Amazon Prime Video is giving people a Christmas present with the premiere of A Toy Store Near You season 4, which drops in its entirety on Christmas Day. Brian Volk Weiss and his Nacelle team are once again bringing us stories about the greatest toy stores around America, and I spoke to Brian about what it’s like to make this fun and fantastic series, as well as his company’s blueprint for success.
Don’t forget to check out part one of my interview with Brian, in which we discuss his Star Trek documentary series The Center Seat: 55 Years of Star Trek. He’s bringing that same keen eye for detail and love for the creative to another season of exploring the country’s most interesting toy stores and the people who make them worth a visit.
Brittany Frederick: Nacelle has such a wide range of quality programming, whether it’s this or your Disney series Behind the Attraction. Do you have to change your approach for every project, or do you have certain things that you’re always looking for regardless of subject?
Brian Volk Weiss: It’s easier to tell you what we’re not looking for. The only thing we’re not looking for is dark for the sake of dark. Everything we do is joyful. Which doesn’t mean things we do don’t have dark moments, or dark themes, but we really try to keep everything to some degree happy.
Once the show goes into production, we have standard rules that we follow. For example, we have the “Vlix rule,” and the “Vlix rule” is you can’t take something that nobody [cares] about and spend five to ten minutes talking about it. That’s based on the Star Wars episode of [Netflix series] The Toys That Made Us, where we had a five-minute section on a very rare character named Vlix that was only sold in Brazil. We apply those rules to everything that we do. But I never want us to just keep making the same thing over and over again.
We always say “What’s a new way into this?” and that means two things. It means what’s a way for us to do this that nobody else has or would do? And it means how do we do this so it’s our show?
BF: What makes a toy store stand out to you? Are there certain aspects that make it fit into the ethos of A Toy Store Near You?
BVW: It’s all about the owners. 80 to 85 percent of every store is to some degree similar. It’s going to be the G.I. Joe section. There’s going to be the Star Wars section. There’s going to be the weird s–t that only people like me buy section. And then there’ll be stuff specific to the store. So when you’re making a TV show, it’s the characters. One through three would be the owners, and number four would be the staff and/or the customers. It’s all about the characters.
BF: There’s been a shift in the toy world over the last few decades. They’re no longer considered just for kids; in fact they’re being reissued as more expensive “collectibles” for adults. Why do you think we love our toys so much?
BVW: I think we’re going through some pretty crazy political times, and why not get totems or examples of things from when you were younger and you perceived life to be simpler? People always say to me toys are so much better back when we were kids than they are now, and I don’t know if that’s true because if I look at my kids, they’re as happy with their toys as we were with ours.
What I really think it is, is when you’re a kid you don’t have a mortgage. You don’t have credit card debt. So when you’re buying an old Power Ranger or a new Power Ranger that reminds you of your childhood, as great as that may be on your shelf, it’s really just reminding you of who you were when you didn’t have the burdens of life on your shoulders.
BF: You’re four seasons into A Toy Store Near You and hopefully you’ll do a few seasons more. How has the show evolved since you started this adventure a few years ago?
BVW: You learn things. You tweak things. The show was inspired [by] what was going on with COVID. Season 1 was all about how the stores were handling COVID, so they were like 75 percent COVID [and] 25 percent of the store. We’ve pivoted away from that. Season three [had] nothing to do with COVID. Season four, nothing to do with COVID.
I don’t think Mark Bellomo, who’s pretty much the toy expert, is in season 1. And then in season 2, he was in like one episode. Now he’s in every episode.
The other thing that’s happening now, which is one of the coolest, greatest things in my career, there are now two stores—one in Maine and one in Arkansas—that credit our show with their existence. Both store owners had like 20-year jobs. One guy worked at a post office for 20 years. They both quit their jobs and opened toy stores because of A Toy Store Near You. If we get more seasons ordered, we’re going to be doing an episode about stores that were inspired by the show.
BF: How do you judge the success of the series? Not only because it’s a streaming show, but because it’s about much more than just people watching the episodes.
BVW: To be blunt, it’s about the eyeballs and the money. If we don’t have enough eyeballs or money, we have to stop. I love that the stores are happy. The stores seem to love it. It’s also building a community. There are a lot of stores—like Farpoint [Toys & Collectibles], which is in Atlantic City, visited SMASH Toys [in Chicago] two weeks ago. They didn’t even know about each other, but now they’re a part of this community. So I would say 90 percent of my answer is money and eyeballs, and 10 percent would be all the extra stuff.
A Toy Store Near You season 4 premieres on Amazon Prime Video this Christmas Day. The first three seasons are also still available on Amazon Prime Video.
Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.