Media World: Never mind the Godfather, here's the Wiggles

Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby pass the crown of the Hardest Working Men in Show Business from the Godfather of Soul, the late James Brown, to the Sultans of the Sippy Cup: The Wiggles.

Before you chortle, imagine the Rolling Stones trying to entertain a stadium full of toddlers and their stressed-out parents -- or Green Day, or Jay-Z. After watching the Aussie quartet entertain about five thousand or so of the drooling masses during a recent show in Philadelphia, I realized that the Wiggles could blow any rock legend off the stage.
The Wiggles -- Sam Moran, Murray Cook, Jeff Fatt, and Anthony Field -- are human dynamos. Their show, which I saw courtesy of PBS Kids Sprout, is high-energy: we're talking nuclear power plants, not lightbulbs. How many adult concerts feature dancing, prop comedy and acrobatics? And walk-ons from Dorothy the Dinosaur, Henry the Octopus, and Wags The Dog? It's a variety show that kept my son and nephew enthralled, and as any parent of a preschooler will tell you, that's no small feat.

But the Wiggles have had their share of ups-and-downs. Competition for the preschool market is intensifying, with live shows featuring Elmo and Bob the Builder, and Walt Disney Co. (DIS)'s Imagination Movers: an alternative-rock band for preschoolers, whose Disney Channel show launched last year.

The Wiggles are on the road a good portion of the year doing two shows a day in many towns. As many as 150 people work for the titans of toddler entertainment, according to Mike Conway, the band's managing director. Founding Wiggle and former lead singer Greg Page resigned in 2006 for health reasons; the remaining Wiggles speak to him from time to time, Conway says. And while Page is recovering, he's in no shape to cope with the grueling schedule of the world's most famous kiddie band.

Business is doing well, considering the state of the economy, Conway says -- especially in the Wiggles' home market of Australia, and to a lesser extent in the U.S. "We don't try and build a business that fluctuates," Conway says. "It's very competitive to their in relation to time and space on TV. The Wiggles have not looked over their shoulder."

Sprout has begun airing a programming block starring the Wiggles, which may bolster the band's fan base. Conway says the band has no hard feelings toward Disney about its departure this year after seven years with the network. (The band continues to work with Disney outside the U.S .)

Being seasoned troopers, the Wiggles will bring their shows directly to their audience. They certainly have the expertise. Two of them have degrees in child development. All four got honorary doctorates in the subject from an Australian university.

Though they face competition and their share of hardships, the Wiggles endure. When I asked my nephew Ben which part of The Wiggles show he liked best, he replied: "All of it."
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