Many broadcasters and parents are pretty savvy when it comes to violence on children’s television, some areas of Europe in particular being very strongly against it.
And it’s fantastic to see so much positive preschool content on children’s television out there at the moment – there are many shows that I’m very happy for my girls to watch and quite a few I enjoy myself (for research purposes obviously).
But there’s much more to it than violence.
Everything in a child’s environment contributes to their newly-forming world view, a sense of self and our perception of others. Television and other media exposure is a big part of that. That is something parents and anyone involved in children’s entertainment need to be very aware of. When children are learning at such an accelerated rate, everything they are exposed to teaches them something. All content is educational, whether intentional or not, and we are not always going to agree on what should be taught. So it’s important that parents know what their children are watching or playing and important for us as content creators to give children and parents the absolute best to choose from, always trying to keep in mind just what contribution our content is making to the lives of our audience.
What type of adult will watching Planet Cosmo contribute towards? Or Fluffy Gardens? Or Batman? Mickey Mouse Clubhouse? Bratz?
If we can offer children and parents a positive experience, enriching content, messages that build up a child’s sense of self and confidence, all while making children laugh and smile, we’re doing something wonderful. We’re giving gifts through our content that could turn today’s children into tomorrow’s happier adults. Isn’t that something worth striving for?
We really aren’t ever just entertaining, we’re contributing to a whole world view.
One little extra on today’s post…
I’d like to thank everyone who has got in touch about Planet Cosmo (which is airing here in Ireland on RTE right now). The reaction has been absolutely fantastic. Children are singing along to the songs, dancing, shouting out at the television screen and, best of all, laughing. More than that, all the feedback I have been getting tells me that this show works – children are learning about the planets and they’re asking more and more questions. I couldn’t possibly be happier about that. So thank you so much to everyone who is watching the show and especially to those of you who spread the word. You’re all awesome!
Early development on Planet Cosmo was quite intense and, before long, I had a very clear idea about most of the core elements in the show. I had a massive amount of research, an episode structure in place, a whole bunch of stories and I knew my characters and how they worked together.
When I got to that stage, I could have put it all together to make a book about Planet Cosmo that would rival a meaty Stephen King novel, only with a better ending.
But I figured, nobody will read all that.
Most people just want an introduction, the basics. Truth be told, for all the effort that went into the writing, I’d say many buyers had decided whether they were going to take Fluffy Gardens or not based on one look at the show design. I knew the same would be true to some extent for Planet Cosmo. I felt pretty good about the show though because, unlike Fluffy Gardens and a bunch of shows out there, Planet Cosmo had an easy pitch – it brings astronomy to children. That’s it. You either want that or you don’t.
So I created a little three-page introduction in lieu of my Stephen King novel. The core pitch and plenty of pictures. I knew people would at least read that.
My first meeting…
“Hmmm… it looks a little thin.”
Are you serious? Thin?!
The following weekend, I pulled all my notes together and put it all down in a document. Well, almost all of it (I like to hold the odd surprise back so I have something exciting to reveal later). While my document didn’t quite rival The Tommyknockers, it was still a meaty 50+ pages and a script on top.
I gave it to my producer. He flicked through it and said -
The first episode of Planet Cosmo aired today. It was supposed to be a very happy day. Yes, the show looked awesome on television and the response so far has been incredible but, truth be told, the day turned out to be a bit of a stinker for a couple of reasons but mostly this – today was the day we got the very sad news of the passing of Richard Briers.
I worked with Richard on Roobarb & Custard Too, the follow-up to the classic 1974 show, Roobarb. It was 2005 and I was directing a television show for the very first time. Taking the place of the legendary Bob Godfrey, I had some pretty massive shoes to fill and I was probably well out of my depth.
How would I possibly direct someone of Richard Briers’ stature?
Well it turns out directing Richard Briers on Roobarb was mostly me just nodding and saying, “Fantastic. Wonderful.” He was amazing. When he stepped into that booth on the first day, I heard Roobarb. 1974 Roobarb. It was like no time had passed. He needed no reminders, just got straight into it and it was beautiful. I was a child again and there were tears in my eyes listening to him. All the old characters were perfect but we had new characters too so he had to handle the narrator and a host of characters, old and new. No problem for Richard. He found voices in minutes and never lost them. So absolutely consistent.
