Tag Archives: transformers

Tommy Kennedy, Found – An Interview with Jason Jansen

As I mentioned earlier in my first post ever, the Transformers fandom does not know much about the fifth season of the original Transformers series. It was to the point where the star of the intro segments, the child actor who played Tommy Kennedy, was elusive enough to be considered a “holy grail” by some of the Transformers fandom. All we knew was he was played by a Jason Jansen. People had searched the internet to no avail. He was truly Lost.

John Locke (Terry O'Quinn) and Tommy Kennedy (Jason Jansen)

See what I did there? Jason Jansen is on the right.

Until he was found. Or, in fact, found me. A few weeks ago I received a comment on this very blog stating that he was indeed Jason Jansen. The first logical piece of information was that his birth name was Jason Jankowski and that Jansen was a stage name. That explained why internet searches would come up with nothing. After some inquiries I asked to do an interview and was glad to get an affirmative response. What follows are the responses I got to the questions I asked, for the most part in their entirety.


I’ll start by asking how did you find my blog entry I did with Tim Speidel? Were you googling yourself or did a friend point it out to you. I’m personally curious about that one.

Infrequently over the years, I have briefly googled “Tommy Kennedy”  or “Jason Jansen” or a combo of the two,  but it was your blog which I stumbled across recently.   

When did you start acting? I noticed from your SAG card you have been a member since 1985? How old were you at the time?

I had started doing commercials at the age of 9 –  had done around 10-12 commercials, some print work, some voice-overs, and then at the time went to LA and booked a one-time appearance on Highway to Heaven in 1988.   I believe some folks in the Fandom had talked about that.

How did you get the job working on Transformers? Being part of the age group, were you a fan of the show before the acting gig or was it just a chance to act?

It was around the time when I returned from LA back to the NY area that I auditioned for the spot on Transformers.   When I auditioned and filmed the episodes I was about 12 years old.     I cannot remember where exactly the audition was held but it was definitely in Manhattan.    I remember auditioning for Transformers in the late spring – and the process moving very quickly compared to other jobs.   When I was off from school and had the summer off is when filming began.   I figure June was the audition and July was the filming.   I remember being inconvenienced because all my friends had attended the area Sports Camp for years and I would be missing a week of it.   We filmed the series at Silver Cup Studios in Queens NY.   At the time SilverCup was hot from Cosby Show fame,  but also it was a kind of an “F YOU!” to some of the more expensive studios just across the east river in Manhattan.    I would have to reference back to Tim’s interview for the duration of the filming but it wasn’t more then 1 week for the Tommy Kennedy portions.   

My mother’s maiden name is Jansen –  it’s a Dutch name and back in 1985 we used it because my fathers name of Jankowski was a bit too ethnic at the time.   We almost went with Jason Williams (William is my fathers name and also my middle name).   Jansen stuck –  I remember casting directors asking me if I knew about “Jantzen” swim wear.  As a 9 year old I didn’t.   My mom is the one responsible for taking me on auditions, etc.  I grew up about 1.5 hours from NYC so it was a grind everyday.    I got into the business simply by answering an ad by an acting Manager close to the town I was raised,  Middletown NY.   We gave it a whirl and after booking some business we simply stuck with it.   I was getting some work, and as a middle class family I am sure my parents used some of the earnings for their life or college funds etc.   It made sense to continue.      

How was it filmed, from your point of view? How realistic did the stop motion Optimus Prime look up close? Was there much green/blue screen used for the background?

The filming was as professional as any production at the time would have been.   You are correct when you excuse me for the memory lapse (which is over 20 years) but I can recall a couple of things if I concentrate.    First off Tim Speidel,  when I read the blog and saw the name I definitely recognized it –     I actually sent him a note after finding him on FB but haven’t received a response yet.   During the filming my mother and I stayed with a girlfriend of hers on the Upper East Side of Manhattan – simply to make the commute easier, and to deal with the schedule of being at the studio by 8am in some cases.    Everybody was super cool during the filming.  I remember I thought the Key Grips, and Gaffers were younger guys who always were making me laugh.   They were “New York City Fahgeddaboutit” type guys.   To this day I see Gaffer and Key Grip during credits but have no idea what their real jobs are –  basically I think they are a Jack of all Trades type men/women on the set.   

