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NYCC 2014: Toonzone Interviews Ciro Nieli on Season 3 of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”

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With a third season on the air and a fourth already on the way, Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is sure to be a fixture on the network for quite some time to come. Once again the show had a strong presence at New York Comic Con this year, once again the show’s creators and several members of its voice were in town to talk about the show, and once again Executive Producer Ciro Nieli was kind enough to sit down with Toonzone news and talk about the show. Read on for a discussion with Mr. Nieli about the latest season, the creative challenges of building upon and expanding the show’s world, and some of what’s in store for our heroes in the new season.

TOONZONE NEWS: So, TMNT has started season 3 and season 2 ended in a way that seems almost the inverse of season 1 – the Kraang invade New York, the Turtles lose their home and they have to rebound. Is this a season about recovery and taking back New York? 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Season 3 Within the WoodsCIRO NEILI: A good part of it is, I think. We’ve always seen the woods this way – whether you’re a turtles fan or making the show, it’s a place for the Turtles to regroup. To recenter, mature a little bit, to basically overcome the odds they are up against. In this case that’s taking back Manhattan, solving the whole Splinter loss, and don’t forget Leo overcoming major physical injuries.

TZN: With every passing season you’ve had this balance where characters introduced come back and you keep introducing new ones as well. What can fans look forward to this time around?

CIRO NIELI: Well we’re doing a little bit of the same, we’re always going to be introducing new villains. We pull from everywhere. Some you might recognize from the Mirage books, some might be from Archie books or the Fred Wolf show. Some we’ll make up from scratch, so a mixed bag is what’s coming up ahead. We try to filter in new stuff with familiar stuff as much as possible, so that [new] stuff feels like it’s part of the mythos.

TZN: Season 2 ended with an interesting situation among the villains: Shredder seems to understands his alliance with the Kraang is tenuous, and he thinks he struck a huge blow for his revenge when he threw Splinter down that drain. But of course, the Turtles aren’t dead. So when they get back to New York are we going to run headlong into a power struggle, or is this a man still ruled by his vendetta?

CIRO NIELI: It’s a little bit of what you said, there is this vendetta. But I think right now it’s going to get massively complicated, and distracted by the Karai story. Ultimately the story begins and should end with the struggle between the Hamato clan and the Foot, so we will serve that at some point. But in the meantime we have to deal with the Karai stuff, the Kraang stuff is complicating things, we have a lot of mutants running around New York, we’re still stuck in the woods, it’s crazy and the world is growing.

TMNT Buried SecretsTZN: So are there going to be some Splinter / Karai adventures in this season then?

CIRO NIELI: Well…no. That is interesting, though. You mean together, or separate?

TZN: Right, because last we saw them she saved him and went away and that’s left very open.

CIRO NIELI: We don’t really know the state of Splinter, to be honest, and how he’s doing. Karai will be dealt with a lot, but more towards the second half of the season for sure.

TZN: How do you guys feel about where the show’s world is at, right now? There is so much to TMNT lore and so many characters introduced over the years. Is there a point where you feel like it can get too bloated and there’s too much going on? How do you strike the right balance so the show feels fresh but you’re not overloading it?

CIRO NIELI: There’s a lot involved in making a TV show. One of the bigger problems is programming and knowing how it’s going to air, and how it will play on the future on DVD and all that stuff. Fans of Turtles in general, we get that some of the diehard fans would love just watching a serialized show full of canon every show and just hooking up seamlessly like Korra or something. But you know, we also have to understand that these shows should be able to be played out of order so that if you feel like just randomly watching TMNT, you can enjoy it. So I feel like the villains and the world too, the bigger it gets the harder that is to pull of in a clean and simple way. But you have to keep making [action] TMNTNYCC2014_7figures, and I like coming up with monsters. Making them is really fun, they’re like children – you have fun making them, and then you realize you have to live with them. Our rogues gallery is probably at at least 20 now in terms of mutants, I’d imagine, it seems like we’re right around there. Then you have to make space for things like Rocksteady and Bebop, and it gets hard because I know the fans have always wanted that. It’s not that we didn’t want to do it, it was just finding the time and place to fit them in. It’s almost a disservice to characters we’ve come with like Dog Pound, who is now Rahzar, to have to introduce characters like Rocksteady and Bebop because they’re almost filling the same job.

