Like most show creators, I am often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” In order to save time and grief, I usually just say something vague and diplomatic like, “I get my inspiration from great books, great art and, of course, from children,” but this is really just a big crock of cheese. The last book I read was a self-help book (which didn’t help) and I try to avoid great art because it’s usually hung inside crowded museums and I don’t like crowds or museums. And, even though I think kids are brilliant, their ideas are usually too odd and original to become TV shows because most broadcasters still require some basic things like characters, a plot and logic. I’m thinking of one girl in particular who asked me to make a show about a mommy unicorn who gave birth to a waffle.
As anyone who creates anything for a living will tell you, the journey of a new idea cannot be tracked by any known form of GPS. Rather, it migrates up slowly from the recesses of your childhood, bounces around like a hockey puck against your heart, kidneys, and larynx and then, if you are very, very lucky, it finds its way to your lower cortex where it pops out, like a prisoner escaping from Alcatraz, and completely messes up the rest of your day (and, typically, the days of everyone you know and love.)
This journey is not mentioned in any business plan for children’s IP but, trust me, it’s the big bang moment for all of them. Or at least for the good ones. Unlike the nice (if predictable) folks in licensing who will show you their decks and graphs to prove that they have a winner, show creators will simply tell you they know their idea will be a hit because it made them weep when they thought of it. In my experience, neither one really knows for sure and whom you believe depends mostly on whether you went to business school or studied free verse like I did.
Because all great ideas have untraceable origins, everyone in show business struggles with the same basic problem: How do you know if the creative spark from one “artistic” person with a good pitch will form the foundation of a successful global entertainment franchise? You don’t. We all take guesses. Commissioners guess. Toy people guess. Publishers guess. And the ones who guess right keep their jobs for a year or two longer than the ones guess wrong. (It used to be a decade or two but times have changed.)
Is it any wonder that most buyers in the kid’s industry drink before, during, and after the markets? I think not. The sad bottom line is that we all live or die based on whether a mercurial show creator (such as myself) can birth a new series that successfully connects with children so young that they still poop in their pants. Though I certainly try my level best, I confess that I, just like everyone else in the kids’ business, am totally clueless.