Anyone who grew up in the early to mid-1980s is likely to have fond memories of Jim Henson's beloved Fraggle Rock, and now you can continue the tradition with your own kids. Lisa Henson, Jim's daughter and CEO of The Jim Henson Company, is also the executive producer of a new animated series on Hulu Kids that picks up where the Fraggles left off. The Doozers, targeted at preschoolers, is Hulu's first original show for kids. It places emphasis on a STEAM curriculum, with a special focus on design and building. We were lucky enough to chat with Henson about the series, which will be available for download this Friday on Hulu Kids.
POPSUGAR Moms: Fraggle Rock has a lot of nostalgic value for parents of young kids today. Tell us a bit about how this spinoff (of sorts) came to be.
Lisa Henson: People who know Fraggle Rock all remember the Doozers — those little green characters who were in the periphery of the action. They were the ones that were building with their hard hats, and doing all sorts of construction. I think that a lot of people were curious about their world, so for a long time, we at the Jim Henson Company have wanted to do a show about the Doozers. In recent years, we landed on the idea of doing a preschool show with a STEAM curriculum, since they're little engineers and builders. But we didn't want to do the typical science curriculum, like our other show, Sid the Science Kid, which is very grounded, because there's also a fantasy element to the Doozers — they're living in Fraggle Rock. It tackles the technology and engineering side, and we've also added in art and design. The Doozers are in the spirit of the original characters who love to create, invent, build, make. They're always making and creating something, but they're kid characters, so it's on a smaller scale.
PS: Since this is a part of Hulu, the concept is that it'll be available at any time, on demand?
LH: The first seven episodes are going up on Friday, then over the year, we'll be rolling out several episodes every couple of weeks. It's great for kids, who love to watch things over and over again. If they want to watch the same episode over and over again, they can. It's convenient. If they want to see something new, they can do that too. We're really interested to see how the viewing patterns will go. We think that Hulu Kids really serves the way kids watch TV because of the repeatability. It's interesting. It's a really modern way to go about it.
PS: What are some of the biggest differences in creating early childhood programming now vs. 20 years ago?
LH: For us as a company, we've gotten much more involved with the curriculum side. When my father was involved in Sesame Street, which was one of the very earliest and obviously most influential children's educational programs, he was really there for the fun. He brought the Muppets to it, and the comedy, and the sophisticated character development, but the whole curriculum side was developed by Sesame Street executives and Joan Cooney and her staff. We as a company have evolved such that with our shows, we're doing the creative, and the curriculum too. I personally am really excited about the learning and education, and trying to be innovative in that area, as much as I am about the creative.
PS: The Jim Henson Company is a real family affair — you're all involved. What's that dynamic like?
LH: My brothers and sisters and I took over the company after my father died. My brother ran it for many years while I was off being a studio executive at Warner Brothers and Columbia. When I rejoined the company more than 10 years ago, it's when I was having children of my own, and I started watching children's programming as a parent. I thought, "This is so pressingly important that we keep making really, really good shows for children." They absorb everything, and they learn everything, so if they want nonsense, they learn nonsense. If they watch something worthwhile, then that's really good for them. I started to see it from a different point of view from the very second that I was a parent.
PS: What's the company's philosophy on how technology has become a part of the television viewing experience? How do you integrate apps, and extending your shows beyond the TV screen?
LH: In all of our shows, we develop the interactive side simultaneously with the show. So while we're doing the scripts, the games, apps, and website are all being developed. So everything's usually ready for launch at the same time. We have Doozers games and apps available now. That's the way we've been working for quite awhile. That's just become the normal way of putting a show together, to have it available in every medium.
PS: The American Association of Pediatrics' official recommendation is no screens at all for kids under 2. But for many parents, that's not a reality. Where do you weigh in on that, as both a mom and a producer?
LH: I definitely think that parents should be extremely involved in what their kids watch. If they decide their child is too young for television, then I definitely support that view. I think that the worst thing for parents to do is to pay no attention to what's going on out there. But if a parent pays attention, and guides their kids — especially young kids — in their viewing, I think it's really important for kids to engage with media. Media is right there, and it's going to find your kids no matter what. It's good for parents to filter what their kids watch. I wouldn't try to tell anyone how to do that, I just think it's important for parents to be involved.
PS: It must have been pretty amazing to grow up with Jim Henson as a dad. Do you have any especially fond and fun memories that you could share with our readers?
LH: My father was very creative at home, and some people have asked if we had puppets at our house. The answer to that is no. We didn't have puppets at our house, it was more that our home was at the studio because we were always being brought to work. My brother Brian talks about spending a lot of time underneath the puppet stages. I remember that very clearly as well. We were so small, we'd just be tucked away under the stage watching the production from below, watching the monitors that the puppeteers were watching from the floor. We were always very involved in what was happening, literally from the inside of the productions!