On set,  I remember filming some scenes on a large, constructed out of wood,  Optimus Hand.   I remember being instructed to only sit on a certain portion/ or spot as this was the strongest to support me.  I was a normal sized kid so nothing strange there.   Other scenes were filmed on the shoulder of another larger constructed portion of Optimus’ shoulder.   Same deal,  watch your step!    Other random scenes were built (running through a vast wasteland) backgrounds were usually green screens, claymation for my flipping onto shoulders,  and HUGE fans blowing on my face for when Optimus was launching and taking me home.    

If you were a fan, how did it feel “talking” to Optimus Prime? Did they have a crew member say his lines off camera to help with timing or was Peter Cullen’s voice prerecorded?

When saying my lines (if i remember correctly)  there was mix of things that were going on.    At times someone off camera would recite Optimus Primes lines,  but I believe it was a member of the crew and not Peter Cullen.   Other times,  if the scene was shorter and the camera cut away,  I would just pause my lines while saying them to account for another voice to be inserted later.   I actually just read through the transcripts on the wiki and remember saying every single one of them – I was able to memorize quite a bit –  but I my memory serves me correctly I believe I definitely had some large cue cards up there behind the cameras as well.  They were color coded to help break up the lines.  

Optimus looked great –  up close you could tell it was made from wood and plastic,  but it was a real dam good job.    A little bit of info,  we had two puppeteers working Optimus Prime.   I believe one guy was inside his head and moving his mouth while another moved his head from side to side.   One of the guys was a famous puppeteer and had worked on Sesame Street inside of “Snuffalupagus”   not sure if I have spelled that correctly.   I remember he was known for his work.   

When talking with Tim Speidel, he mentioned a story about a camera crane falling right into the Optimus Prime hand that you were sitting in moments earlier. Do you remember that happening and if you do can you share your personal feelings?

My mother and I both remember the camera crane falling –  I believe I do remember seeing it close up –  but I also feel like I was off camera with a buttered bagel in my hand watching stuff when I was “off duty”.  I still remember seeing the guy who was on top,  he didn’t fall off the crane bc i believe he was strapped in (like with a seat belt)  and he kind of rode the collapse about 40 feet or so down to the ground and landing on his side.   Again – all very fuzzy but yes it did happen.   As for me not being on my mark and being severely hurt or possibly killed –  can’t recall that either.  If Tim said that was the case,  it was the first I had heard about it during your interview.   In other words,  I never overheard my mother telling my father back at home that this thing narrowly missed me.   I hope that guy is ok though.   

Are there any other on-set stories you can share with the Transformers fandom?

While on Optimus,  I’ll tell you,  it was pretty cool.   If I wasn’t a fan then,  being able to be a part of something like that turns you into one pretty dam quick.   I mean – I would go home and tell [my friend Rob] what happened that day and I could tell he was like – “Dude you own like 4 transformers!”   He was cool about it,  and made sure to tape everything.  I remember a younger woman was my stand in – had to stand in certain spots where Tommy would be and they tested lighting, angles, camera positions etc.   She was in her 20s?   and hung with my Mom a lot in a smaller back room they gave us to chill out when not needed on the set.   

I wish I could share more on set stories,  but I’ll promise you this,  I’ll check through my mom’s old files and see if there are any scripts or anything worth sharing with the Fans.  If so i’ll be sure to reach back out to you guys on that stuff.  

Over the years fans have done internet searches looking for you and have found little information. Have you moved away from acting? If so why? What have you been doing since then?

Personally,  Transformers was one of the last big jobs I did ,  I believe at the age of 13 I had done a Frosted Mini Wheats commercial (if you remember the lumberjack guy turning into the little lumberjack guy) but after that –  I was a late 1975 birth and entering High School I had told my Mom that I think I wanted to concentrate on school,  sports,  and probably girls 😉   I remember gradually stopping acting completely by the age of 14.   So in this regards,  some of the fans are correct.  Just an actor who got on with his life.    Some of the kids I would regularly see on auditions have made it big,  Joey Lawrence, Leo Dicaprio, and then later on Elijah Wood.   don’t regret a minute doing it.   I believe it helped mold me into what I am today.    Nobody in my life now really even knows about the Transformers or the commercial jobs I used to have.   I work at ABC Television so I am still very much in the entertainment business.   I work in the Sales department so you could say I can’t get away from these commercials!   

Once in a while a colleague will bring it up with clients (about our age) and a guy or girl will say “holy shit!  that was you!?”   and its always a fun experience to reveal yourself to a fan but it’s never the first thing that comes up.   

