Michael Eisner Shoots for the Topps
The Creators: Twin brothers Randy and Jay Sklar are the creators and stars of "Back on Topps," an online comedy series backed by Michael Eisner's new-media company Tornante and the Topps company (which is also owned by Mr. Eisner). The Sklar brothers are best known for the ESPN Classic series "Cheap Seats," a cult series and critical success that poked fun at the world of sports. That ran for 77 episodes from 2004 to 2006 and starred the brothers, who also wrote and produced the series.
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The Distributors: "Back on Topps" is a joint production of Tornante's new-media studio Vuguru and the Topps Company, a trading card company. The show is slated to launch on Sept. 30 on Foxsports.com, which will carry each episode exclusively for 12 hours before Tornante pushes it out to other distribution partners, like YouTube, Veoh, Hulu, Blip, Bebo, Metacafe, Dailymotion and iTunes. It will also air on mobile phones from AT&T and Sprint via a deal with mobile video provider MobiTV. The series will air on Tuesdays and Thursdays and will also live on www.BackonTopps.com. Vuguru pursued a similar distribution strategy with its pioneering Web series "Prom Queen" that launched in April 2007 and premiered exclusively on MySpace for a 12-hour window before each episode released to other sites.
Sponsors: The show will be sponsored by Skype and ad network Adconion.
Content: Randy Sklar described "Back on Topps" as "The Office" meets "Sports Center." The series features twin brothers Leyland and Leif Topps who are set to inherit the Topps Company, until Michael Eisner announces he's bought the trading-card institution.
"Eisner is very avuncular outside of Disney," Randy Sklar said. "He is like your fun uncle."
Under the new management, the brothers must prove themselves worthy of running the company. For starters, in the second episode the brothers decide they need more avant garde photos of the athletes for the trading cards so they line up appointments for them at fancy hair salons.
The show is slated to include a range of cameos by sports and entertainment figures. Through its contacts in the sports world, Topps has secured guest appearances from athletes such as retired basketball star Dennis Rodman, Kevin Love of the Los Angeles Dodgers, David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs and Johnny Damon of the New York Yankees. They will be joined by comedic actors such as Ed Helms and Phil Morris, who is best known for playing Jackie Childs on "Seinfeld." Each of the 25 episodes runs about five minutes.
The Backstory: Vuguru and the Sklar brothers developed the show in tandem with the Topps Company. "Michaels Eisner's Tornante approached us to pitch them a series of Topps. So we came up with a mix of comedy and sports," said Jay Sklar.
Endgame: Randy Sklar jokes about the Sklar Brothers' transition from traditional TV to the Web. "We are trying to get into smaller and smaller mediums. Hopefully, we can be on a phone and then just become someone's Bluetooth earpiece soon." That aside, the pair would like to return to TV in some capacity.
"We just want to be putting good work out there and with the success Eisner and his company have had in terms of getting videos seen, this could have 10 million to 20 million views."
Jay Sklar added that he'd like "Back on Topps" to become an important part of their resume and a project that allows them to continue to work as programming creators for a long time.