Why Cobra Kai Isn’t Called The Karate Kid, and 4 More Things to Know About the New Series

All 10 episodes of the first season debut today on YouTube Red

Before making Cobra Kai, William Zabka and Ralph Macchio reunited to make a music video for a No More Kings song called "Sweep the Leg."
Photographed by Axel Dupeux for Adweek at Seido Karate NYC

This week’s cover story looked at the Karate Kid revival series Cobra Kai, which YouTube Red hopes will be a breakout hit like House of Cards was for Netflix. All 10 episodes of the first season roll out on YouTube today—the first two are available for free; the rest will require a subscription to YouTube Red. And the show’s creators, along with stars Ralph Macchio, who played LaRusso in three Karate Kid films, and William Zabka, who portrayed his nemesis Johnny Lawrence in two movies, shared details about the new show with us.

What’s in a name?

Unlike most other recent revivals—including The X-Files, Twin Peaks: the Return, and Will & Grace—the series doesn’t incorporate Karate Kid into its title. Instead, it takes its name from Johnny’s karate dojo in the first film, which he reopens during the series.

As a title, “Cobra Kai just stood out,” said Jeff Frost, president, Sony Pictures Television. “It was something that was so emblematic of what the show was and what the original movie was. It was also fresh and young, and it was a new take on this concept.”

Plus, noted Hayden Schlossberg, who created Cobra Kai with longtime pals Jon Hurwitz and Josh Heald, “it’s cool to see the show that already had the built-in logo”—from the Cobra Kai dojo—“and the logo is the most badass, evil-looking snake of all time.”

Keeping nostalgia in check

While the entire first season of Cobra Kai features callbacks to the Karate Kid films, especially the first movie, when it came to determining how much nostalgia to include in the series, “the word that we kept coming back to was ‘restrained,’” said Heald.

Since The Karate Kid’s release in 1984, “through the years it has been dealt with more comedically than non-comedically,” Heald continued. “It’s been parodied. We’ve heard the song ‘You’re the Best Around’ used for comedic effect in lots of silly things, and there were those one-liners and references in the movie that are on T-shirts. So we knew that there was all of that low-hanging fruit, and we knew we wanted to not grab it.”

Their determination: “When there was something that was really referencing the movies or a little Easter egg here and there, it had to really come from the story. It had to feel like it belonged in this show and that we weren’t crafting a scene around something that was aimed at saying, ‘Ha-ha, you see? From Karate Kid!’” said Heald. “It was important to us that this can stand on its own two legs, but we used the movie as the history.”

Creative control

Zabka said that one of the reasons he usually turned down offers to appear in projects that referenced Karate Kid was that he wasn’t sure how they would turn out. “I think mostly it’s about feeling safe, that you’re in good hands, because you never know what it’s going to look like when they cut it, and how they’re going to use you,” he said.

So when the actor was approached a decade ago to appear in a music video for a song called “Sweep the Leg” by No More Kings, “I said the only way that I would feel comfortable doing that is if you let me write it and direct it, and I’ll try to get the original guys back.”

That’s what happened, and Zabka was joined by original costars Macchio and Martin Cove (who played Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese):

“I was nervous putting it out there, and it was just so well received,” said Zabka, who became more open to revisiting his Karate Kid past after that experience. “It went from a glance over my shoulder, to an about-face, to actually walking into it.”

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