In Florida, many of the locals enjoy a culinary tradition called, “All You Can Eat.” This typically involves paying a flat fee of about $4.99 and then gorging yourself on an endless array of options, from roast turkey to tacos, and then visiting the “dessert bar” where you can pour hot fudge over anything that you can reach before eating it.
The food is bad but it’s cheap and there is a lot of it.
If you were inside the Palais last week at MIPTV, you know exactly what I’m talking about. There were booths from every corner of the globe selling everything from reality to wrestling, teens to toons, preschool to porn. Most of it looked awful and each day I left feeling nauseous. Maybe this doesn’t matter. Maybe if one looks closely, one can find a diamond in the rough inside the Palais. After all, if you eat the best truffle of your life at a buffet in Florida, isn’t it still the best truffle of your life?
I don’t think so. I suspect that by the time that truffle crosses your lips, there’s a good chance that your taste buds have already been knocked senseless by the fish sticks that came before it. So your truffle is bound to taste fishy.
But I learned a lot at MIPTV, much of it food-related.
On our last night in Cannes, Heather and I wandered through the streets of the old town. We followed our instincts up a hill to the lovely fortress-like church that watches over Cannes like a conscience, ensuring that its visitors don’t start believing too much in the importance of their projects, their yachts or their personal ambitions.
We got hungry so we wandered into a small, unassuming restaurant on a deserted street above Cannes and, during that three-hour meal, I had a long and delicious epiphany.
Now, I am not a foodie. I do not know wine and I do not care what restaurant opened in New York last week. But I swear I tasted God in the meal I ate last night at Le Salon des Independants. But it was far more than just the food.
Our experience at this small restaurant contained everything that MIPTV lacked. It was a genuine, personal connection between proprietor and customer. Let me repeat: It was a genuine, personal connection between proprietor and customer. And, though there were only two options for each course, the dishes that arrived steaming at our table were flawless.
At Le Salon des Independants (the name says it all), our warm host, Didier, and his chef, Sylvie, with their goat cheese dumplings, scallops in a pastry shell, beef in red wine sauce and chocolate ganache with raspberry coulis, taught us that content is not, in fact, king. It’s quality. In television as in food, quality is king.
This, I realized, must be our goal at Little Airplane: Not to be impressed by bigness, but to provide the highest quality product in a friendly and personal atmosphere. If MIPTV is McDonald’s, then I want Little Airplane to be Le Salon des Independants. And, like the owner, Didier, I want to serve you myself and shake your hand when you go.
On our last day in Cannes everyone asked us, “So, how was your first market?” Well, I have very mixed feelings. As humble creators and producers of educational preschool shows, I feel like I have seen the dark side of the force. The mind-numbing pace of the days, the meetings on yachts, the unapologetic pursuit of sales, sales, sales left me feeling empty and concerned about the soul of my industry. After all, I still actually believe that the only good reason to be in the preschool TV business is to help kids.
But, on the bright side, we grew up a lot at MIP. We saw first hand how the fruits of our labor at Little Airplane are packaged into units and sold like widgets across the globe. It was truly fascinating and I won’t pretend to be unhappy that we made a few deals of our own in Cannes. “Will you be back?” Yes, I think so. Mostly for the people. We saw so many old friends at MIP. Adina’s dinner was an amazing experience for us. It felt like the genuine, warm center of the children’s TV industry. And Adina was the most generous and welcoming hostess imaginable.
Over the course of our four days, we met people we hope to work with, people we hope to learn from and people we hope will become our friends. I was reminded time and time again that, despite all the schlock, we are very fortunate to work in an industry that attracts so many creative and inspiring people who genuinely want to make great shows for kids. And I was reminded of the global reach of all children’s programs and our shared responsibility to make sure these do not just become giant commercials for toys.
But I suppose the real reason I will be back in Cannes in October is that I want to see and taste what Didier and Sylvie are cooking for dinner.
I hope you will join me.
As always, I invite your comments and reactions.