Media World: Wonder Pets creator Josh Selig thinks like a kid

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Josh Selig knows a thing or two about toddlers.

Before creating the popular "Wonder Pets!" program seen on Viacom Inc.'s (VIA) Nickelodeon cable channel, he was a writer and child performer on "Sesame Street." While working on the street where the sun always shines, Selig won 10 Emmy Awards. He has no children of his own.

"Wonder Pets!" tells the musical story of three pets kept in a school classroom who in their spare time rescue baby animals in distress using a homemade "flyboat" made of spare toy parts. Like real toddlers, Linny the Guinea Pig, Turtle Tuck and Ming-Ming Duckling do not have special powers. Instead they must work together to get the job done. The show's theme song (which, as many parents have learned, has a tendency to stick in your head) goes, "What's going to work? Teamwork!"
Several big Broadway composers have contributed to the program, including Larry Hochman (orchestration for Monty Python's Spamalot), Bobby Lopez (Avenue Q), and Jason Robert Brown (Parade). The show has even featured parodies of the Beatles (a group of musicians get caught at the bottom of the sea in a "yellowish submarine") and the Rat Pack (a group of singing rats need help with their dance moves).

The show, which debuted in 2006, is phenomenally popular. Toys featuring the characters are becoming more prevalent, though Viacom would not release details. Selig referred questions about merchandise sales to Viacom. A Viacom spokeswoman declined to comment.

Selig chatted via email with DailyFinance about his career, entertaining toddlers and why he does not need to be a parent to think like a kid. The interview has been edited.

Can you compare what it's like to work at a non-profit such as Sesame Workshop versus the for-profit media world?

The term "non-profit" still evokes images of Birkenstocks and tofu, but the truth is that the non-profit world operates much like the commercial world when it comes to children's TV.We all straddle the same uncomfortable divide between making great educational preschool shows and selling toys at Wal-mart to cover the costs of production.

My 2 1/2-year-old son watches "Wonder Pets!" so much that he drives his parents crazy. Is this Little Airplane's goal?

Yes.We have an arrangement with Bellevue and we now earn five cents for every parent who walks through their gate mumbling, "What's gonna work?Teamwork!"

Are toddlers an especially fickle audience compared with older kids?

Preschoolers have their own unique culture.There are certain jokes that they find very funny ("Why was six afraid of seven?Because seven ate nine") and certain foods that they cannot resist (pizza).They aren't particularly fickle, but they expect their TV shows to reflect their culture and interests.If a show does not do this, they won't complain.They just won't watch it

I read that Nick Jr. recently named a new Dora. Will you have to recast the leads once your actors grow up?

We have no plans to recast any of the lead actresses on "The Wonder Pets!"They just keep getting better with age.

Does being single with no kids put you at a disadvantage in programming for toddlers?

Well, I'm not exactly single.My girlfriend and I have been living together for a few years now.And as for not yet having kids, I don't think this puts me at a disadvantage.Shakespeare was never a prince or a witch but Macbeth is pretty good.

There was one Wonder Pet at first. Why did you add the other two?

Linny was lonely.And it's hard to practice teamwork all by yourself.Believe me, I've tried.

Did the network give you a hard time about the puppy "who has to pee pee?"

Nickelodeon is a great and very supportive partner on "Wonder Pets!"They did not have a problem with that episode, nor did our Director of Research, Dr. Laura Brown.The only issue that came up is that different families refer to this bodily function differently so we incorporated the lyric, "Wee-wee!Pee-pee!Tinkle!" so that nobody would feel left out.

What is the type of animation used in Wonder Pets? Why did you choose it?

I wanted the characters to look real and be based on photographs so I gave this challenge to our Creative Director, Jennifer Oxley, and she came up with a style of animation that we call, "photo-puppetry."We use this on "The Wonder Pets!" as well as on our new show for the BBC, "3rd & Bird!"We are always exploring new ways to move characters around a screen at Little Airplane, and we have some very cool new approaches we're working on that combine live-action and animation within the same character.

Who sang the WP theme? Who wrote it?

The Wonder Pets girls sing the theme.They are Sofie Zamchick, Teala Dunn and Danica Lee.I wrote the theme song along with one of our composers, Larry Hochman.

Why are two of the Wonder Pets girls?

Why not?

How did you come up with celery as a treat?

Rutabaga was too hard to say.

What, if anything, can you tell me about your financial condition?

This has been by far our best year, both creatively and financially.We have three shows in production at the moment and we're in discussions on three more.If all goes according to plan, we will expand our UK office this year.

Are you raising money from investors?

We don't work with investors in the traditional sense.

We deficit finance or form partnerships with broadcasters, production companies or distributors to raise the money for our shows.We haven't had any problems this year.Also, Little Airplane has never carried any debt.Not a penny.
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