(Editor’s Note – The opinions expressed in this blog belong solely to the author. Any questions/comments should be directed to its author, Josh Selig, and not KidScreen.com/KidScreen Magazine.)
I read once that when the US economy is bad, sales of Campbell’s soup go up. This is because it’s a “comfort food,” which means that when people eat it they feel more comfortable. I suspect Campbell’s soup reminds them of happier times, like their childhoods, or perhaps the childhoods that they wish they had had. But Campbell’s soup doesn’t taste very good, which is why people don’t eat it much when they already feel happy and secure. In good times, they go for things that are yummy and interesting: sushi, Spanakopita, or perhaps a nice vindaloo. It’s only under duress that humans choose the safe, tasteless option.
My guess is that it’s this same sort of insecurity that’s driving so many kids’ companies to look for comfort in old, familiar brands these days. Maybe they believe the name recognition will give them a leg up in this tough market but, as someone who values children’s television as a creative medium, I find the resurgence of these “classic” brands to be unfortunate and, I have to say it, boring.
What puzzles me about the trend is that the biggest hits of the past decade or so have been bold, creator-driven shows like “Teletubbies,” “Blue’s Clues” or “Peppa Pig.” So I’m confused as to why anyone would think they have a better shot at ratings or licensing gold with the old stuff than with the new stuff. Even Endemol, one of the biggest and best media companies on earth, is choosing to “dip its toe” into preschool TV not with the latest IP from Ragdoll, Little Airplane, or their own Tiger Aspect, but with “Bananas in Pajamas,” a lovely series that began as a song on “Play School” in 1967 and premiered as a preschool show on the ABC in 1992. Yes, the bananas and their pajamas are now animated, but is that really enough to make them a hit?
For better or for worse, I like new stuff. I’m probably the only person in my company who feels relieved when one of our shows goes out of production after two or three seasons. By then, I’ve usually moved on creatively to whatever’s next on our development slate. Back in 2003, the highlight of our “Oobi!” wrap party wasn’t sharing memories about making “Oobi!” but sharing our first-ever animated project, an unusual pilot we called, “The Power Pets.”
I suspect that from a commercial perspective, the old stuff is simply less risky than the new stuff. And I can see why someone would choose Campbell’s soup over a new brand of soup that they’d never heard of. Depending on my mood that day, I might do the same. But when it comes to preschool TV shows, mine or anyone else’s, I’ll always be more interested in the new, risky thing than the old thing.
I know that most people in our industry gauge success by their financial bottom line, regardless of the quality or originality of what they’re producing. Not me. If I was just looking to make money, I’d get into something more profitable, like reality shows or championship wrestling.
I still judge success by what we are contributing to the lives of the families who watch our shows. And I was thrilled this week when J.J. Johnson, Blair Powers and Matt Bishop won a Gemini for Best Preschool Series for “The Ocean Room.” Why? Because Sinking Ship makes innovative, creator-driven programs that outperform so many bigger-budget series, including my own. And they succeed not because they’re listening to the gospel of licensing people or nervously trying warm up old brands from the 80′s. They succeed because their shows are beautiful, brave and new.