A look at six shows-some brand-new, others PBS veterans-that got their start on PBS.
Cecily Truett is co-president of Lancit Media Entertainment
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) issues a request for proposals for a new series that will address diversity for pre-schoolers. CPB will grant US$4.5 million, the largest single grant since Sesame Street, to the producer of the selected series.
Late May 1991
Lancit Media Entertainment, producer of the Emmy-winning Reading Rainbow¨, attends a meeting in Washington, D.C., along with dozens of other interested producers to discuss the submission procedures. An executive from KCET in Los Angeles approaches Lancit and proposes that the two companies join forces and submit an idea together. It’s a strategic match: Lancit’s expertise in the development and production of children’s programming coupled with KCET’s major market system clout and track record.
Creative development begins and the pieces of the puzzle are shaped as Lancit and KCET formulate the vision for the proposal. The core of the show will revolve around the lives and friendships of six ethnically diverse puppet children. Personality profiles and detailed backgrounds are developed to ensure that each character will have integrity without creating or reinforcing stereotypes.
July 15, 1991
After an incredibly short time frame of only six weeks, The Puzzle Place is developed and submitted to CPB as a show that promises to sow in young people the seeds of self-esteem, cooperation and respect for others. November 1991
CPB announces that The Puzzle Place has won the grant from over 30 proposed series ideas. The grant money is wonderful news, but now other fundraising is necessary to meet the US$10.3 million needed to cover the cost of the pilot and first 40 episodes. In due course, Edison International contributes US$3.5 million pulled from funds it had set aside after the 1992 L.A. riots for a ‘Rebuild L.A. Task Force.’ Lancit and KCET find US$2.3 million in other funding to make up the balance.
Fourteen professionals in the areas of child development, elementary education and cultural diversity are carefully selected to form The Puzzle Place advisory council. Their goal is to ensure that the series’ content and format are appropriate for the targeted audience of two- to six-year-olds, that the characters’ cultural and ethnic background are represented accurately, and that the show themes are handled appropriately. The advisory council meets with Lancit and KCET to help design the series curriculum, select a storyline for the pilot, and conduct formative research on various program elements for the pilot.
Elements of the pilot production also fall into place. The set is constructed at the KCET studios. An opening theme and original song are composed and produced.
The pilot is shot at KCET studios in Los Angeles. Field segments are shot in New York. Post-production is completed.
Scripts are written for the first 40 episodes. Fundraising efforts continue, and attract major underwriting contributions from IBM and Sears.
On the retail side, a marketing and promotion plan is implemented. A preliminary style guide is created. Licensing deals are made with appropriate partners. An extensive community outreach program-a critical component of any public television series-is developed for The Puzzle Place. The outreach program provides local public television stations with a variety of print materials, including a caregiver guide, training manual and parent booklet, which are made available in English and Spanish. In addition, workshops are developed for teachers, parents and day care providers.
The workshops reinforce the mission and themes of the series, and adults are taught how to guide their children to resolve conflicts in a peaceful manner, make friends who are different from themselves and develop interpersonal skills they will use throughout their lives.
The outreach program involves station representatives from all over the country, who fly in for two days of training at KCET. As of May 1997, 170 workshops had been completed with an average of 30 participants each. Another 250 workshops are planned, and 12,000 teachers, parents and day care providers are expected to have been trained by December 1997.
Studio and field segments are shot for 40 episodes. Press kits and promotional materials are created.
July 1994-January 1995
Post-production comes to a close. Underwriters CPB, Edison International, IBM and Sears work in conjunction with Lancit and KCET on series promotions. In addition, retailing plans are developed. A press tour for the series’ launch in January is planned. Station relation campaigns are designed and implemented. January 16, 1995
With all the pieces finally in place, The Puzzle Place debuts to critical acclaim and with excellent ratings on 96 percent of PBS stations. Representing television’s first attempt to celebrate diversity, Good Housekeeping heralds it as ‘ground-breaking TV.’ It is called everything from ‘a Friends for preschoolers’ (TV Guide) to labeling the puppets ‘the M*A*S*H characters of the kiddie set’ (The Christian Science Monitor).
Licensed Puzzle Place products roll out nationwide in Sears and other mass-market retailers. Sears features special The Puzzle Place Boutiques in over 100 of its stores.
The Puzzle Place kids are invited to the White House to meet First Lady Hilary Clinton and, on a separate occasion, receive an invitation to the Easter Egg Roll.
The Puzzle Place kids make special guest appearances on local and national talk shows, including a holiday appearance on Good Morning America.
The Puzzle Place rings in the new year by celebrating its first birthday. Since the contract with CPB called for 65 episodes, the second season is due to begin with the broadcast of the final 24 episodes.
The Puzzle Place receives two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Art Direction and Best Directing in a Children’s Series. Kix cereal boxes feature The Puzzle Place kids in an on-pack promotion and The Puzzle Place Mall Show kicks off at Kids Jam USA.
The Puzzle Place receives two Emmy nominations for Best Children’s Series and Costume Design. Minute Maid features The Puzzle Place kids on a juice box promotion.
Lancit Media Entertainment and KCET announce the production of 10 new episodes of The Puzzle Place for 1998 from funding provided by CPB and International Home Foods, Inc./Chef Boyardee. Additionally, PBS provides funding for extension of rights through 1998, and contingent upon the completion of 10 new episodes, through June 2000. The Ford Foundation kicks in funding for continued outreach.
The shape of things to come . . .
With 10 new episodes in the works, a relaunch of product planned in conjunction with those episodes, and a significant expansion of outreach and workshops from 38 stations to 138, the puzzle continues to grow.
The Puzzle Place and The Puzzle Place logo are trademarks of Lancit Media Entertainment, Ltd. and KCET. The Puzzle Place and characters©1994 LCC/KCET. All Rights Reserved.