IN his television credits, he's Thomas W. Lynch, but in person, he's all Tommy.
"Everything is called the Tommy bubble -- and Tommy town is where I live!" the writer-producer said recently when describing his creative process, practically shouting with enthusiasm over lunch at the Standard Hotel downtown.
Lynch is an irrepressible 50-year-old, born and raised in West Hollywood, who likes to talk about being Irish Catholic, hating George W. Bush and loving Alec Baldwin ("He's a god, right? When did this guy become America's favorite person?"). He is also a forefather of the 'tween television revolution, which, when you add up the spoils of Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, is now a billion-dollar business.
In 1984, he created the long-running series "Kids Incorporated," in which a rotating cast of young performers played a fictional rock band, and simultaneously tackled the issues of the day. "Kids Incorporated" not only foisted Jennifer Love Hewitt, Mario Lopez and Fergie into the public sphere but permanently fused together what is now a formula of 'tween programming: kids + music + identity issues. (See: "High School Musical.")
Later, Lynch thought up a number of other successful offerings for 'tweenagers, the age group from 9 to 14 that advertisers, perhaps insidiously, love. Nickelodeon's "The Secret World of Alex Mack" is another of his much-copied shows.
His current series, "South of Nowhere" on the N and "Class of 3000" on Cartoon Network, have taken him into new territory: that of teen lesbianism and animation, respectively.
Lynch created "Class of 3000" with Andre Benjamin of OutKast, who also stars in and writes music for the animated show. Lynch said that because he had never done an animated series, he "wanted to bring something big to it" and thought of Benjamin as "the coolest human being on the planet right now."
"I called people who knew people who knew people, and I hooked up with Andre," he said. "You go through the hoops -- I'm cool with it."
For more than a year, Lynch and Benjamin developed the show, in which Benjamin plays a superstar singer from Atlanta who gets sick of being an entourage-smothered product instead of a musician and quits to teach prodigies at a performing arts school. "Class of 3000" (8 p.m. Fridays) is performing well, and Cartoon Network ordered 26 episodes. Lynch said, "That's 26 -- looking for more!"
Lynch is hoping for more "South of Nowhere" too -- the teen drama wrapped up its second season Friday but is not yet set to come back for a third (reruns are on at 10 p.m. Thursdays, and all episodes are available on the N's website). Lynch got the idea for the show when his best friend's son came out of the closet; as the father of four young adult sons and a guardian of an adult daughter, Lynch wondered why such an inherently loaded and rich event between parents and their adolescent children hadn't yet been explored as an ongoing subject in series television.
"On some shows, there would be a gay experience, and it would be chaste or it would be the opposite -- it would be wild and sensual," Lynch said. "But it would be over in Episode 2. This is like, 'Wake up, this is here.' "
The first two seasons of "South of Nowhere" have told the story of the rocky romance of Spencer (Gabrielle Christian), an Ohio high-schooler transplanted in L.A., and Ashley (Mandy Musgrave), a volatile rich girl. Their relationship has weathered homophobic parents, interest from appealing male peers and, in the finale, a drive-by shooting that has left all of the characters in jeopardy.
Lynch admitted that he reads the message board postings about the show. "These people are passionate," he said. "It's gone from 'I'm telling a story' to 'Whoa, I've got a responsibility.' I can't be short-changing -- I'm going to hear about it the next frigging day."
Among his next projects are three potential pilots for Nickelodeon. He's hoping to do "a big, big piece" along the lines of "Harry Potter" or "Eragon." "Kids today, I think they need to breathe. The world and their shows have become commodified and predictable."
He stabbed at his salad and continued excitedly about his favorite topic: children's lives. "It's a great adventure. It's going to be scary, and it's going to be frightening, and fun and different. But it's a great adventure, and they should grab that."