Let’s take a scheduled break from Good Luck Charlie, SpongeBob SquarePants and Kick Buttowski to take a look at some shows that are often over-looked. Below, I present four shows that you should consider sharing with your kids, why they aren’t watching them yet and how you can find them.
Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman
Why Your Kids Should Be Watching It: Your kids are probably already familiar with the reality competition TV genre, and many of the lowbrow programs it has spawned. Why not introduce them to a science-themed one that slips educational bits between the wacky competitions?
Each season of Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman features six tween contestants going on Amazing Race-style challenges and assignments, usually in and around the Boston area. The challenges send them to traditional location such as museums and libraries but also offbeat kid-friendly settings like amusement parks and BMX tracks. Challenges are given out by a wise-cracking animated dog named Fetch that brings a harmless edge to the show. Each season brings a new grand prize winner, giving kids a contestant to cheer for while learning about topics like Astronomy, Carpentry, Food Science, Biology and more.
Why They Aren’t Watching It: While Fetch! can still be seen on PBS during the PBS Kids Go! Block, the series was canceled in November of 2010 after funding was lost. Though it no longer has the fresh appeal or licensing of a new series, it is still worth seeking out.
Where You Can Watch It: Your local PBS affiliate and iTunes.
Hands on Crafts for Kids
Why Your Kids Should Be Watching It: Do you have a craft-loving kid on your hands that wants to dig deeper into their interest? This show could be the hidden (stick-on) gem they were looking for. A simple, stripped-down show parents will feel safe leaving on without supervision, each episode features five themed crafts with five steps and five main “ingredients.”
Hosted by renowned crafter Candie Cooper, the most recent season explores a different country each episode with the crafts themed around the culture and traditions. The five steps and five ingredients sometimes calls for advanced crafting tools though they also include basic supplies like scissors, markers and rulers. Thankfully, all projects on the show can be referenced on the official website.
Why They Aren’t Watching It: Hands On can be found on public television stations across the US at scattered times. It is still making its way across the country as the website suggests you “call or write your PBS station” to get it on air. Not a splashy or character-centric show, its selling point is the creative project ideas and the knowledgeable hosts.
Where You Can Watch It: On PBS (with a partial list of stations here), on their website, or on DVD.
Why Your Kids Should Be Watching It: This Emmy Award-winning show uses the docu-series format to explore science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers and education. Featuring a group of middle-school age girls in each episode, the show sends them on specific mission using science, technology and an older female mentor to help solve the problem.
While some educational shows may feel like “schoolwork,” this one keeps it interesting with challenges viewers will take interest in. Example missions includes designing an electronic dress for a fashion show, creating May Day Parade puppets, researching dolphin behavior and calculating the ideal horse for an upcoming competition. Each episode includes an animated story line throughout the show featuring the characters Izzie and Jake as they use science to solve their own problems.
Why They Aren’t Watching It: SciGirls was launched in February 2011 with 12 episodes and airs at different times on “most” PBS stations. Similar to Fetch! and Hands On, its inconsistent home on PBS has not made it easy-to-find plus it has not inspired a slew of exciting merchandise. However, it was recently renewed for a second season with ten episodes funded and a slew of “cross-platform games” that tie directly into the show.
Where You Can Watch It: For free as a “podcast” on iTunes.
Why Your Kids Should Be Watching It: While this show may seem like your standard laugh-track filled tween show, it also has another side to it that makes it worth checking out. The show is centered on a bohemian, grounded teen girl named Cake, and her daily comedic interactions with wise-cracking young neighbor Amy, materialistic fashionista Miracle, and tech-happy Benjamin. The twist on Cake is they all work together to create a public access crafting TV show called “Cake TV.” Each episode of Cake has a lesson in their “real life” inspire a craft that is taught at the end of the show during the “Cake TV” program. All the projects are simple for viewers to pick up on and focus on turning regular household items into unique accessories and crafts.
Why They Aren’t Watching It: Cake aired its one 13-episode season in 2006, and could be seen on various stations in reruns until 2009. It currently appears to have no home on TV and no new seasons are planned.
Where You Can Watch It: On Netflix watch instantly.
With Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign putting the spotlight on childhood obesity, it is more relevant than ever to find content for kids that encourages healthy eating, but does so without preaching. That’s where the original interactive web property Fizzy’s Lunch Lab from PBS KIDS GO! fits in.
Visiting Fizzy’s Lunch Lab (PBSKIDSGO.org/lunchlab) allows for a chance to find animated and live-action webisodes, kid-friendly printable recipes, original music, flash games and suggestions for outdoor game concepts. All content is built around the idea of guiding children towards make healthy food selections without forcing or lecturing.
Of course, the heart of Fizzy’s Lunch Lab is the original characters and their unique design. Created by Boston creative group CloudKid, Fizzy’s Lunch Lab stars Professor Fizzy, the absent-minded and humorous host who is always there to educate about nutrition, cooking and good health. Fizzy is joined by a cast of animated personalities that includes his culinary sidekick Mixie-Bot, the official guide to human body, Sully the Cell, the kitchen drill sergeant Corporal Cup and nemesis to all things healthy, Fast Food Freddy. Fizzy’s absent-mindedness, and Freddy’s trouble-making, lead to various misadventures, while human characters like Avril and Henry explore fun facts around healthy food.
Fizzy and the Gang
As a parent, you will definitely appreciate the humor and look of this series. It is certainly not preachy and the artwork has a distinctive, edgy sense that takes away any sort of pandering. Humor is the core of this series, which will help the message resonate with the little ones. You can also feel secure knowing CloudKid worked with education advisors Dr. Craig Sussman and Dr. Sharon Shield in building out all content. Make sure you try out some of the delicious recipes, too, developed by veteran cookbook writer Sally Sampson. Finally, there is also a guide for parents and teachers with additional resources and activities to push kids along further in choosing healthy food items.
With season 2 kicking off last week, Fizzy’s Lunch Lab co-creator Dave Schlafman was kind enough to let me throw a few questions at him regarding this original web property. If his name sounds familiar, he is the same creative mastermind behind the Monster Squad illustrations.
Nugget Island: Can you give me a quick idea about the origins of Fizzy? How did this property come to be?
Dave Schlafman: In 2007, Co-creator Evan Sussman and I were working at Soup2Nuts animation studio in Boston. He and I had just co-directed a series of shorts for Between the Lions and we realized that we worked well together. One morning before work, I mentioned to him that I had always been underwhelmed by children’s cook books, and that I wanted to create a cooking show for kids. He told me that his dad (Dr. Craig Sussman) had been trying to work on a live-action nutrition project, but hadn’t made much progress. We saw the need for both ideas, and decided to combine our efforts. Later that week, we met at JP Licks in Boston and created 90% of the characters in one sitting. It’s funny to think about how quickly it all came together. We were offered a development deal from WGBH Boston and ultimately passed to produce a pilot on our own. That pilot ultimately fell into the hands of Linda Simensky at PBS and the rest is history.
“Bad Guy” Fast Food Freddy
N.I.: What was your creative inspiration for Fizzy and the gang?
D.S.: Evan and I both loved Pee-Wee’s Playhouse as kids, so I would say that format definitely influenced us. Fizzy was first an older man, but we decided to make him a younger, more current host who was both a little geeky and fun at the same time. Overall, we wanted to populate the show with lots of characters (similar to the Muppets) who each had a unique personality and offered something unique to the topic of nutrition and good eats.
N.I.: Did PBS give you any creative direction?
D.S.: PBS has been an amazing organization to work with. We’ve been fortunate to work directly with PBS National, and they have a lot of confidence in their creators and producers. They didn’t have too many changes during development. The main alteration that they suggested was to revamp the personality and design of Mixie-Bot, Fizzy’s sidekick. It was a great suggestion that made her character, design, and purpose more solid. PBS is fairly hands-off, but they review all our content and offer feedback throughout production, which 99% of the time is spot-on.
N.I.: What are the main advantages and disadvantages of working on a web property?
D.S.: The main advantages are that you can take creative risks and you can measure what content is getting the most “clicks.” We’ve been able to experiment with everything from music videos, to printables, to recipe offerings, to interactive games. It enables us to think about the characters and property in a more well-rounded way. It enables the characters to be able to live in a series of different content while staying true to their roles and personalities. If the Lunch Lab is able to grow, it’ll enable us to make the leap to other mediums a lot easier.
Also, being able to measure our audience’s habits has helped us determine what type of content we wanted to focus on for season 2. After season 1, we looked at the site’s stats and determined that the webisodes, music videos, and interactive games were the most popular. We took that information and focused on that particular content. We also decided to sprinkle in some new types of content to “test” for season 2. This is much harder to do on a traditional TV show.
The main disadvantages of working on a web property are twofold: budget and distribution. Budgets are always shrinking, so it’s something every producer is struggling with – especially because websites and games are costly to produce. Working on the web, you’re we’re forced to be really creative with the type of content you release. It’s been interesting (and fun) to see how far we can stretch our budgets and content. No one has really figured out how to monetize web content, so it’s something that web producers will need to deal with for the foreseeable future.
In terms of distribution and marketing, we’re lucky to work with PBS because their web presence is tops in children’s media. But the web is filled with an endless amount of content, video, games, etc. In TV you’re only competing against a handful of other channels (though VOD is changing that), but with a website you have thousands of competitors. That means your content needs to be the very best, so that’s what we try to strive for. If our web content is as good as what you’ll see on TV, kids will be more likely to stick around. So far it’s worked.
N.I.: Obviously childhood obesity is in the spotlight these days because of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. Where do you see Fizzy fitting in there?
D.S.: We’d love to be involved with the “Let’s Move” campaign. Our educational advisor and PhD, Sharon Shields, has been laying the foundation of a possible collaboration with the White House. PBS has also been making some headway, so Evan and I are hopeful that Fizzy will play some role in the coming year. Our fingers are crossed.
N.I.: Any future plans for the ‘Fizzy’ property?
D.S.: The big news for 2011 is that we’re currently producing a series of 30 second spots that will run nationally before and after PBS Kids shows. They’re designed to introduce the ‘Lunch Lab’ cast to the PBS audience and grow the site’s popularity. We also recently released our first iPhone App featuring Corporal Cup and nine original recipes. The app is a cooking-simulation game that’s been getting positive reviews. Finally, we just received the news that Fizzy’s was part of PBS’s “Ready to Learn” grant. We know that we’ll be getting additional funding, but we’re not quite sure what that means. It’s safe to safe Fizzy and company will be around for the foreseeable future, which we’re excited about.