TZN: Except maybe less well, or it’s not really them. *laughs*

CIRO NIELI: Yeah. One thing we did, we took Dog Pound and turned him into Rahzar. We got to the point with Dog Pound where we got tired of just him, and rather than saying “let’s get rid of him” it was “let’s make him who we want him to be”. It was fun to do that, and it gave a better backstory to Rahzar.

TZN: Generally speaking, what’s on your mind for the turtles this season? The very obvious thing is that Leonardo’s gone through some changes and been through a tough time, and he has to come back. We saw some moments in the season 2 finale like Michelangelo calming down Raphael, Raphael looking over Leonardo with some tenderness and Donatello having to build a lab from scratch. Would you TMNTNYCC2014_4say there’s this conscious intent to develop and tweak everyone as time passes while still keeping them recognizable?

CIRO NIELI: Definitely. With the change in Leonardo – and this has nothing to do with Seth Green showing up, that was almost serendipitous. In fact we waited to bring in Seth Green until that point, so that we could enhance the story that was happening. Leo has to overcome his physical injuries, and bringing in a new voice for that helped us say hey, this character is going to come out of the other side of this thing with a lot more knowledge of where he’s going. I think Leo doing that automatically ages up the gang, regardless of what we decide to do with them. Mikey I think definitely changed a little bit out in the woods, I like the more nurturing Mikey. A lot of people see him as a goof and stuff, but I don’t think they’ve actually seen him in a situation with real stakes. So as some of the stories become more realistic and sensible, you see how he’s become an important part of the team. The thing we’re trying to do with Donny the most – there is the situation with the lab, but we’re going to see a bit of bonding between him and Casey Jones. I think they’re a bit more similar than they realize, they’re both of the clan of the tinkerer. Casey may seem like a brain dead jock, but at the same time he did make that outfit and his bike, which is kind of awesome.

TZN: I wanted to ask about that. There’s been this situation with Casey where he’s positioned as Donatello’s rival for April’s affection, and that’s played for laughs, and it’s kept going by the fact that April didn’t want to shatter Donatello’s illusion and hurt his feelings. So I was wondering if things would change and if we’d see more from Casey and more bonding with the Turtles, not just April.

CIRO NIELI: The thing about Casey that’s great is, you get the four brothers and you play out those realities and relationships between them. Then you bring in a new character, and all those relationships can change. So you let that happen for a minute, and that’s where you get “Apriltello” vs Casey / April shipping things and people get up in arms about that. Some are just hating Casey automatically because that shows their love for Donny, but hold on: he is kind of the fifth turtle, and how does that start to work? Playing that out is definitely a big part of season three. There was a big debate about what we do with Casey, do we bring him to the woods or not bring him? And we decided to bring him, so he’s kind of the fifth Turtle now.

TZN: For one last question, real briefly: beyond the woods, what’s the dominant theme in the rest of the season?

CIRO NIELI: It’s definitely the return to New York. Not just how do we get into the city, but how do we beat the Shredder? And don’t forget the city’s been mutated into Lovecraftian, slimy tentacle head things, so that’s a lot of work for Donatello and everybody. There’s a lot to handle. Sneaking into the city is the first task at hand and we deal with that quite a bit. Finding a new lair is something they’ll have to deal with, because they’re cover has been totally blown at this point. It’s a very thick season, and it’s going to be fun.

Toonzone News once again thanks Mr. Nieli and Nickelodeon for taking the time and effort to do this interview. New episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles season 3 are currently premiering on Nickelodeon Friday evenings at 8 PM Eastern Time.