I do think mindless channel surfing or refreshing web pages (lest a status be updated without our immediate knowledge) is sad. Have I done it? Holy eff yes. But I’m not proud of it.
Nor am I proud of the fact that, sometimes, I use television as a babysitter.
Did I say babysitter? I meant interactive learning tool.
To distract my child when I need to momentarily neglect him.
Anyway, for the past two years I’ve become well acquainted with toddler TV chart-toppers. I’ve been to Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood. I know Superwhy we need to stay Bo on the Go. And I Spy a need to Yo Gabba Gabba about it.
[In my head that was all supposed to read way cooler than it did. A total of one suburban mom virtually high-fived me. The rest of you understandably stopped reading.]
And I think I’ve got it down pat. I know what it takes to make a hit children’s TV show. One that can entertain/educate/hypnotize your child long enough for you to poop in relative peace.
Let me share my wisdom:
1. Only hire British voice actors
Do you ever, in a pinch, YouTube “baby videos” or “sing-alongs for toddlers” or “cool videos to watch when you’re stoned”? Who hasn’t! Chances are you may have come across some of the many adorably low-budget kiddie vids out there; 3D animated creatures singing beloved musical classics. Every little cartoon pig, hippo and panda sounds just like Jane and Michael themselves are serenading you.
Note: There’s something about hearing the singing voice of a British child… That entrenches your belief that they are, for sure, ghosts. All of them. All British children are ghosts. Every child voicing those songs in the YouTube videos are doing so from underneath lace veils. And, between takes, are assuring Nicole Kidman that they are, indeed, her daughters.
[Stay with me.]
2. Cut your budget in half by hiring only children for animated shows
If there is an adult character, use a voice modulator a-la Kevin-McAllister-booking-a-hotel-room-over-the-phone-in-Home-Alone-2. You save a buck and adorable panda dads sound just like possessed Marlena.
[If your afterschool babysitter didn’t let you watch Days of Our Lives while you ate Mayonnaise cookies, like ours did, you have every right to feel robbed of a childhood.]
3. Keep the parents on their toes
TV is a temporary childcare assistant at best. You still have to be half on your parental game. Which is why the best children’s shows must feature disturbingly questionable songs (Daddy finger, daddy finger, where are you?). Alternatively you can just dust off some age-old racist ditties that don’t seem to go away (Baa Baa Black Sheep…).
4. Drop acid. Don a jaunty unitard to invert any stray bit of external genitalia. Wear a taxidermied Muppet on your head (you whimsical British-Guard-gone-rogue, you). Interact with dolls that come to life and play and eat and dance and nap, just like real people. Except don’t make them look like people. Boooooooring. Why not animate, instead, a bumpy, phallic little rascal with legs? Make him one-eyed in case there was any remaining doubt as to the fact that he is, indeed, a talking, diseased penis.
It doesn’t matter what the rest of the characters are. Between that fabulously lithe man in the shiny spandex and the dancing, ribbed marital aid, all you need is a good hallucinogenic soundtrack and BOOM! Daytime Emmy!
Also, in your theme song, shout the name of your show 49 times in a row.
[Yo Gabba Gabba: it’s the closest you’ll ever come to doing magic mushrooms with your toddler.]
5. Write original, super catchy songs without any attempt at creative sense
Honestly, just freestyle sing the lesson you’re trying to get across. They can add music to it in post-production. Cue the orchestra…
*Something furry in my mouth? Don’t lick the pets, don’t lick pets! [Repetition is key.]
*Do you know why your breath smells bad? You forgot to brush your tongue!
*I won’t get in your curtained van! But I’ll throw the litter in the garbage can!
That last one is what they (I) call “spontaneous genius”. It rhymed and incorporated two lessons in one. That would actually be rejected from most children’s programming for being too good.
6. If you use an adult narrator, make him/her use the annoying baby voice you used to use to compensate for your teenage neck fur when you talked to boys
The very successful creator of my son’s most beloved video series (let’s call it Infant Tesla) also does the narration. Her voice is sweet. Youthful sweet. Insulin resistant sweet. I’m gonna go out on a random crude but honest limb here… I bet her farts don’t smell bad. I said it. She’s one of those people who, when she farts once a year, says, “Oh, mine don’t smell”. Except that they do smell. Like Christmas cookies.
I really want to hear how her voice sounds when she’s in the real world. Like, what sound would she make if she, I dunno, inadvertently walked through a spider web? I, for example, would sound less like a cherry-scented child fairy, and more like Sly Stallone rectifying an impacted bowel.
In short: if you’re narrating a children’s show, do it like you have flourishing acne but deep down know you are the goddamn Little Mermaid.
Perhaps, as a child of the ’80’s, I am biased. Our shows rocked! Mr. Rogers, Mr. Dress-Up, Size Small, Fred Penner… are you kidding me? We were being entertained by legends. The most “out there” show I can recall watching as a child was Zoobilee Zoo. Some of my most therapy-worthy nightmares have involved Bravo, the fox…
…holy shit, this should be on Broadway! OK, we officially had no bad shows growing up.
I guess today’s children will say the same thing in thirty years when their kids are watching bad, virtual reality movies in their contact lenses.