Just a heads-up for those of you in Ireland – the Fluffy Gardens Christmas Special will be airing tomorrow (Christmas Day) at 9.25am on RTE2. Those who happen to catch the Fluffy Gardens Christmas Special will spot a whole bunch of characters never seen before. Just who these characters are has never been revealed.
So here, for the very first time, are the names of some of the characters glimpsed in the Fluffy Gardens Christmas Special. From left to right in the image above: Belinda the Narwhal, Mr.Simmons the Orca, Gil the Polar Bear, Neddy the Albatross, Lucinda the Reindeer and Horatio the Arctic Hare. And some penguins, of course. Those paying attention will spot some other new characters in the show too, like Kaska the Wolf, Olly the Walrus, Snoozy the Snowy Owl and perhaps one or two more.
You never know, depending on how things go in the future, you may see these characters get their own stories some day.
So, for the Irish among you, it’s on at 9.25am on RTE2. Hope you like it!
I love Christmas. I love the lights, the atmosphere, the music, the mythology and the magic.
During most of the year, I like grounded. In fact, because so much of children’s television makes no distinction between fantasy and reality, I play a game with my eldest I like to call ‘real or not real?’ Basically we shout out things like ‘elephants!’ or ‘unicorns!’ and Daisy has to guess if they are real or not real.
I betray that game at Christmas time. And I’m okay with that.
When I finished series 1 of Fluffy Gardens, I really wanted to make a Christmas Special. I wanted to show these characters I had grown to love as they go about enjoying Christmas. As magical as that time is, I have only realised since making it that it is also about what I love about grounded. About reality. So many shows (Barney, I’m looking in your direction) feel like they’re pushing the imagination as a place to exist. How fantastic the imagination is.
And it is fantastic.
But children don’t need help with that. Children are imaginative by nature. And I’m not even convinced that imagining what television is telling you to imagine is imagination. Then fast forward to adult life and I see us living in game worlds, living vicariously through television and movies, while we put up with the real world as a necessary evil. Like it has defeated us. What can I do? We retreat into the imagination, imagined worlds, imagined reality (yes, even with ‘reality’ television).
The Fluffy Gardens Christmas Special, on the other hand, is about these little animal characters accepting that Christmas may well be ruined. And they work together to make it better. To make it the best Christmas ever. They ask themselves, what can I do? And they don’t retreat.
Mostly, however, the Fluffy Gardens Christmas Special is a sweet little story about one of my favourite times of year. About spending time with friends. About having fun. About magic, excitement and anticipation. I know here in Ireland, it will air again on Christmas morning. It is becoming quite a tradition! I’m not sure where else (if anywhere) it is airing but, if you do manage to catch it, I hope you and your children enjoy it.
And if you ever find yourself asking, what can I do? About the world, about your life, about the littlest things, I hope you realise that the answer is usually… almost anything you want.
Have the happiest of Happy Christmases!
Even writing George the Mean Yellow Dog saying, ‘I hate that’, and having him be generally unlikeable, I always felt context was of utmost importance in Fluffy Gardens.
In his own first-series episode, George learns that being rude and grumpy gets him nowhere. His grumpiness is made look foolish and pretty pointless. In many of his other appearances, we hear him saying he hates things but then we see he secretly really likes those things. There are times it becomes very clear George the Mean Yellow Dog is, in fact, a big softie.
I have always wanted to show with George that mean, grumpy behaviour is unacceptable and gets you nowhere.
But that requires context.
Imagine my surprise when I saw a proposal for Fluffy Gardens soft toys that included a George toy that shouted, ‘I hate that!’
What parent in their right mind is going to buy a toy for their child that repeats the phrase, ‘I hate that!’ over and over? It would have to include, at the very least, a booklet on the context of the phrase and some tips on how to stop your child repeating it at every opportunity. That booklet would drive up the cost of the toy, making it an even less likely purchase. And I’m not sure it would have been enough.
I’d really have to pledge that I would personally visit the household of everyone who owned one to explain what on Earth I was thinking when I corrupted their children and turned them into social pariahs because every act of kindness was being greeted with a loud and cheerful, “I hate that!”
I wasn’t a fan of the idea.
After some conversations, it looks like the ‘I hate that!’ George is unlikely to ever appear.
Hey, but what do I know? It could be the worst decision of my life. What if the ‘I hate that!’ George had turned out to be the next Tickle-Me Elmo? I could have cleaned up this Christmas.
Parents don’t need all the years of research into children and television to know that children are mimics (though they can certainly refer to that if they want). They only need that moment when their toddler throws back, ‘hey, what’s the big idea?!’ or, ‘that’s stupid!’ or some other phrase they picked up from some other child, their parent or, often, television.
So it’s a good idea not to write something in a children’s cartoon that you wouldn’t want a toddler to throw back at you. Or their parents.
Important to remember you’re reaching more than just your children.
Wish I’d really thought that through before I wrote George the Mean Yellow Dog saying, ‘I hate that’.