One major site dedicated to Transformers minutia, www.tfwiki.net, has labeled information on you a “holy grail.” As in, we know very little. You’re up there with Brazilian Transformers packaging, a limited edition Go-Cart giveaway, and translations of Japanese radio plays. What do you think about that?

Each year, Transformers fans from around the world gather at the official convention, Botcon (www.botcon.com). Would you ever be interested in attending in some form of official capacity?

When asking a few of my friends for addition questions, a few of them came back to me with this “Does he still have the sweet mullet and denim jacket?”

If the fans think that seeing Tommy Kennedy would be cool I would do it (at like a Botcon) – officially,  but of course I wouldn’t do anything which is going to turn off the fans.   The sweet Mullet and jean jacket!  hahahahah    the mullet is gone –  I think perhaps you saw a couple of pics on Facebook.    The jean jacket –  have to ask my mom about that one –   I don’t believe I have it –  it may have been an official “prop” or I probably gave it back when taping was done.   I usually got out of “wardrobe” at the end of the day and wore my street clothes home.   

All in all –  it was an awesome experience.  I hope I answered some questions,  or rustled up some new ones,  if so I am happy to answer more.   I think its great that you guys still keep it alive and just talking to you (over email) has really conjured up some memories I haven’t thought of in a while.

Currently – I live in The Bronx,  NY.   As I mentioned I work at ABC, and have a girlfriend.   I went to Fordham University in the Bronx and played soccer there.    I graduated,  began working for Grey Advertising/Mediacom in the Media Buying department.   Actually worked on the Hasbro business for a brief time.   In 2003,  left for a job at ABC Ad Sales.   Still here –  but my parents still live in Middletown NY,  I have a new place in Woodlawn in the Bronx (near Yonkers),  and basically spend my time working,  traveling, and up until now,  not really talking about the kid Tommy Kennedy.   I enjoy visiting family in Europe (when I can afford it), listening to Pearl Jam, and am a big NFL/MLB fan.           

Totally happy to keep the info coming,  happy to help be taken off the Holy Grail.  Again – very proud to be even mentioned in the same capacity as some of the other sought after pieces.  As for my thoughts on them?   I am going to ask Rob if he has anything which we can remove from there as well.  Again it’s pretty cool. 

I hope you enjoyed this read. It was quite lengthy, but with a revelation such as this I didn’t want to leave a single thing out. I’m happy to have done my small part for the Transformers fandom in bringing this mystery to light.

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10 TFWiki.net Articles You Need to Read

The Transformers wiki at tfwiki.net has over 15,000 articles detailing every niche that the Transformers franchise has to offer. Not content with presenting the facts in a standard, yet boring, stream of data, the editors over at the wiki have added humor throughout the site. Most of the humor is confined to the image captions, many of which are entirely non-sequitor. Other instances of humor could range from offhand comments on trivial matters to the naming of the page itself.

With so much content, it is a daunting task to wade through the plethora of pages to find the gems that really stand out above the rest. I’ve picked out ten pages that are not only filled with factual content, but contain the charm and humor that the wiki has come to be known for.

10. Wheelie (G1)

In the original cartoon, Wheelie was a character who rhymed each of his lines. The wiki article took this character quirk to heart and wrote the entire page in rhyming couplets. Not only does it give a generalization of the Wheelie character and painstakingly documents his interactions throughout all the media, but it does it with a style that makes it fun to read.

9. Rorza, the Rocket-cycle Racer from Rigel III

This extremely minor character is one of the earliest indicators of how the wiki will turn out. This character only appears for a few frames of a single comic, but had his page written to such an extent that it far surpasses the characters actual appearance.

8. Cyclonus’s Armada

This is an example of a fan theory that has gained so much weight that not including it as part of the wiki would be a disservice to the ideal of documenting everything Transformers. In doing so creates an article that is very informative and explains how the idea came to be in the first place.

7. Sunstreaker (G1)

Even the standard character pages can be augmented with a dash of humor to make the dry information much more entertaining to read. Most the writing is straight-up information, but the captions are written in such a way to cull out the character’s personality into the article, much like the Wheelie page. It also shows how diligent the wiki is in reporting anything a character does, whether it is a small cameo in a piece of children’s fiction or a rare piece of merchandise. Completeness is the final goal.

6. Murdered Puppy

In the Japanese manga, the Decepticons killed a dog. Of course there was an article created about said dog.

5. The many deaths of Optimus Prime

Optimus Prime dies a lot. Thus a painstakingly complete list has been created to document each and every case of Prime’s deaths and rebirths.

