Brian Robbins

Brian Robbins

Robbins' foray into acting proved uneven with unmemorable roles in the unsuccessful horror films "Cellar Dweller" (1988) and "Chud II: Bud the Chud" (1989) and the actioner "Da Vinci's War" (1993). More noteworthy was his stint as a TV actor, starting out with guest spots on such series as "Three's Company," "Mr. Belvedere," "Growing Pains" (all ABC) and "Knight Rider" (NBC). Robbins perhaps remains best-known for his five-season run (1986-91) as the leather-clad rebel Eric Mardian, a reluctant honor student who worried that his place in the advanced class would compromise his status as a cool kid, in the ABC comedy "Head of the Class." Wisecracking, sarcastic and ultimately loyal, his Eric stood out as a particularly likable character in the sitcom. While working on the series, he began his behind the camera work with the 1988 episode "Will the Real Arvid Engen Please Stand Up?," co-written with fellow regular Dan Schneider (who would continue to work on Robbins' projects long past the sitcom's demise). In 1992, Robbins served as both host and co-producer of the syndicated game show "Pictionary" which more or less marked the end of his onscreen appearances.Robbins produced the 1992 syndicated sports special "Magic Johnson's All Star Slam 'n' Jam," tying his interest in sports with his professional work, a combination that has continued successfully. He served as creative consultant on the children's program "Nickelodeon GUTS" (1992-96), an "American Gladiators"-styled adventure challenge game show before joining with Emmy-winning producer-director Michael Tollin to form Tollin/Robbins Productions. Among their earliest projects was the basketball documentary "Hardwood Dreams" (TBS, 1995) and the 1995 Academy Award-nominated documentary "Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream." Tollin/Robbins also fostered close ties with Nickelodeon: "All That," a children's sketch comedy show in the "Saturday Night Live" vein, began airing in 1994 with its spin-off "Kenan & Kel" (featuring standouts Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell) joined the roster in 1996. Another series, "Cousin Skeeter" debuted in 1998. The pair also branched out to more adult fare with the successful HBO sports comedy "Arli$$" (1996-2002). Robbins moved to the big screen as a producer and director with the 1995 music documentary "The Show," a behind-the-scenes look at hip-hop's biggest artists, interspersed with concert footage. The onstage antics of the rappers juxtaposed with scenes of the performers with their families was a particularly compelling aspect of Robbins' film. While garnering mixed reviews, the documentary was popular with fans of the music, and was said to have validly represented the lifestyle of the hip-hop artists. Next up was "Good Burger" (1997), a film adaptation of an "All That" sketch starring Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell. Directed by Robbins and produced under the Tollin/Robbins Productions banner, the film was a broad comedy with a message and proved to be a favorite with Nickelodeon viewers although it received lackluster reviews. The story of a small time friendly hamburger stand being pushed out by a cold, corporate enterprise with evil employees, "Good Burger" addressed the age old struggle between might and right, with Robbins finding a good balance between the wacky antics of Kenan and Kel and the themes of the triumph of good over evil and the importance of friendship. He proved a capable comedic director, eliciting fine performances, particularly from the young actors. With the teen drama "Varsity Blues" (1999), he was able to marry his interests in sports and youth in a feel-good flick that followed the story of Jonathan 'Mox' Moxon, (played by teen favorite James Van Der Beek) a sensitive second string quarterback with things on his mind besides football in a Texas high school where the game was of the utmost importance. When the star quarterback is hurt, it is up to the irreverent Mox to fill in, at the same time dealing with the pressures put upon him by the driven Coach Kilmer (Jon Voight). To recreate the excitement of the game, and to achieve a certain level of realism, Robbins put his stars through football training camp, shot on location in Texas and hired actual high school football players as extras. The result garnered mixed reviews but proved to be a box-office success. Having garnered a strong reputation for discovering and cultivating fresh, new Hollywood talents, Robbins continued his multifaceted career by teaming with Schneider to launch their earlier "All That" discovery Amanda Bynes in the kid-oriented sketch comedy "The Amanda Show" (Nikelodeon, 1999-2002), and later in her first primetime network series "What I Like About You" (The WB, 2002-06); Robbins would also shepherd the TV career of Nick Cannon. Robbins also produced two baseball-minded movies, the Tollin-directed "Summer Catch" (2001) starring Freddie Prinze, Jr., and Jessica Biel, and his own directorial effort "Hardball" (2001), starring Keanu Reeves in a serious take on "The Bad News Bears" formula. He and Schneider teamed on the screenplay for "Big Fat Liar" (2002), a well-received and amusing youth comedy starring Frankie Muniz as a teen who takes revenge on the unscrupulous movie producer (Paul Giamati) who steals his idea. The TV series "Smallville" (The WB, 2001 -11), the story of a pre-Superman Clark Kent (Tom Welling) coming of age in his Kansas home town, proved to be a smash hit for the network and executive producers Robbins and Tollin, leading to a flood of subsequent series from their production company. Some sought to--unsuccessfull--emulate the comic-book-with-a-twist formula, such as the short-lived "Birds of Prey" (The WB, 2002-2003); others embraced the sudsy teen angst that prevailed on The WB's programming, like "One Tree Hill" (The WB, 2003-06; the CW, 2006-12); and still others hoped to establish Tollin-Robbins in new venues, like the mildly successful ABC sitcom "I'm With Her" (2003-04) starring Teri Polo. Amid his flood of primetime TV work, Robbins stayed active in film production as well, continuing to focus on sport- and/or teen-oriented fare. He produced the Cuba Gooding, Jr. starrer "Radio" (2003), the true life story of a developmentally disabled young man's role on a football team, and he directed the more fancical "The Perfect Score" (2004), a teen heist flick with high schoolers attempting to steal the answers to the SATs.