I had something else I was going to post. About children and how easily they pick things up from television. But, here in Ireland, we’re in a crisis brought about by the decision of the government to pay private banking debts with public money. It’s sinking the country. And the Wikileaks cable documents serve as a reminder of some of the other crap that goes on in the adult world.
Dark uncertain times.
Not like preschool television, where everything is bright, everyone helps everyone else and things work out for the best for everybody. As I sit genuinely pissed off at the adult world around me, I can’t help but be reminded why I love children’s television.
Children are amazing.
They are creative naturally. We don’t have to teach them to be creative. All we have to do is not stifle it. They are explorers. Adventurers. Children embrace fun and allow themselves to experience excitement and joy. That’s something, as adults, we seem far more reluctant to do. Children are problem solvers. Children love to laugh – children develop their own sense of humour.
Many of us in children’s television spend so much time trying to figure out what we’re going to teach children. But so many of those things children do far better than us are on the list of things adults try to teach children. Some even have claimed that we have to teach them such fundamental things as a sense of humour (worth pointing out that one particular US children’s block that set out with that aim didn’t last long).
Of all the things we as people are capable of – and we’re capable of wonderful things, wonderful expressions of life, wonderful acts of creativity, wonderful acts of kindness ‘ so many of those things come naturally to children but become harder and harder as we grow up. Okay, yes, there are plenty of things children do that we wouldn’t want to do as adults and the whole concept of sharing is one that is tough for many to grasp (well, lots of us carry that into adulthood). Nevertheless, children are amazing. And we can’t in any way claim as adults that we’ve got it all figured out.
Perhaps we should spend less time wondering what we can teach children and spend more time trying to learn from them.
In the meantime, I will continue to try to create colourful worlds where everything is bright, everyone helps everyone else and things work out for the best for everybody. Both in and out of television.
Trying something different today. I hope it works. You’ll see an ‘Articles’ section in the menu above. From time to time, I’ll be posting an article on certain aspects of children’s media, particularly from the perspective of a parent.
This first article, Everything is Educational, explains how everything a young child sees or hears goes towards forming their world view. That’s something that puts an immense amount of responsibility on programme makers, many who see their job as simple entertainers (“what am I, a clown?”), and, of course, on parents.
If you find it interesting, feel free to pass it along (there’s a downloadable version at the end of the post). Or let me know what you think in a comment. Here it is: Everything is Educational.
We’re all teaching children how to live.
We’re doing this as parents, as teachers, as neighbours, as citizens, as whatever we happen to be. If there’s a child close to you as you read this, you’re teaching them right now (if you’re picking your nose, please stop it – it sets a bad example).
The youngest years, what we call preschool, are so important developmentally. From motor skills, language development all the way to nose-picking (though I think that may be instinct), the amount of learning that happens during those years is staggering.
It’s in those years we can do the most good.
Or the most damage.
And, accepting that young children watch television (they do) and learn from it (they do), what children watch and how much of it is something that should always be seriously considered. Good preschool output, created for the right reasons, should be in the forefront of any broadcaster’s mind. We have an opportunity, and responsibility, to do so much good.
Forget your 24s and your Losts, the most important television on any channel is its preschool output.
You make Mars bars for people who like sugar-filled chocolate. You make MP3 players for people who like music. You make Mercs for people who like fancy cars in a weird wine/brown or gold colour.
Who do you make children’s shows for?
Obvious answer: children.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Children don’t buy preschool shows. Broadcasters do. Distributors do. And they’re selling to licensees. Toy manufacturers. Even in the home, children usually don’t make the choice to turn on preschool shows. Parents do.
So who do you make children’s shows for? Broadcasters, distributors, parents, children. Often in that order. If a broadcaster doesn’t buy your show, it’s a dead show and the rest doesn’t matter.
And I can tell you that they don’t always want the same things. You can’t please everyone. Not all of the time, at least.
So, who should we make children’s shows for?
On a totally unrelated subject, Chromeo totally brought the funk to Dublin last Thursday. Absolutely fantastic gig. Here they are getting the Yo Gabba Gabba seal of approval.
Dad.ie is Ireland’s parenting site for Dads.
There, you’ll find articles on fatherhood, impending fatherhood, health, finance and so on. Resources for fathers, from fathers. Oh, there are no end of sites for Mums. But not all that much out there specifically for Dads. So it’s great to see such a strong Irish site for Dads.
With television being at the forefront of my mind, both as a programme-creator and a father, what better place to get fathers thinking about the viewing habits of their children?
So, right now, over there at the Fatherhood section of Dad.ie, you’ll find my article on television, my daughter Daisy and the ash-cloud volcano. In it, you’ll find some questions I feel it’s important to ask if your children are watching television.
I hope you find it helpful.
While you’re there, why not have a browse through the archives? There are some excellent contributions by fathers, experts, doctors and more. A fantastic resource for parents and I look forward to seeing the site grow.