Shuki Levy has had something of a storied career in the world of children’s television. As a composer, he’s written music for more than 130 shows, including such ’80s-’90s kids’ staples as Inspector Gadget, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Dagon Ball Z and Sweet Valley High. But it was in his capacity as one half of a team — with business partner Haim Saban, now a billionaire and major investor in Univision — that re-purposed a Japanese superhero series for young American audiences that he made his name (and more modest fortune). That show, as you probably guessed, was Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
A variety of differences lead to Levy leaving Saban Entertainment and taking a decade-long leave of absence from the industry. To the surprise of no one, Levy is back — and he’s got a brand-new show, Tribe of the Wild — and a brand-new deal with a major studio.
In an interview with TIME, the irrepressible Levy talks about the strange origins Tribe, how he got the show financed via a backyard party pitch, and just exactly what he was doing those 10 years out of television.
How was the end of Power Rangers for you?
It wasn’t a tough time. The real reason I started moving out was because the company [Saban Entertainment] grew and merged with Fox Kids — before too long, every script and production had to go through this committee and I would find myself sitting with 20 people in suits saying ‘maybe you shouldn’t do this.’ I knew what I should do, I had been producing hundreds of episodes. The process of feeling like I was in a factory, and not a boutique, didn’t feel comfortable — and, financially, I could afford to step away and take a break.
What have you been doing for the last 10 years?
I totally dedicated myself to something that is so close to my heart and this something is a mountain in Israel. Masada is a mountain very close to the Dead Sea that is impossible to get to the top, but the top is flat. The Romans built a camp up there in 73 AD. They controlled the country and enslaved everybody, but 960 people from Galilee totally refused to pay the taxes and become slaves and traveled all the way to this mountain. To make a long story short, for two years, the Romans couldn’t reach the top and then spent two years building a ramp to the top. Finally, the Romans came at dawn, so the 960 people took their own lives. I’ve been very emotionally attached to this place ever since I was a kid and I got involved financially and creatively with building a museum in Masada that now has over 1,400 visitors a day. It tells the whole story in an artistic way.
What else has your passion for Masada turned into?
I was approached to do a musical to tell the story of Masada, but through the eyes of the Jews and based on a true story. The word got to Andrew Lloyd Weber and he decided to put it up in London and it opened with a $15 million production in a new London theater in the West End. It opened in November 2008 when the market crashed and people didn’t see it. The show ran for about three months. It was filmed and shown on PBS and now is in the hands of Kevin McCollum [Rent], a Broadway producer who loves the project. I am very proud of it.
What brought you back to thinking about television?
Even though I was busy with the musical and lived in London for a while, my mind was always creating and always putting down new ideas, some I like and some not. It might sound like a story from Fairyland, but at a quarter-to-six one morning is where I saw the whole story for Tribe of the Wild. Not just a few details for the pilot, but I can tell you what they will do in the third or fourth season. It was something really special and it got me going immediately. I had to do it and share it with others.
You started creating it without any studio backing you, just how sure of the show are you?
I think it is going to be huge, but it’s true, it happened in a way that has never happened before. I had a Fourth of July barbecue in my backyard and I met a young group in the mobile [technology] business and my wife mentioned the dream. I told them I wanted to write it and shoot a pilot. Those guys financed the pilot without seeing a line or a script — just based on my excitement.
What is Tribe of the Wild all about?
Maury Island [near Seattle] had the very first UFO sighting in the U.S. when some debris fell and hit a fishing boat. The government came and closed the whole area and planes loaded with [debris] material found in the ocean crashed and nobody could even figure out what caused the crash. And this is all a true story. So in my story, history is kind of repeating itself and, this time, the aliens abduct five teenagers. It is an ongoing journey. There is not a formula. It is not similar to Power Rangers, it is more about sci-fi adventures and deals with technology issues like mind control, all while being very colorful.
Is this completely different from Power Rangers?
The one thing similar is that it deals with five teenagers (see cast photo, below). But unlike Power Rangers, which was limiting because of the usage of Japanese footage, Tribe of the Wild allows me to go with my imagination. It will deal a lot with characters. It is going to have an element of pre-teen soap opera.
Music is such a part of your work, will that play a role here?
Yes, I’m writing the score myself and it is like a feature score, not a TV score. It is a lot of symphonic and classical with very hip rock and modern sounds with a lot of percussions. [Listen to the theme song here]
You signed a “first look” deal with Relativity Media — how will that partnership help you?
I am totally allergic to anything that has to do with business or selling. I was very blessed to work with Haim Saban for 30 years from the time I was a singer in France. Since everything faded away and the company was sold and he’s doing his thing and I’m doing mine, I have obviously been approached by many people over the years. I am a person who follows his gut and the first time I walked into Relativity I loved it. They will come into the picture with distribution and which network the show is going to be on.
How many episodes do you have planned?
Fox said, ‘okay, we’ll buy 13 episodes’ [of Power Rangers] six years after the original pilot. Here we are 20 years later, so it is difficult to answer how many episodes we want to produce.