4. Toy Fair 1986

TFWiki has also done its share of charity. When an ebay auction containing a rare Toy Fair guide was listed, the editors of the wiki banded together to buy it and use the information as a highlight for the site. A drive was raised and when the money began to pour in far beyond the asking price for the item, all the remaining proceeds went to the Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

3. Pat Lee

All the drama that Dreamwave’s president and “superstar” artist is included within. The writeup is a hilariosu account the rise and fall of Pat Lee and all the odd things he did while Dreamwave had the Transformers comics license.

2. You

This was quite the unexpected page. The You page was created to document the character that “you” inhabit while reading through the Transformers choose your own adventure books and the mail-in flyers that used to be packed in with the G1 toys. It was then expadend to include any time a consumer was mentioned in toy packaging and more.

1. Transformers: Energon (cartoon)

The article on the Energon cartoon may be my favorite article on the entire wiki. While the wiki prides itself on full information on things we love and adore, we also enjoy critiquing everything with the utmost scrutiny. The Energon cartoon is considered by most to be the worst Transformers series ever to grace television, thus making the criticism section the largest part of the article. Not only does it cite the specific instances of problems with the series, but does it with a sharp wit and humor. Do yourself a favor and read it.


Forgotten Toys: ZBots

There have been countless toylines that have graced the shelves of toy stores across the world. Some would become powerhouses through homes and children’s toyboxes. Others would fade as quickly as they are seen. Others fit somewhere in the middle. They sell enough to create multiple waves of product, yet not enough to be a perennial staple of the toy shelves.

Micro Machines Z-bots logoZ-Bots would be one of those. Galoob introduced them as a subline of their popular Micro Machines line and it consisted of small articulated robots of many shapes. Unlike many toylines in the ’90s, there was no accompanying media to flesh out any storyline or help promote additional sales. Only the traditional advertising modes of cross-sell packaging and television commercials would help children find the particular robots they wanted spend their allowance on.

The story of Z-Bots was entirely told via the packaging of the toys themselves. The Micro Machines Museum has a full write-up of the truncated story. With the many colorful robots all having names and there being two distinct warring sides, I’m surprised no effort was made in the creation of a tie-in television show. At the time there was no direct competition. In 1992 Transformers was long gone and wouldn’t be returning until the following year with its short-lived Generation 2 reruns. I can’t help but think there was a missed opportunity for Galoob.

Waves 1 & 2 of Z-bots

The first two waves of Z-bots

The toys themselves are quite well made, being on par with the quality Galoob was putting out with its Micro Machines toys. The colors are bright and well varied throughout the line. The first two series consisted of basic robot designs and were sold in packs of three, usually with two “good” Z-bots and one “evil” Void. Most were loosely based off of old science fiction movies, usually with some added technology to fight their war. Others were shaped with sports equipment.

Waves 3 & 4 of Z-bots

Later waves of Z-bots, including converting, punching, and 'biting' robots

Later series not only began adding intricate details to the models, but began adding gimmicks as well. Z-Bots that linked together, did primitive transformations, or had a giant opening mouth were now included into each pack. The Z-Bots even became smaller with the release of Mini Z’s. These came in multipacks could easily be purchased in bulk to assemble a tiny little army.

Additional Z-Bots were packaged with vehicles of different sizes. They ranged from a single robot tank or wheeled vehicle to a giant robot fortress that could hold many Z-bots and even one of the smaller vehicles. Galoob even tried their hand at fast food tie-ins. First was Burger King, with 5 basic figures given out in their kids’ meals. Also included were themed “pogs,” piggybacking on another popular kids fad of the time.

Additional z-bots

From Left: Linkbots, who connected with each other to form a vehicle; Combots, redecos of early Z-bots in camoflague; Burger King promotinal items

In 2010 another toy company, ToyQuest, attempted the same formula of Z-bots, but met with utter failure. Their Androidz line failed to sell during the holiday season and were quickly clearanced out. Their robot toys were very similar in size and were sold again in multipacks or with vehicles and playsets.

Collecting-wise, Z-bots don’t cull the same prices as the perennial powerhouses such as Star Wars or GI Joe, but there is a market out there. Ebay prices appear to fluctuate depending on which particular robot figure is being sold, but with no obvious “rare” ones. The only things I can find that is even close to collecting holy grails seem to be some of the later figures. Mike at the Micro Machines Musuem seems to actively collect these toys and has a list of the ones he wants. All are from the later series, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that slowly the toyline was receiving decreased returns as it went on. The fact that these were tiny toys surely doesn’t help collecting nowadays. I’m sure many were lost while kids were playing with them actively and more were most likely thrown away as they didn’t have the same presence that larger toys did.