Richard Briers turned Grange Calveley’s wonderful words into music. And he did a mean Richard Burton Mole.
He was a joy to work with. Oh, there was a bit of a surprise at first because I was expecting Tom Good, wellies and all, and, instead, was meeting a rounder man in his early seventies. And there was the odd grumpy moment, but never angry. Mostly just about how something had been photocopied in a way he didn’t particularly appreciate. He always made it funny though, always light and always entertaining and these moments really just served to show how human he was. After all he had done, all he had achieved, after becoming a UK legend, he was really a very regular man, happy with just a cheese and pickle sandwich and the odd glass of wine. No pretentiousness, full of humility.
And so, so easy to work with. This from a man with such incredible talent. A national treasure. International treasure.
I went away from Air Studios in London having had a great life experience and with a bunch of fantastic recordings. All I had to do was put pictures to them. How could I go wrong? Grange Calveley and Richard Briers made my job easy and the result of that is that I was able to go on to make more shows. I was given a chance to learn more, to build expertise, knowledge. Without that experience with Richard Briers and those amazing recordings, I wouldn’t be launching Planet Cosmo today. It just wouldn’t have happened.
Thank you, Richard. For all you gave me, for all you gave Roobarb, all you gave children and adults alike in all your work. You’re truly one of a kind, a talent, a gentleman.
Imagine a child in a hallway full of vending machines.
Each vending machine has a big colourful picture of a topic – Pirates, Planets, Dinosaurs, Reading, Geography, Princesses, Building and so on. A child gets briefly curious about a topic, let’s say Pirates, and runs to the Pirate vending machine and presses the button. Out pops an exciting Pirate adventure story.
Now the child may love that story and press the button again, hoping to get another Pirate adventure. Or they may decide they want to see what this whole Geography thing is all about. Either way, their interest was nurtured, rewarded, and given a chance to grow.
But what if, when they press that Pirate button, nothing happens?
They press it again. Nothing.
What do they do? They move on. They’re clearly wasting their time and there are many more vending machines to try. The chances of them bothering to try that particular vending machine again are slim to none. If a child has an interest and that interest is not fed very quickly, they will move on.
One problem we face right now is that not all of those vending machines work for all children. A girl might try the Building vending machine and get nothing. But if she even walks passed the Princess vending machine, it unloads sparkles and unicorns all over the place. That’s an interest that is fed instantly, one that is constantly rewarded. So of course lots of girls are going to be into Princesses. We don’t need to push them in that direction. We simply reward that interest while not rewarding others.
It’s not just Princesses of course, I use that as an example because it is one many of us are familiar with. Boys have their own limited vending machines to deal with too.
During the week, Harrods took a beating on Twitter for having two books side by side in their reading room. One was a book clearly for girls on how to look gorgeous. The other was a book for boys on how to be smart. Neither of these books were forcing anyone down a particular path. They don’t have to. Just as we don’t have to force a plant to grow or not grow. Water one plant and not the other and the result is obvious.
Just as if there is only one working vending machine in that hallway – that’s the one the kids will come back to.
So to give children a genuine chance to explore their interests, we need to fill all our vending machines with goodies. We need to make sure they work and are well maintained. And we need to make sure they are attractive to both boys and girls without limiting either gender.
For me, I have spent the last few years filling a little space/science vending machine called Planet Cosmo. And originally, I set out to do that because my girls had an interest in space and I wanted to feed that interest. I saw so many children too who had an interest in space but their parents didn’t always know enough about the subject to feed that interest quickly, just as I imagine there have been many brief moments of interest in a particular subject that passed by my girls because I didn’t know enough to feed that initial curiosity.
So if you are creating, developing, producing content for children, be it television, books, apps, anything, how about picking a vending machine and filling it? Let’s spread those interests, give each one a chance and try to restore some balance for both boys and girls. Perhaps pay special attention to those interests that may one day make our children into better adults, with all the opportunities they deserve, not one single child excluded. Let’s get those machines working for everyone.
Nurture. Inspire. All while entertaining.
My vending machine, Planet Cosmo, starts on RTE2 here in Ireland on Monday, the 18th of February, with other countries to follow. And just wait until you see the goodies we packed into it!
We did it. Last week the final tapes for Planet Cosmo left the building, the completed series. Mission complete. Wow, what a journey.
