This week I have the distinct pleasure of introducing a guest blogger whom most of you already know and love: Michael Carrington. My favorite story about Michael is the one that Mellie Buse and Jan Page tell about how, after pitching “Grandpa In My Pocket,” he looked at them and said, “I suppose you want to produce this yourselves, do you?” Their company, Adastra Creative, had never taken on such an ambitious project before, certainly not as producers.
Mellie responded with a hopeful, “Yes, please?” Michael gave a boyish smile, slammed their pitch bible and said, “Well, that’s fine by me!” And thus Adastra Creative was able to grow and flourish, and “Grandpa In My Pocket,” has become one of the top-rated shows on CBeebies and is now in its second series.
Anyone who knows Michael knows that he cares deeply about our industry and the creative people who work in it. He has given so many of us the chance to make the shows that previously existed only in our hearts. In short, Michael believes in us so we believe in Michael.
So, without further ado, Michael Carrington.
This morning I tried to use my BBC ID card to get through the turnstile at the White City tube station – it didn’t work – and as I glanced back at the queue of irritated people behind me, I felt sorry for them, because they had no idea that my mind was floating happily off in CBeebies-land. I’m in the throes of planning out my 2011 schedule, so that’s where my brain is focussed at the moment. I’ve been doing the usual exploring of the market stuff – reading scripts, watching DVDs, talking to producers and keeping my eye on the competition! But this morning, in the chaos of the rush hour, my mind wandered back to my own childhood television experiences.
I grew up in a backwater of Sydney, Australia. I believed in Santa Claus until I was 13 years old – my mother felt compelled to tell me the truth after I’d had an altercation with an older boy who didn’t believe. That was the worst Christmas of my life. But until that moment and looking back now, I feel I’d grown up in a time and a place which allowed me to live an uncomplicated, carefree childhood. Isn’t that something all children should have – I thought?
I remember turning boxes into high-powered racing cars, a ladder lent up against the garage would lead to an enormous space rocket, and when I climbed the tree in the back garden it became a great pirate ship. However, as much as I loved playing outdoors, at every opportunity I would sneak in to the house to watch television. “Where’s Michael?”, “Watching television!” – I was always getting in to trouble for watching too much television – “You’ll end up with square eyes,” my parents would exclaim!
I loved television, but when I was 5 years old, apart from Adventure Island and our own version of Play School on the ABC, Romper Room and Humphrey Bear, and later Skippy the Bush Kangaroo on Channel 9, the programmes I was exposed to during Children’s time, were not made for children – they were mostly American sitcoms! Shows like Gilligan’s Island, The Flying Nun, and My Favorite Martian simply delighted me. Every week Gilligan and his friends would struggle to get off that island, Sister Bertrille would catch the breeze to solve a problem, and Uncle Martin would raise his antenna and disappear. It was bliss – they made me giggle, stirred up my imagination, and motivated me to create my own stories.
So what was it about those programmes that entertained a 5-year-old as much as the adults they were aimed at? Well the thing I spotted about these shows (I like to think, even back then), were that they all started with a great opening title sequence – mostly with a well-written catchy song. They featured the same characters in every episode. There was an overarching purpose, yet each episode was self-contained. Stories were simple, full of gags and catchphrases (or actions), and light jeopardy. And the setting was familiar, even though I’d rarely been further than the shops or grannies.
So as I work towards identifying ideas for CBeebies in 2011, I’m thinking, there’s nothing wrong with innovation and pushing the boundaries, but maybe it’s the simple story, the recognisable characters, and the sense of humour that would cut through today as much as it did during my early years. It seems to me that young children have such busy lives – so full of stuff and so many expectations from parents – that they deserve a moment or two to wonder and to fantasise. That is, in essence, what I’m striving to inject into CBeebies (the UK’s #1 kids’ channel) to sit alongside our great shows like, Timmy Time, Grandpa In My Pocket, and the soon to launch comedy sketch, Gigglebiz.
PS My eyes are still round, even though televisions have turned from squares to triangles!
PPS Other programmes that kept me indoors (in alphabetical order):
I Dream of Jeannie
Land of the Giants
Lost In Space
My Three Sons
The Addams Family
The Beverly Hillbillies
The Brady Bunch
The Flying Nun
The Time Tunnel
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea