Monthly Archives: August 2012

Muppet puppeteer Jerry Nelson (The Count, Mr.Snuffleupagus, Robin the Frog, Floyd Pepper and more) passed away last week. That sad news got me thinking about just how much Sesame Street has meant to me.

In the mid-Seventies, I spent a significant chunk of my preschool years living in Singapore where I was exposed to much more US television than was being broadcast in Ireland. So I grew up with Sesame Street, The Electric Company and others and those influences have stayed with me to this day. When I think back, it becomes easy to understand ‘ few around me spoke English and my parents had completely different accents, so my Sesame Street friends actually outnumbered any constant English-speaking influences at that time.

And they were friends. That was one of the real successes of Sesame Street. It was a real place, populated with real people and, in every episode, they invited me to join them. Made me feel part of the family. The format worked perfectly for me, with the main street sections tying everything together while the show mixed in so many repeated segments that became familiar and more fun each and every watch. I would never tire of Bert trying to get to sleep with the sound of Ernie counting fire engines, or the baker falling down steps, or the mysterious Number Painter. I think some of my all-time favourites were the segments with the musician, Don Music, and Kermit and of course Grover serving the blue man in the restaurant (also Jerry Nelson).

Every element of the show contributed. I know when most people think Sesame Street, they think Muppets first, but it’s important to acknowledge the role of the real live human beings, who grounded everything and I think made children feel more secure when watching the show. You knew you were safe when Gordon was around, though you did have to behave. Maria, Bob and David were so charismatic ‘ adults with all the authority that comes with that, and yet as fun and innocent as any child. Sure, Mr. Hooper could be a bit grumpy sometimes but that was a strength of the show ‘ it wasn’t always sugar-coated. It felt honest. It was just like a real family.

And on top of all that, there was the animation and live-action snippets and, so important, the songs. Has there been a show since that demostrated that much creativity and experimentation? I don’t know. Some of those sequences were pretty out there (Daddy Dear, for example) but so many worked brilliantly ‘ the two little dolls sequence, for example, or even the little glimpses into US life, which differed so much from my own. And throughout the show, Joe Raposo’s songs were so special. Beautiful, fun, childlike and yet never patronising to children or their parents. He set the tone for that show.

Sesame Street entertained on just about every level.

But we all know it did so much more. The show educated. It didn’t hide it. It didn’t try to sneak a lesson past a kid without them knowing. It wasn’t embarrassed by it or compromised by it. The show embraced it.

Sesame Street celebrated learning.

There are a huge number of stars behind the scenes who helped make that show what it was ‘ educators, writers and researchers who were all of vital importance to the show. Joan Ganz Cooney and her colleagues demonstrated beautifully that education and entertainment can work hand in hand, each enhancing the other and coming together to become something greater.

And so, back in Singapore in the mid-Seventies, I felt like one of the Sesame Street family. The result was that I came home to Ireland with a mish-mash of accents, a Singapore dialect mixed with a combination of my parents and a large helping of American. And with the help of Sesame Street, I came back able to read, count and with a healthy desire to learn.

Years later, when I was well outside the target age group, Channel 4 in the UK aired the show and I met new characters like Telly and eventually that favourite of children everywhere, Elmo. But unfortunately, over this part of the world, Sesame Street ceased airing and dropped out of my life.

But Sesame Street hardly ended there. The television world changed and Sesame Street had to evolve and change with it but it still airs in the US and so many of our favourite characters are present and accounted for. It spread in many other forms internationally, including Northern Ireland’s own Sesame Tree with Sixteen South. As I wrote on this site a couple of years ago, Grover and friends now help my new generation learn to read and count. Just last week, I was on holiday and the one thing the girls watched during that time was the Elmo in Grouchland movie. About five times. Sesame Street is back in my life after all these years.

So what does Sesame Street mean to me? Sesame Street is family. It is honesty. It is a celebration of learning. An honest acceptance of life as it is today while striving for a far better tomorrow. More than anything, Sesame Street represents my faith in good television. The show is indisputable proof that entertainment can educate without one element trampling over the other. Television can be great thing. It can even change the world. And when anyone doubts that, I just point them to Sesame Street. Sesame Street showed me that we can do something special with television.

And now I try to do just that.


