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Brian Robbins graduates 'Head of the Class' to Hollywood honcho

By Lisa Respers France, CNN
Brian Robbins credits his two young sons with his involvment in "Fred: The Movie."
Brian Robbins credits his two young sons with his involvment in "Fred: The Movie."
  • Brian Robbins is a former co-star of the hit ABC show "Head of the Class"
  • He's since gone on to a successful career as a producer, writer and director
  • His latest project, "Fred: The Movie," premieres Saturday on Nickelodeon

(CNN) -- Don't look for Brian Robbins to grow back his mullet.

While he sported one during the mid-1980s while starring as the leather-jacketed, tough student Eric Mardian on "Head of the Class," Robbins has grown up since then. He long ago traded life as an actor for a successful one behind the camera as a producer, director and writer.

In 1996, Robbins and business partner Michael Tollin founded Tollin Robbins Productions, which has been the driving force behind commercially and critically acclaimed shows such as "One Tree Hill," "Smallville," "Arli$$," "What I Like About You," the ESPN mini-series "The Bronx Is Burning" and kid-centric programs "Kenan & Kel," "All That" and "The Amanda Show."

He's also tackled the big screen as the director of "Varsity Blues," "Norbit" and "Good Burger." Now he's back with a new project, a Nickelodeon film based on the popular YouTube series "Fred." "Fred: The Movie," follows the adventures of a rambunctious, hyper kid named Fred Figglehorn, played by teen actor and series creator, Lucas Cruikshank. The movie is set to premiere on the cable channel Saturday.

Robbins recently spoke with CNN about how his children inspire him, the future of entertainment and whether he still has that leather jacket from his "Head of the Class" days.

CNN: How did you make the transition from actor to the other side of camera?

Brian Robbins: It wasn't ever really a conscious transition. It wasn't like I woke up one day and said, "Hey, I'm going to do this now."

When I was on "Head of the Class," I always had a desire to be a director, writer and filmmaker. The opportunities that I had as an actor gave me a chance to learn and I took full advantage of that.

CNN: Why work with Nickelodeon?

Robbins: The first project I did with them was "All That," a type of "Saturday Night Live" for kids, and it ended up being one of the longest-running programs on the channel. That's what started my relationship with Nickelodeon.

We went on to make "Kenan & Kel," "All That" and "The Amanda Show," and then I left it alone for a while. The funny thing is that while I was working on those projects, I didn't have kids of my own. That's what brought me back into this world now because I have two sons, who are now 10 and 12, and they brought me back in.

CNN: Have they watched some of your earlier shows?

Robbins: They have and they think they are funny. They really like "Kenan & Kel," and they and all their friends love the "Good Burger" movie.

To be honest, it's them who got me into "Fred" world. They consume their entertainment so much differently than I do. They don't really watch TV. They watch everything on [DVR] or on their computer on YouTube.

About a year ago I came home, and my kids were having a sleepover with a bunch of their friends, and I asked the guys, "Hey, have you ever heard of 'Fred' and they all started doing the "Fred" voice, joking around.

I said, "Well, let me ask you this, would you want to see a 'Fred' movie?" and without hesitation one of them said, "Tonight?" That was it, I knew I had to do this.

CNN: "Fred" has been such a huge hit on YouTube. Do you have any concerns about trying to translate that same magic to a movie?

Robbins: I wouldn't say that we have concerns, but I think we were very careful when we approached the script to be true to what Lucas/Fred had done. We didn't want to change it; we just wanted to evolve it.

What we set out to do was to explore all of these characters that he had talked about -- his mom, the bully Kevin, his best friend Bertha, the girl he loves, Judy -- but we have never seen any of these people so we thought it would only be natural to bring them to life.

We wanted to hold onto the essence of the Fred on YouTube, and I think we have done a pretty good job of being true to that.

This is the first YouTube to film transfer, and I'm really proud of the movie. It's smart, and in a lot of ways, it's like our "Napoleon Dynamite." It's been really fun, and we are already working on the second one.

CNN: Are you looking for any other projects that will go from YouTube to screen?

Robbins: I wouldn't say specifically, but the world is changing so rapidly that I'm not that pretty sure there's going to be a difference in the way that we consume our entertainment.

I think YouTube is just an amazing resource. I look at my kids, and they don't know the difference between YouTube and ABC.

CNN: Switching from the kids stuff to your younger years, do people still recognize you from "Head of the Class?"

Robbins: (Laughing) I try to think not. I am heading to get a hair cut right after this, and I try to keep my hair short. You will never see that mullet return.

CNN: Do you still have the leather jacket from the show?

Robbins: I don't have that jacket, but I bought a leather jacket recently, which looks very similar, and since I realized that, I haven't worn it.