It began early 2010 with just a wish and a doodle. That’s one of the very first images of Cosmo below, drawn with my finger on an iPod Touch using the old Brushes app. I didn’t know back then that it would be a cartoon show.
But I had more than just that doodle – I had an aim. A mission. I wanted to introduce the planets to children. Whole other worlds, real worlds, some of which can be seen by children just looking up at the sky at night. How amazing is that?
First, however, I had to entertain. I had to give children reasons to watch the show regardless of any prior interest in space. This would be a show for any and every child, boys and girls alike. And so slowly ideas became concepts, then characters, methods, structures and stories. Eventually, I knew I had it – a show that delivered what I felt children both wanted and needed (not always the same thing!).
Humour. Lots of humour.
Curiosity. I love to spark questions.
And finally, the core of the show’s direct educational goal – focused facts about our Solar System. Real amazing things that kids can share. If kids aren’t interested in that? No problem, the show has fun, humour, songs and adventure! It exists as entertainment and can sit on any preschool schedule, even without an educational remit. But soon, children may find themselves asking more questions, realising that beyond the fictional stories there are real planets out there (and we directly state what’s real in each episode). They may find that interest in space grows. And the more we feed that interest, the more likely it is that it will continue to grow. Wouldn’t that be something?
So here is the result of that long development. Planet Cosmo:
I knew production would be hard work. We were aiming high and our resources were limited. That just means you either find places to cut corners or everyone pushes that bit harder. Guess which one I went for? Yes, we pushed. We pushed hard.
Two things happened: Firstly, we had some problems early on. Secondly, the quality was pushed even higher (mainly due to some of our excellent animators exceeding our expectations – you guys rock!). So now we were dealing with even higher standards and were playing catch-up as we dealt with our early production difficulties. There were times our deadlines seemed impossible. Everyone on the show stepped up and put in their all. Some found their limit and the cracks began to appear. Others could have kept on going, showing a level of support I will always appreciate and never forget.
Amazing on such a tough production to have people who are an absolute joy to work with.
I am not going to name everyone because otherwise this would be a ridiculously long post but I want to mention some of those people with us in those hard, last days of production – Ciaran Lucas on backgrounds who did fantastic work and worked harder than just about anyone I have ever seen on any production, Léan Duffy who jumped into compositing like Han Solo returning to save Luke at the end of Star Wars, Roxy Lyon who worked long hours as she dealt with task after task ending up on her desk, Dale Robinson who stepped in just when we needed him even though he had so much else going on and Graham Scott for brightening up the studio and keeping us all going.
And a very special mention for Simon Crane. Simon and I have worked together for years. He’s a good friend and an exceptionally talented animator and director in his own right (Simon is directing Geronimo Productions’ Punky) and he was my directing animator on Planet Cosmo. Simon’s level of enthusiasm and support kept me going, gave me energy when I needed it. This show probably just wouldn’t have happened without him. Thank you, Simon.
Everyone did great work. You should check out the credits when Planet Cosmo launches because one of the things I am most proud of is that we were able to make this show with so few people. You’ll find a tiny crew list at the end of our show. No hidden credits, no outside studio. That was it. Just us right here in Dublin. And you’ll even find quite a few names repeated in different jobs – multitasking was an essential on this show! And even with such a small crew, the show is exactly what we wanted. I could never, ever use our lack of resources as an excuse for anything on this show. Planet Cosmo is actually a better show than the one I set out to make.
How often does one get to say that?
There are two other people I will mention here though. One is my script editor, Hilary Baverstock. These episodes only worked because the scripts were right to begin with. Without good scripts, we would have been working hard to make a show that looks pretty and does little else. So, as script editor, Hilary’s influence was felt throughout the entire production. And the other person is the producer of Geronimo Productions, Gerard O’Rourke. Gerard showed faith in this project from the second I showed it to him and he pulled the financing together to make it happen. The importance of that part is obvious but the immense work that goes into it is often never seen by those either making or watching the show. And Gerard now takes on phase three of what it is to make a show – going out there to sell it. Find him at Kidscreen in New York and ask him to show you some full episodes!
So there you have it. We have completed Planet Cosmo. Fifteen episodes of animated fun and adventure, bringing the planets to children. The show launches on RTE2 in Ireland on the 18th of February and international broadcasts will follow. Find the show on Twitter at @PlanetCosmoTV for clips and images. I hope you all love the show.