“Snatching the eternal out of the desperately fleeting is the great magic trick of human existence.”
It probably sounds ridiculous that someone who makes preschool TV for a living is also concerned with trying to reach for the eternal but, well, I am. I know that “the eternal” is customarily associated with the higher forms like painting, poetry, theater, etc. but I tend to think that, as a practical matter, the eternal is just as easily found in a good conversation, a well-made meal, a ride on the Staten Island Ferry or even a preschool television show.
I have pretty much concluded that you can find the eternal anywhere, you just have to be looking for it. A leaf will do. Or your hand. Or a papier-mache dog. Or a theme song for a preschool show. Of course, if you don’t think these things have the potential to reveal something of the eternal, then they won’t. They will just be a few more dull road signs that you pass on your way to somewhere else.
When I am making something, I try first and foremost to be honest. Am I honestly excited by this idea? Do I honestly feel that this idea has something meaningful in it for myself and others? Do I honestly feel I could spend years exploring this idea as a preschool series with my team?
I am not thinking, “Will this idea honestly make me money?” The truth is I don’t care enough about money to make shows for that reason. I am motivated by the simple (and perhaps selfish) desire/need to explore my own personal creative arc. Granted, it may not be a very profound arc and it may be populated by singing ducks and potatoes but it is my arc. And messing around with it and mining it for new ideas and shows is honestly the only thing I’m any good at.
I do believe that my “creator-driven” approach is what has made my business–or Cate McQuillan’s business or Anne Wood and Andy Davenport’s business–successful. We are all motivated by something within which is more personal, more powerful and more likely to connect with our audience than the shows that are created in a conference room by a bevy of licensing people determined to sell plastic toys.
Creator-driven shows work because they tend to be more original. And human beings, whether they are four or forty, tend to respond to originality. Thankfully.
It’s not easy to put your own instincts ahead of the experts who tell you that a certain type of show is selling this year or a certain type of play pattern will determine the success or failure of your toy/show. But you must put your instincts first. Why? Because the old Hollywood adage is equally true for preschool TV: “Nobody knows anything.”
But you can know yourself. And you can make work that emanates from an honest place within yourself. And because it’s honest, it will most likely be original. And because it’s original, a child is likely to respond to it. (Though I cannot guarantee the same sensitivity from broadcasters.) And if the kids respond, the commercial side becomes easy.
I don’t fault people who are in this field just to make money. But I do prefer the ones who have not yet lost sight of why they got into preschool television: To make content that entertains and educates the youngest and most vulnerable viewers. I encourage all of you to try to snatch something eternal out of this desperately fleeting parade of toys that is our new children’s media industry.
Your children will thank you for it.