Jerry Nelson will be sorely missed. He taught children to count, millions of children. That is incredibly special and something to be celebrated.

And to everyone involved in Sesame Street over the years, thank you.

Aug 13


Last week as the Curiosity Rover landed successfully on the surface on Mars, at Monster Animation we were battling the odds hoping to achieve our own Martian victory – to finish our very first episode of Planet Cosmo, in which Cosmo and her Dad climb the mighty Olympus Mons on Mars. Being honest, getting that episode together often felt like climbing a mountain and there were times it felt like we would never get there. So often we looked up but the peak was out of sight. And so we carried on.

Well, we made it.

We didn’t just conquer that one episode. We finished two, adding an episode in which Cosmo finds herself on the surface of Mercury. Two episodes. What we have now is no longer just a collection of elements – animation, backgrounds, voice recordings, songs, effects. We have a show. A real show.


Sure, we still have thirteen more episodes to make and there will be small things to improve even in these finished episodes (production of a show almost always reveals improvements that aren’t found in the first episode completed, it’s what I call First Episode Syndrome) but it is so important to acknowledge the victories, especially ones as important as this. It is vital to take time to really appreciate the successes, no matter what needs to be done next. Those successes show us just what we can achieve when we push ourselves further. Holding on to the victories can keep us going when production gets tough. And this one has been tough.

The victories show us why we did it in the first place.

Seeing the episodes finally come together and being able to watch them from start to finish, as they’ll be aired, leaves no doubt that this is all worth it. The Planet Cosmo team is doing an amazing job and should be very proud. And now as they work away on those individual elements, they’ll have an even greater understanding of where their pieces fit and the importance of each part of the process. For me, I wanted to deliver a fun show for children that introduces them to the planets and I can see we’re doing just that. A victory.

Every production has its own victories, big or small. Be sure to acknowledge and enjoy them.


By the way, if you’re at the MIP TV market, a Planet Cosmo episode pr two should be available to view there so check them out. If you’re not attending, it will be a while later before they make it out into the world but I can’t wait to show all of you. I’m taking a break for a couple of weeks so just a minimal update next week (assuming the schedule posts thing works). Hope you all have a fun and productive couple of weeks, full of victories.

Aug 6


This morning, the Curiosity Rover touched down on on planet Mars. A new man-made vehicle joining others all the way out there on another planet, one that looks like just a red star out there in the night sky.

It’s on a whole other planet right now as you’re reading this. I find that amazing.

For me, it is an important step on the journey to our future. I take it as a given that humans will one day live on other planets. We know that Earth won’t always be here – that’s just the way it is. At some point far into the future, humanity will simply have no choice but to be somewhere else and, given the rate we’re progressing, I have no doubt we are going to be well ahead of the universe and we’ll be nicely settled in other corners of the galaxy by that stage. So each journey like this is, in a way, preparation for some of the far greater journeys that will happen in the long story of humanity.

A story which is really only getting started.


Back to right now and our Solar System is absolutely fascinating and its exploration is an adventure. And I have found that this does not go unnoticed by any young child exposed to even the most basic ideas about the planets.

My Daisy’s interest began at around two and a half years old and it started with the Moon. What is it? What does it do? Can we go there? The more I told her, the more questions she had. On her third birthday, she blew out her birthday candles and made a wish ‘ that she would one day go into space with Daddy.

Then some time later, Daisy realised something that changed everything for her.


She looked up at me, very serious, and said, “Daddy? If we’re on planet Earth and planets are in space, does that mean… we’re in space?” The answer blew her mind. And made the world a far more wonderful and more exciting place to be. In a way, her birthday wish had come true. In that instant, she changed from being a normal little girl to a space explorer. And the best part? All this space stuff is real. That makes all the difference to a child.

And for me it was then that, in the back of my mind, a show was born. A show that might spark an interest in space for a new generation, nurture that interest and turn young children into space explorers. As Curiosity reached Mars and now explores its surface, we are putting the finishing touches to an episode of Cosmo set on that very planet.

I can only hope that when it airs it will entertain, amuse, inform and inspire.

I’ll leave you with this simple thought on the importance of space from my now five-year-old Daisy taken from her Saturn artist lesson video below:

“If space wasn’t real, there wouldn’t be Earth and there wouldn’t be stars to see, planets like these and Earth, because Earth is in space.”