Real or not real?
How to represent reality was something I wrestled with early on when developing COSMO.
I’m not a big fan of lying to children. Not my thing.
But television lies are a messy issue. Take Fluffy Gardens as an example. Animals all living in houses and talking to each other. That doesn’t happen. That’s a lie. But… the characters can’t do anything a real person can’t do. Physics works as it does in our world.
I remember in one episode, it was suggested by someone that a cardboard robot made by Stinky the Skunk come to life.
No, I thought. That would be a lie.
Because children can’t build a robot from cardboard and have it come to life. They may eventually own their own houses, on the other hand. So I felt I was showing a grounded, truthful world even in the context of talking animals.
It gets much more difficult when you actively want to get across something real in a world that can spark a child’s imagination. Real learning.
For example, one show teaches Spanish words brilliantly. My girl could count from one to ten in Spanish at the age of two and a half. Fantastic. But that show teaches these real Spanish words in a world with unicorns, grumpy old trolls and so on. And, as if that wasn’t confusing enough, constantly crosses over with another show that aims to teach real facts about animals.
What happens later in life?
So I know unicorns aren’t real. Grumpy old trolls? Nope. And you honestly expect me to believe that Spanish is real? Not buying it. Show me one person that speaks Spanish. What? Juan speaks Spanish? No way! Juan in accounting? Wow. Seems kind of pointless. I mean, who does he speak Spanish to? Seriously? Whole countries? I had no idea. So… does that mean unicorns are real? No. Oh. So, if Juan speaks Spanish, who speaks Klingon? Klingons. Oh. I thought they spoke Latin. No, no, go back to the unicorn thing…
And so on.
Okay, so that’s probably unlikely. But it does seem muddy to me when the distinction isn’t made between real or not real. Fantasy? Magic? Not a problem. I’m all for it, in fantasy worlds. It’s in the cross-over that it all gets tricky.
With COSMO, I want a show that features real information on the planets. But I want children to be able to enjoy the show with absolutely no prior interest in space. So the show has to entertain, first and foremost. To quote David Connell, first Executive Producer of Sesame Street, “you’ve got to get them into church before you can preach to them.”
Story wise, I can’t spend seven years getting the characters to Saturn.
And another seven getting them back again.
That wouldn’t work.
To make it even trickier, what we know about the outer planets is more limited than what we know about the inner planets. And what we know about those outer planets would be very difficult to represent in a way a very young child could understand. Even those inner planets still contain many mysteries.
So COSMO uses many science-fiction staples ‘ fast ships, artificial gravity, not melting instantly close to the Sun and so on. And COSMO also has to take some liberties and leaps in representing those planets, especially when it comes to the outer planets.
How do I avoid the Spanish language/unicorns trap?
How do I do this and NOT lie to children?
If only we could just say to children, look, we can’t zoom from planet to planet like this but these core facts you’re learning about the planets are absolutely real. Well, actually, we can do that. That’s exactly what we do.
COSMO will feature, in its information segments and at the very end of every episode, a real astronomer who will say to children, this is just a show and nobody has landed on Mercury yet but, man, these specific things are real! They’re actually out there. Isn’t that absolutely mind-blowingly amazing?!
And, you know what?
I think when children consider that there are worlds out there to be explored – real worlds ‘ their imaginations will be ignited far more than with any fairies or unicorns.
It’s not rocket science.
But it could lead to rocket science.