Wednesday, February 10, 2010

PBS Kids Go! and the Jim Henson Company-It's Not Easy Being Green

Or yellow or blue or any of the other colors that make up the monsters and characters brought to life by the Jim Henson Company. The boys and I had the incredible fortune to visit the Henson Studios in Hollywood last Tuesday (the day after the re-recording of We Are the World took place there!) to learn about the new PBS Kids Go! program, Wilson & Ditch. PBS Kids Go! is an educational television brand used by PBS for programs intended for older children, rather than the original PBS Kids. PBS Kids Go! is primarily broadcast on PBS stations during the afternoons, but Wilson & Ditch is a new show that is available only online.

Wilson and Ditch are two funny, energetic and talkative gopher brothers who are in a van - an eco-powered one -- and driving around America. Wilson, the older brother, loves learning and teaching facts and reading about each new locale they travel to. He always drives the van while Ditch, the younger more fun-seeking brother who loves to relax and eat, is the permanent passenger. These gopher brothers drive from city to city as tourists who learn the history, “actual facts” (as Wilson calls them), and fun facts of every new location. The brothers also love experiencing the usual touristy stuff as well as the really unusual, obscure, and sometimes just weird sites each city has to offer. Wilson and Ditch want to discover purple mountains' majesty, amber waves of grain, and the perfect Philly cheese steak!

Every time I point to the United States on a world map and tell H that he lives there, he starts arguing with me. He also doesn't quite grasp what it means to live in different states; he just knows that visiting Aunt Joyce means getting on an airplane. I think watching US geography as a kids TV show might make it easier for him to understand. Wilson & Ditch isn't geared for someone as young as three, but it'll definitely be helpful for him to hear the words and get familiar with the vocabulary. Right now H says California as well as the state's governor. I think geography is a great topic to address in children's television and I wish the show were going to be on TV as well as online. The webisodes are about three minutes long, and, for me, that isn't quite long enough to get out all the “actual facts” you'd want to share about a location.

During the event, fellow mom bloggers and I learned about the show and also got a behind-the-scenes look at how shows like Wilson & Ditch and Sid the Science Kid are produced. We learned it takes about five years of hands-on training before a puppeteer becomes adept enough to move to the patented technology that makes Henson digital puppetry possible. We were given a demo of the technology by no other than Brian Henson (one of Jim Henson's five kids), the puppeteer and voice behind the face of Wilson. Brian also happens to be Chairman of the Jim Henson Company. (So yes, I had a meet and greet with the chairman of a studio last week, pretty amazing!!!!) The body is done by motion capture by another performer. We got to see a body and face come together at a shoot of Sid the Science Kid and the degree of detail that goes into every second of one of those shows is unbelievable. I don't think kids understand or appreciate the complexity of the shows they are watching.

So far the Philadelphia and Nashville webisodes of the show are up. If you want to follow Wilson and Ditch as they criss-cross their way across the United States, this is the schedule:

When? Where? What’s New Where they will visit?
  • 2/22/2010 Rapid City, South Dakota Webisode Rushmore, Badlands
  • 3/1/2010 Mitchell, South Dakota Comic strip Corn Palace
  • 3/8/2010 Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming Podcast Old Faithful
  • 3/22/2010 Miami, Florida Webisode Gators/Air Boats/Beaches
  • 3/29/2010 Williamsburg, Virginia Comic strip Colonial Williamsburg
  • 4/5/2010 Niagra Falls, New York Podcast the falls
  • 4/19/2010 New York, New York Webisode Times Square, Central Park
  • 4/26/2010 Durango, Colorado Podcast Train
  • 5/3/2010 Anchorage, Alaska Podcast Iditerod: Dogs & sleds
  • 5/17/2010 St. Louis, Missouri Webisode Arch, Paddle-Wheel Steamboat
  • 5/24/2010 Atlanta, Georgia Comic strip great restaurant
This is just the first season, and they plan to add to the destinations every year with more destinations on and off the beaten path. I can't wait for the Central Park webisode in April.

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