Interview by Danielle Gelehrter and Adam McCombs
Mark DiCamillo was formerly Director of Marketing at Mattel. Mark started out as an engineer, working on lines such as Intellivision, Hot Wheels and BraveStarr. From there Mark was promoted to Male Action Design Manager, where he worked on the “New Adventures” He-Man line, among many others in his career at Mattel. One of Mark’s most successful designs was the role play Power Sword for the New Adventures line. The sword was an instant commercial hit.
Danielle Gelehrter initially contacted Mark about an interesting project he worked on that never saw the light of day – a live-action He-Man TV series, similar in concept to the eventual Captain Power TV series. Unfortunately the live-action He-Man series was never produced, but it’s a fascinating piece of He-Man lore that hasn’t received much attention.
From there Danielle looped me in, and we brainstormed on some additional questions for Mark, which he was gracious enough to answer:
Q: Many fans don’t know that a live-action He-Man TV series was in the works at one time. Can you talk about that?
A: Based on the success (sort of) of the live-action He-Man movie in 1987, Mattel immediately began to discuss the possibility of developing a weekly live-action TV show based on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Obviously, the more fanciful animated characters had to be adapted to be done with live actors. In addition, to keep the production budget for a weekly TV series in check, the costuming had to be relatively simple. At the time there was also a move to update the look to be a bit more futuristic vs. the original barbarian look that He-Man launched with. We did numerous design studies on everything from character looks to vehicles and weapons. Sadly the TV series was never green-lighted, but some of the design concepts were adapted to the New Adventures of He-Man in 1989.
Here is… one of the sketches for a live-action TV Man-At-Arms for your reference:
Q: I can’t help but notice the resemblance to Captain Power. Did Captain Power start as this live-action He-Man show?
Mark: Captain Power was its own concept. Certainly born out of the rise of male action toy play (which began with G.I. Joe, moved on to Star Wars and then Masters). One of the keys to Captain Power was some new technology that allowed the shows to be encoded with information that could be picked up by a receiver in the toys. Basically there were flashes of light that were interwoven between the scan lines of the TV signal. Similar to the old concept of subliminal advertising. The toys could detect the flashes, but the human eye could not. The flashes allowed the toys to know if characters or ships on the screen were firing toward the viewer. If they were, then the toys would react (for example, a handheld weapon buzzing, or a pilot ejecting).
This same technology was also used for BraveStarr (western-themed male action). and even Wheel of Fortune. Mattel made a Wheel of Fortune game that let you play along at home. You could guess your own letters and try to solve the puzzle at home. When Vanna turned over a letter on TV, it would actually reveal itself on your home game as well.
Q: Can you remember what existing characters from the original Masters of the Universe line would have been redesigned for the live action TV show?
Mostly the original core characters, He-Man, Man-at-Arms, and Skeletor.
Q: What was your specific involvement in the project? How did you feel about the direction it was going?
I was running one of the male-action design groups. The story and project direction came mostly from outside producers and marketing. Our design team was focused on ideation, churning out ideas and design styles.
Q: Can you recall what new characters would have been introduced for the show?
We had a number of character concepts, many without specific names, but with more human look and higher tech weapons. For example we had a bulked up evil character with a shaved head that carried a laser battle ax.
Q: You mentioned “the more fanciful animated characters had to be adapted to be done with live actors.” Does this mean characters like Orko and such were going to be in the show as performed by live actors?
A: Orko did not make it into any of the character concepts my team did for the live action show.
Q: What kinds of vehicles were planned for the show?
A: As I mentioned earlier, we tried to create vehicles that you could actually build and operate in live video shoots. We had motorcycles and off-road vehicles. We did have a hover sled, but that could be shot by holding the sled up off camera like was done with Luke’s scooter in the original Star Wars.
Q: Who worked on the character and vehicle designs for the show?
A: Our team was comprised of myself, Martin Arriola, Dave Wolfram, Dave McElroy, Terry Choy, Michael Collins and others. I had spent some time on Hot Wheels, so the vehicles fell mostly to myself, Michael Collins and Dave McElroy. Terry Choy pitched in as well.
Q: Were any scripts or story treatments written? What was the premise of the show?
A: We only had some basic story premises to work from. The main thing the design team had to work with was that the show would be set on Earth
Q: Was Castle Grayskull going to be in it? Or if not, were there new locations designed for the show?
A: We did not do any sketches of Grayskull for the live action show.
Q: Was this going to be a prime-time show or a daytime kids’ show?
A: It was designed to be a prime time show. It is the only way that a show of this type and budget would make economic sense.
Q: Which designs for the TV show ended up as New Adventures figures?
A: Really the only live action concepts that made it into New Adventures was the style for Skeletor. The New Adventures was a bit more futuristic than the look we were working on for the live action TV series
A: As you know, Mattel had some success with Captain Power and Bravestarr. At the time, we were adding lasers to just about everything.
Q: An early prototype of Laser Power He-Man featured a green crystal in his backpack, and we’ve heard that the crystals would have been kind of a McGuffin for the show, something each side was trying to get to power their vehicles and weapons. Is that accurate, and can you tell us anything more about it?
A: I really don’t recall that as a story premise, but I would not refute it either.
Q: Do you remember a 1988 story bible for a He-Ro: Son of He-Man cartoon that combined animation and live-action? Was that related to this at all? There was a “son of Skeletor” character named Skeleteen in it, and a lot of the other elements from this bible ended up in New Adventures of He-Man.
A: Mattel Entertainment was always working on new story treatments for toy-based entertainment. The main story concept and setting for the New Adventures was conceived by Dave Wolfram and myself. (I’ve attached a sketch that Dave did of our New Adventures universe.)
Q: What’s the relationship between the abandoned live action He-Man show and Captain Power?
A: None really. Captain Power was all about technology, include the interactive TV technology, which Mattel used in the Wheel of Fortune game as well.
Q: Why do you think the show never happened?
A: Like most things in entertainment and toys for that matter, very little that is created actually sees the light of day. I’m sure it was hard to make the economics work. When you add a lot of costumes, effects and makeup to a show, the costs rise rapidly.
Q: New Adventures of He-Man had some really well-produced live action TV commercials. Would the live action He-Man show have had a similar look?
A: It is hard to say. The live action TV show concept came before the New Adventures toy line and commercials, so there is very little relation between the two.
Q: Were any specific actors considered for the live action TV show?
A: None really. It never got that far, but many of us at the office had a soft spot for Deron McBee who did numerous toy fairs and mall tours and was Malibu on the American Gladiators.
While the live-action He-Man TV series never saw the light of day, it’s fascinating to imagine what might have been. The few glimpses we have into the show seem to reveal a very different take on Masters of the Universe, particularly given the apparent lack of Castle Grayskull in the series. Perhaps some of the story premises for the show will turn up someday to help paint a more complete picture of this mysterious, unproduced version of He-Man.
Special thanks to Mark DiCamillo for his willingness to answer our questions, and also to Danielle Gelehrter for including me on the interview.
To learn more about Mark’s design, management, engineering and product management experience, please check out his website.
Danielle Gelehrter has been a contributor to a number of Dark Horse books about He-Man and She-Ra, and she is also a co-writer of the Masters of the Universe Classics Collector’s Choice Bios. You can read more about her work here.