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Viewpoints from the frontline of content.

The pope of hope

By Josh Selig 22-08-2017

It’s August. The Europeans are napping. The Asians are working. The Americans are self-destructing.

I’m on a plane between Beijing and Guangzhou thinking about the pope. Regardless of what you may think of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis is a lovely pope. He’s kind, he writes beautifully, and he gave a TED Talk. Only the coolest of popes would give a TED Talk. And it’s great.

I’ve been asked by C21’s Nico Franks to try to make sure that what I write in this space will be relevant to the readers. I can already hear Nico saying: “Josh, what does the pope have to do with children’s television?”

Well, I’ll tell you. Pope Francis is the pope of hope, and hope is the lifeblood of the kids’ media industry. Without hope, you don’t pitch, you don’t try to persuade people to invest in your show, and you certainly don’t presume that millions of kids will want to watch whatever you make.

Hope is the first ingredient in anything new, from starting an indie to making a series.

Since I cannot describe hope better than the pope, here’s what the pope says about it: “Hope is the door that opens on to the future. Hope is a humble hidden seed of life that, with time, will develop into a large tree. It is like some invisible yeast that allows the whole dough to grow, that brings flavour to all aspects of life.”

As everyone knows, the kids’ industry is brutal. Few shows get made. Fewer shows make money. New companies blaze into being and then melt away a year or two later. No matter who you are, the odds of producing your show, landing a good broadcaster, and selling your toys are slim. Talent, hard work, contacts, capital – none of these things guarantee success. Smart people often do something else.

When Sharon Gomes and I first began coming to China five years ago, we didn’t have a project here and we knew only a few people whom we’d met at the markets. I was terrified but Sharon grew up in Singapore and had been a celebrity VJ and producer for MTV Asia early in her career.

Sharon Gomes on the cover of Newsweek

At first, Sharon was the only one at Little Airplane who believed that China had real potential for new business. She told me it wouldn’t be easy, it would take time and that travel was essential because the meetings had to be face-to-face in this part of the world. So we got on a plane and we met with anyone who would meet with us.

Since then, I’m happy to say, we’ve coproduced the only two Chinese-owned series to find homes on leading broadcasters in the US: Super Wings on Sprout, which we make with Alpha, FunnyFlux and KiKa. And P King Duckling on Disney Junior, which we make with UYoung. This week in Beijing, we signed our most important China deal yet, one we will be announcing shortly at the markets. How did we come so far in such a short time? Tenacity. And hope.

Hope has been the one constant in the 18 years since I started Little Airplane. Hope that we’d make shows that kids would like. Hope that broadcasters would support our work. And, during the lean times, it was hope that kept us going, kept us pitching. Today, despite my chronic jetlag and a travel schedule that will take me to five Chinese cities in two weeks, I feel happy and buoyed up by hope.

Hope is one of those feelings that can be shared with others. Hope spreads as easily as fear – they are cousins – but hope is the one you want to come and visit you. I encourage anyone out there reading this – on the beach, at the cottage, in the office – to allow yourself to feel hope for your next project, your new indie, your next meeting, your upcoming market and the next deal you will sign.

Finally, on the very relevant topic of hope, Pope Francis says this: “Hope can do so much, because a tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness. A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another ‘you’ and another ‘you’ and it turns into an ‘us.’ When there is an ‘us,’ there begins a revolution.”

today's correspondent

Josh Selig Founder and president Little Airplane Productions

Josh Selig is the founder of Little Airplane Productions. He is the creator and executive producer of Wonder Pets! on Nick Jr (winner of the 2009 Japan Prize for Best Television Series), as well as 3rd & Bird and Small Potatoes, both of which aired on CBeebies and Disney Junior.

Josh is executive producer of Super Wings on Sprout and the co-creator and executive producer of P King Duckling, which premiered on Disney Junior US and airs on CCTV in China. Josh has received 11 Emmys in multiple categories.