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Is Gene Simmons the next SpongeBob?

KISS star is inspired dad on animated children's show

By David E. Williams
CNN

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Rock Zilla, rear, and his son Willy Zilla from "My Dad the Rock Star"
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(CNN) -- Gene Simmons, the fire-breathing, blood-spitting KISS star, just might be the next SpongeBob, thanks to his latest project: "My Dad the Rock Star."

The show recently started airing in the United States on the cable channel Nickelodeon, alongside animated favorites like "Jimmy Neutron," "Rugrats" and "The Fairly Oddparents."

It's a typical tale of pre-teen rebellion, complete with green hair, tattoos and screams of "turn that music down." Only in this case, dad's the rebel and his son is the one seeking a quiet, normal life.

Simmons, the cartoon's creator and executive producer, said the idea sprang out of a conversation about career day at his son, Nick's, school.

"So you had people coming in with scissors, you know, 'my mom's a hair stylist,' or a toothbrush, 'my dad's a dentist,' and my son came in with a poster of me spewing blood and spitting fire," Simmons said.

That got him thinking about how kids just want to fit in, and led to a deal with Canadian entertainment company Nelvana.

"There are enough social problems with kids trying to find out who they are and so on without having to depend on mom or dad to define who they are," he said.

The show follows Willy Zilla, a 12-year-old who has just moved to a sleepy suburb and is going to school for the first time after years on the road with his dad, rock mega-star Rock Zilla.

Willy doesn't want people to like him for his famous family, so he uses a fake name at school -- a plan that was destined to fail. He quickly attracts the attention of the school bully, but he does make a couple of friends in the process.

His family is pretty normal in a lot of ways -- he's got a loving mother and father and an older sister, Serenity, who insults him when she admits he exists at all.

But unlike most parents, Rock Zilla punctuates his parental advice with guitar solos and shouts of "Ahhh-oooooo!" and mom speaks in New Age cliches, and "of course nobody knows what the hell she's talking about," Simmons said.

Most families don't have a giant, purple-and-green-striped Komodo dragon and a British roadie puttering around the house, either.

Rock Zilla may resemble Simmons' on-stage persona, but he said the show isn't all autobiographical.

"I tossed some story ideas around, and one was that somebody tried to break into my home and steal some of the gold records, and I did notice that that wound up in one of the stories," he said.

Another episode centers around Willy's mom's decision to open a New Age center across the street from school.

"Well that's not a good idea, but that was close to reality, because my kids' real mom, Shannon Tweed ... was a former Playmate," Simmons said. "It's tough for a very young child to explain to the other school kids 'yeah, mom was on the cover of Playboy and dad's this wacky rock star who has a talking codpiece and spits fire.' "

"My Dad the Rock Star," has a choice time slot on Nickelodeon, airing after "SpongeBob SquarePants," which is one of the most popular shows on cable television. It was already an international success, airing in several languages in Asia, Central and South America, Africa, Australia and Europe (the Dutch version features the voice of real-life rock star Barry Hay from Golden Earring).

"Nick had a been a fan of the show, some of the people there, and we found the right timing, and it's been really, really a big success out the door, and we think it's going to continue," said Martha Van Gelder, a senior vice president at Nelvana.

Simmons describes himself as "very cornball" and said he drew inspiration from some of his childhood favorites, such as Superman, the Mickey Mouse Club, comic books and Disney cartoons -- "that was the subatomic nuclear particles that make up who I am."

"Looney Tunes are still classic. Roadrunner still works, Bugs still works, and Disney will work forever," Simmons said. "Good stuff is good stuff whether it's done for kids or for grown-ups."

The show is just one of the projects Simmons has on his plate. He's also working on two reality shows, three other television shows, a boxing venture with ESPN, a multimillion-dollar movie production deal, and a plan to build 3,000 condominiums and an arena for the Beijing Olympics.

"We should all do lots of stuff before we die, that's my philosophy."

His KISS fame has given him an opportunity to pitch his ideas to people who might not have listened otherwise, he said. But he's careful to keep his on-stage and off-stage roles separate.

"When I'm in KISS and I have the makeup on, that's what I talk about," he said. "When I'm off-stage, I try not to mix metaphors or apples and pears, it works better that way.

"When you look at Clark Kent when he's working at the Daily Planet," Simmons said, "he's a reporter. He doesn't fly through the air in his glasses and his suit."


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