The may be a day when these toys come to the forefront again, but it is highly unlikely. They were never popular enough to warrant any additional media to help perpetuate their brand and simply existed as hunks of plastic. Other brands may have returned from the bowels of obscurity, but sadly the biggest hurdle now isn’t a lack of fan base, but business conglomeration. Hasbro now owns the rights to Micro Machines with its purchase of Galoob in 1999. The idea of introducing another robot-based toyline on the shelves and taking away market share from their best-selling Transformers toyline would not be a good business decision. But the original toys will always be there. Many are sitting unsold on eBay just waiting for someone to pick them up and relive a small part of their childhood.


My conversation with Tim Speidel, producer of The Transformers’ fifth season

First, a little background: I’ve been a longtime contributor to the TFWiki, going by the name Bluestreak7 in my edits. I usually focus on minutia and little things that don’t get noticed that much, be it character plot sections in the Energon or Cybertron series or housecleaning like de-orphaning pages and removing dead links.  I’ve always wanted to make a bigger impact on the site, but never really found my niche.

The time came where we submitted questions for Hasbro. A few would be selected and sent for them to answer. My submission was a querying for information regarding the fifth season of the original Transformers cartoon. It’s an odd little season. Season 4 had finished with just a three part introduction of the years’ toyline, showing off the entire product line in less than 90 minutes. However, any plans to continue season 4 were scrapped. When the next year came around, Hasbro decided to repackage many episodes with new live action intros and outros featuring a stop motion Optimus Prime and a boy named Tommy Kennedy. These were the episodes I first saw on TV, being five at the time.

My question was not submitted, but fellow wiki editor Monzo pointed me to this image of a screenshot showing the credits for the fifth season. Immediately I began my detective work, which means I googled. I started with the producer, who would have led the whole thing. Finding the website for Tim Speidel, I found he worked for Griffin Bacal, Hasbro’s marketing firm at the time. I had a feeling I had the right guy to get some information.

I went weeks without starting any contact, but eventually e-mailed him and asked if he would be interested in an interview of sorts about his work. He responded enthusiastically but wanted to have a phone conversation. I expected just to keep e-mail correspondence.  So last week Wednesday I called him up and we talked Transformers for about a half hour. Like most who worked on the series back in the day, it was just a job for him but one he remembers fondly.

I was not able to record the conversation, but I will highlight some of the points he made and stories he shared.

He could not remember much about Jason Jansen, the boy who played Tommy Kennedy. Transformers fans I have been trying to find information about him and I was hoping to crack the case, but he only remembers him being great at his lines. I do have some leads in that he was from the New York area where the footage was shot and that he was definitely a member of the Screen Actors Guid. They would not have hired him if he was not.

Griffin Bacal worked with Broadcast Arts, which was director Peter Wallach’s organization. Peter Wallach is the son of actor Eli Wallach. Peter Wallach and production designer/director of photography Mike Sullivan came up with the idea of using a giant Optimus Prime head and hand for the closeup shots. They felt they lucked out having Prime have a mouthpiece instead of lips, making lipsych that much easier. It was manipulated by seven to eight operators using hand hydraulics, similar to Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi. The props were initially warehoused, but Mr. Speidel believes they have since been destroyed.

All the season openers and closers were shot within three to four days on 35mm film. The last parts shot on set were the young actor’s lines. Right after he finished and the director called a wrap, a crane snapped in two, crashing down onto the giant hand where the boy was standing moments ago. Attached to the crane was the camera operator and the camera. Apparently everyone ran to see if the camera was okay and only checked on the operator secondly. However, if Jason Jansen was still on his mark, the crane would have most likely killed him.

Editing was done in New York at Rutt Video on 27th St. The budget was shrinking, so editor Lisa Orlando worked for bargain rates. Tim Speidel would help out with the edits and leave the building in the early morning hours. He said the area was ripe with prostitutes, who seemed to alternate between nights. On certain nights female  would be walking the streets and on other nights appeared to be the male shifts. The business may have been running out of the same building as the editing.

Overall it was a nice conversation. He couldn’t remember everything, but I was glad for the bits of information I was able to pull. Hopefully some of this information will be useful on the wiki. Now if only we could find Jason Jansen.