When I was a kid I was told that if you dug a hole deep enough you would come out in China. Of course this isn’t true. You come out in Uzbekistan. To get to China, you have to do what I’m doing: Leave your dog with a very sad look on her face, take a car service to Newark on a Saturday morning when you’d rather be eating French toast in your pajamas and watching Sprout, and get on a way-too-long flight to Beijing with your loyal Head of Production, Sharon Gomes Thomas, who was once on the cover of Newsweek Magazine because she used to be a celebrity on MTV Asia.
Yes, it’s true. Sharon was a VJ on MTV. She traveled in limos and was chased by screaming teenagers. Over the years, I’ve discovered that there isn’t much that Sharon hasn’t done in her life, including winning a Peabody Award for the documentary film, Rebirth. These days, she goes on trips with me to spread the preschool TV gospel of Little Airplane. Last week we were in Cannes and this week we’re off to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Tokyo for ten days of meetings and, more importantly, ten days of dumplings.
To pass the time on my flight, I’ve been reading the China Daily and I’ve learned some interesting things. For instance, I learned that Facebook has been inaccessible in China since 2009 which, I couldn’t help noticing, is the same year we launched our Small Potatoes Facebook page. Just a coincidence? I don’t think so. I also learned that a Chinese version of the Broadway Musical Mamma Mia has recently opened (and quickly sold out) in the Shandong Province. All I could think about was how hard it must have been to translate the Swedish nuances of ABBA into Mandarin. But the best article I read in the China Daily was on the “Five Confucian Values For Success.” They are:
1. Money Management
2. Developing Desirable Relationships
3. Maintaining Familial Harmony
4. Pursuing An Education
5. Determination For An Outstanding Life
To be honest with you, this list gave me agita for my entire flight to Beijing because, well, I suck at all five of those things. Let’s start with money. I just don’t like it very much. I think money is highly overrated and has a tendency to make good people do very bad things. Relationships. My best friend is a 32-pound mini-Australian Shepherd named Buffy. Family Harmony. We are not the Von Trapps. Education. I attended Sarah Lawrence where one of my courses consisted of adapting a fishing poem by the Trobriand Islanders of the Western Pacific. Determination For An Outstanding Life. No offense, Confucius, but this one sounds like a lot of unnecessary pressure. I, for one, am not looking for an outstanding life. I just want to make cute preschool shows, throw tennis balls for my dog and go to Shake Shack once a month.
The China Daily article did, however, inspire me to write up my own list of what I call, “The Five Preschool Television Values For Success.” (Clearly, I had some time to kill during the long stretch over Northern Russia.)
1. Believe In What You Make. Everyone can tell the difference between a show that has the passion of a show creator behind it and one that’s just trying to sell swag. Only make shows you love. They have a better chance of succeeding and you’ll respect yourself in the morning.
2. Bet With Your Head, Not Over It. Almost without exception, all of the indies who went belly up this past decade did so because they over-invested in their own shows. Hubris is as common in our industry as vodka.
3. Location, Location, Location. Make sure that the show you’re making will resonate with kids around the world. This means looking beyond your own local broadcasters. It also means getting on planes when you’d rather stay home.
4. Stay Current. Media is changing so rapidly that we’re all at risk of becoming linear-television dinosaurs. I think experience is less important these days than knowing what kids are watching and exactly how they’re watching it.
5. Be Brave, Grasshopper. Fear keeps many people locked into old ways of generating content and (not generating) revenue. Experiment with new platforms and new partners. It’s not just a great time to do this, it’s also a blast.
Sharon and I have just arrived in the massive Beijing International Airport. It’s very modern and makes the Newark Airport look like a Greyhound Bus station. But what you really notice here are how many flights there are and how many people are getting on and off of them. I was told that the daily flights between Beijing and Shanghai are so frequent that they have actual traffic jams in the sky. Another interesting factoid: There are more children in China than there are people in the United States. That’s a lot of kids and I hope to make cute shows for all of them.
To be continued…