC.