By Josh Selig 28-06-2016
Children’s TV shows and toys are now attached at the hip. Once upon a time these two could perambulate on their own, but now they must walk in tandem like the famous Siamese twin brothers Chang and Eng Bunker. According to legend, when Chang ate beans, Eng passed gas. And so it goes with the toy companies and the kids’ TV industry in 2016.
Although I still wonder about the existence of God, UFOs and the European Union, I no longer have any doubt that the future of a preschool show depends entirely upon its ability to sell toys during Christmas time at Walmart.
Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the new play thing.
And so last week I flew to Las Vegas, the Donald Trump of American cities, to attend Licensing Expo 2016. Or Licensing BrExpo, as it was informally dubbed.
I have no idea who the NDP Group is but, according to them, licensed toy sales grew by 11% during the first months of 2016, which is up 7% from last year. The big hits so far have been Star Wars and Frozen, extending Disney’s winning streak that also includes this month’s box office mega-hit Finding Dory, as well as the hugely successful opening of Shanghai Disneyland in China.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch in New York, Sumner Redstone seems to be staging his own production of King Lear with himself as the raging Lear, daughter Shari as Cordelia, Philippe Dauman as Regan, Tom Freston as Goneril and Viacom as the unhappy divided kingdom.
Spoiler alert: Everyone perishes in the end except for the Fool, played brilliantly and with pathos by SpongeBob SquarePants.
There was an upbeat mood at Licensing Expo despite the UK’s impending Brexit referendum, which hung heavy in the air like incense at an ashram.
Right up until Friday, I – like most Americans – thought that Brexit was a British breakfast cereal akin to Weetabix. But now we all understand what Brexit is: further proof that our friends across the pond are just as self-destructive and xenophobic as we Americans are.
Speaking of Brits and ponds, I would be remiss if I did not tell you that the reason I’m at Licensing Expo is to pitch a new preschool property that I’ve created with my dear friend Keith Chapman (Paw Patrol, Bob the Builder).
Our new show is called Across The Pond and it’s about two critters, Bo Beaver and Stu Sloth. They live on either side of a lovely pond, have opposing views on technology, the environment and everything else, and must find a way to overcome their many differences. In other words, the show is about the troubled world in which we all now live.
I should mention that the beaver is based loosely on me and the sloth is based loosely on Keith, regardless of what Keith says from his hammock on a beach in Ibiza.
I’m also here to support P King Duckling (Disney Junior), the new preschool comedy that Little Airplane is making with China’s UYoung Media. As was announced earlier this month, kids’ TV veterans Sander Schwartz and Elie Dekel have joined our team to lead the push into consumer products.
I also caught up with FunnyFlux and Alpha Entertainment, our partners on Super Wings (Sprout). The Super Wings toys have had a hugely successful launch at Toys R Us this spring, making Super Wings the first show on Sprout that’s also a bona fide hit in the toy aisle. Big congrats to the whole team, including our coproducer in Germany, KiKa.
On my last morning in Las Vegas, I took a run to sweat out all the physical and spiritual toxins I had accumulated during the week. The pavement was so hot that when I stopped at a red light the bottoms of my sneakers melted.
So I walked a few blocks to my favourite doughnut shop only to discover that it had been replaced by a new business called Stop Here, Shoot A Machine Gun. There was an ambulance parked outside. I used to think my doughnuts were unhealthy but I guess everything in Las Vegas is relative.
As I write this, I am on my long flight home to New York City. I think back to 1989 when, as a young writer on Sesame Street, mentors like Dr Valeria Lovelace schooled me in the awesome power that TV has to shape a child’s perception of society and race, and to prepare them to enter school.
Back then, there was a distinction between a show and an advertisement. This was done to protect kids from being marketed to in ways that they could neither understand nor resist. But that doesn’t seem to matter so much anymore.
Now we’re all making toy commercials. And no one seems to mind, not even me. “Searching for money, for love and for food, we strike bargains,” wrote Pete Wells in The New York Times. Yes, that sounds right. Pass the beans, please.