After six successful seasons, Sprout’s live preschool series The Sunny Side Up Show came to an end today with the launch of NBCUniversal’s brand-new morning kids show, Sprout House.
Scheduled weekdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on what will become Universal Kids’ Sprout programming block, the musically infused, interactive play date series ditches the live format of Sunny Side Up in favor of pre-recorded segments with the opportunity to go live when it suits the network.
The format, according to Universal Kids SVP of programming and development Amy Friedman, is almost structurally identical to The Sunny Side Up Show in that it’s a series of rotating 90-second interstitials, but switching to taped segments will give the show more freedom.
“We felt that live was really locking us into a certain kind of content that was somewhat limiting. It had some benefits, but the detriments started to outweigh them. Going pre-recorded allows for a more flexible shooting style including different camera angles and handheld shots,” says Friedman, noting that the format change is also better suited to the show’s new physical set at NBCU’s 30 Rockefeller Center, which is modeled after the “tiny house” movement.
“With live, we were really limited to basically two camera angles, but now, for example, we can do things like open the back of the set’s tiny kitchen refrigerator so the camera can actually go in the fridge,” she says.
As for talent, Sprout House features a number of carryovers from The Sunny Side Up Show, including one of its former hosts, Carly Ciarrocchi (pictured), as the main host. But the show reduces the role of beloved anthropomorphic chicken character Chica to her own segment, where she goes to preschool to help teach kids real life skills.
“We obviously like Chica as much as our audience, but we did want to make room for a new puppet co-host that gives us much more freedom to go deeper into the cast and kid relationships,” says Friedman. The aforementioned puppet is Snug (pictured), an adorable talking orange puppy played by puppeteer Chris Palmieri. The move, according to Friedman, gets around Sunny Side Up‘s hosts having to translate Chica’s squawks into English.
Snug joins Ciarrocchi and a number of regular visitors including new cast member and Sprout House next door neighbor T.J. (Donnell Smith, pictured), a video-journalist and documentarian who meets kids from all over the world and shares their stories.
Sunny Side Up‘s former line producer Vinny Steves has also joined the show as supervising producer. In fact, the bulk of Sunny Side Up‘s internal team is also working on Sprout House.
As for the decision to cast Ciarrocchi as host, Friedman says her Second City improv and comedy training helped seal the deal. “Especially as we’re going taped, Carly’s true gift for being in the moment, whether it’s live or taped, really helps maintain an authentic, spontaneous feel to the show and deepens the relationships,” she says.
For Snug, part of his job is to help kids experience “mean” and deal with their emotions. “For example, Snug has a frustration bell which allows him, when he’s feeling frustrated, to ring the bell and Carly is right there to help him work through the moment whether it’s taking a deep breath or getting perspective,” says Friedman. “All of these things were the raison d’être behind us moving in this direction of deeper relationships with kids.”
The show also features musical performances by kindie artists including Tim Kubart and his band “Tim and the Space Cadets,” as well as games, crafts, field trips, special guests, animation and birthdays.
Sprout House arrives in advance of Universal Kids’ official kick-off on September 9. The NBCUniversal-owned US net will target two- to 11-year-olds and include Sprout preschool content, DreamWorks Animation TV series, unscripted entertainment and live-action scripted originals.