Planet Preschool

My Travels With Tone

OCTOBER 13 I am on another plane going to another conference.  If you’re wondering when I find the time to make preschool shows, so am I.  But this week it’s Ottawa ...
October 20, 2009


I am on another plane going to another conference.  If you’re wondering when I find the time to make preschool shows, so am I.  But this week it’s Ottawa and I’m excited because I’ve never been and I hear it’s a lovely place and a great animation festival.  And I’m traveling with Tone Thyne, the Little Airplane person who’s been with me the longest.  He is the papa bear of the company and he tells me corny jokes that make me smile.  (“Disney was a great place to work but it was a little bit of a Mickey Mouse operation.”)  He also like puns, which I hate, but Tone manages to sell them with his Maplewood USA delivery.

Tone and I had a great lunch yesterday in New York with Deirdre Brennan from Nickelodeon Australia.  Deirdre is very much a “connector” in our industry, one of those generous people who are well-known and well-loved by everyone, including yours truly.  As you may recall, I wrote about Deirdre’s pre-SPAA party last November in Sydney and how pleasantly surprised I was to see colleagues and friends from all the competing networks and indies laughing and drinking and eating dumplings from spoons.

Over lunch, Deirdre and Tone and I spoke about competition in our industry.  We all seem to share a common belief in cultivating a community of creative people who know and care about making high quality children’s programs.  And the more robust and diverse the community is, the better the work will be.  But when we must compete, I think it’s best that we do so as friends or, perhaps, as siblings.  As I’ve said before, we’re all in this together.


A full day in Ottawa.  I gave the keynote this morning and felt disappointed with myself.  My energy was very low and I felt stuck in my text.  My message was for the aspiring show creators.  As always, I encouraged them not to worry about what the broadcasters are looking to buy but to focus instead on pitching the shows that they were born to make.

I believe more than ever in this message and I feel like I meet almost daily with young creators who put their own personal projects at the very bottom of their lists.  This just doesn’t make sense to me.  The best use of our time, personally and professionally, is to make our love projects.

We saw a variety of our Canadian friends in Ottawa including my new favorite kids’ TV person, Ira Levy from Breakthrough, who gave me one of his big bear hugs.  Ira is a good man with kind eyes who understands that in kids’ TV the relationship must precede the deal (and ultimately outlive the deal).  If all goes well, I hope to be working with Ira very soon.

I snuck out for a stroll along the Ottawa Locks.  I watched the white water rush up against the gates and thought about Canada.  What strikes me most here is the openness and lack of subterfuge among the people I’ve met.  Canadians seem to really be there when you’re talking to them.  They listen more closely than Americans do.  And when they say they’ll follow up with you, they actually do.  I like that a lot.

Now I’m at the airport with Tone and we’re heading to Toronto for the night and then off to Pittsburgh or, more specifically, Latrobe.  There we’ll participate in the Fred Rogers Center Annual Advisory Council Meeting.  We’re big fans of the Fred Rogers people and the great work they’re doing in Latrobe to keep the vision of Fred Rogers alive.

For those of you who still think Fred was just that sweet guy with the hand puppets and the cardigan sweater, I suggest you take a look at Fred in action testifying before the US congress in defense of funding for the Public Broadcasting Service:

Fred was a tough man, a great man and as far as I’m concerned no one will ever fill his blue sneakers.


A very productive day of meetings in Latrobe in the beautiful new building that houses the Fred Rogers Center.  We saw some truly extraordinary presentations by some of the Fred Rogers Fellows.  The one that struck me the most was by YoungHyun Chung, a Doctoral Student at The Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology at The University of Pittsburgh.  YoungHyun’s work is designed to help individuals with disabilities create artwork.

One of his projects is a software program that helps people who use wheelchairs create large-scale paintings by moving their chairs through a large, empty studio.  The movement of the chairs creates corresponding colored brushstrokes on the wall of the studio, allowing the artists to “paint” on a giant canvas.  The finished digital paintings can be saved and then reproduced onto actual canvas.

Afterwards, we were all treated to a beautiful dinner in a restored red barn on the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve.  This is an extraordinary piece of land that was rescued from Wal-Mart developers by Fred Rogers and St. Vincent College and is now used to host classes for preschoolers.


Back in New York now.  Mary and I curl up on the couch and watch Pride & Prejudice.  I love that movie.  I am exhausted from the last two weeks of traveling.  I am tired of hearing myself talk.  (And I suspect some of you are, too.)  I promise myself a quiet weekend of movies, good coffee, bagels, running by the water and lots and lots of sleep.

But each of these trips has been very important to me and to Little Airplane.  And it’s not just me who travels.  So does my team.  Jordan Geary is in London.  Sharon Thomas will be heading to Tokyo for the Japan Prize next week.  Then Jennifer Oxley and Tom Brown and I will be in Sydney for SPAA and to run a Little Airplane Academy there.  So the frequent flier miles pile up, as do the number of seeds we plant all over the world, seeds that will hopefully lead to new friends, new chances to connect with our young audience and a bigger and more robust preschool television community.

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