Unless your little ones are some rare breed of perfect, most
kids want choices. From wearing tutus to bed or having macaroni and
cheese for breakfast, you can bet your kiddo has a strong
And, while us parents are all about embracing and fostering that
growing sense of independence, letting them choose what to watch on
television can be difficult, which is why I was pretty excited
about talking to Nancy Kanter, Senior Vice President of Playhouse
In a very large nutshell, Kanter is responsible for the
development and production of all the long and short-form live
action and animated programming we see on the critically acclaimed
channel, and also oversees all of the creative vision and content
on a global basis.
Makes the macaroni and cheese breakfast challenge look a tiny
bit less hairy, doesn't it?
How do you choose the programs that our children
We have a positioning in mind that we want to put forth in terms
of what our programming offers and how it might be different from
what you'd find on PBS or any of the other competitive
It's a little bit of a filter for us. We think that some of the
things that help define our programming is the sense of great
character and storytelling, which are both obviously things Disney
is well known for.
First and foremost, when someone comes and pitches me an idea
for a show or we go out and talk to producers/writers/creators
about the types of shows we're looking for, we really emphasize the
character and story aspects.
We want shows that have characters that kids will fall in love
with and will want to tune in every day to see what those
adventures and stories are going to be. And then along with
that is the sense that mom and dad want some kind of learning value
from the programming they let their preschoolers watch. They want
to see if good social skills are being modeled, or if it's
emotional issues that they think their youngest kids are working
through or going up against, all the way to something like you see
with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, which is very clear math
building skills. So we really like to look for that combination of
entertainment value and on a deeper level, something where a mom or
dad will say, 'I'm really glad my kid watches that show. I can see
what they get from that show.'
How do you find that balance between the storytelling
and learning that parents are looking for?
The lucky part about this 2-6 year-old audience is their
attitude toward whatever media they consume. They don't need
distinctions for themselves between entertainment and learning.
I think that once you get out of that preschool group and into
the 6-11 year-old demographic, they can kind of smell when it's
educational and they really just want to have fun.
The preschoolers are such sponges that they want to soak up as
much as they can. So if they learn to count by tens or learn how
solar power works or even how to introduce themselves to a friend
for the first time, that's a really compelling story. It's
something they're really interested in, and they don't separate it
out and say 'Oh, that's the educational piece not the entertainment
piece. Obviously, it's a challenge to make sure that we don't tip
the balance one way or another, and that we don't forget about the
entertainment and make it feel too teachy.
There's a fabulous quote I read once from Winston Churchill who
once said, 'I love to learn, but I do not always like being
taught.' I think that's what we try and do.
How does Playhouse Disney provide added value to parents
who are looking extend what their children watch and learn on TV so
they can experience it together?
It's a big priority for us. We know if mom/dad/caregivers are
aware and invested in the programs that their kids are watching,
then it helps fulfill our hope that there are things in these shows
that kids really do take away into their own lives and expand on
it. We have www.playhousedisney.com,
which has a grownup page where parents can learn about some of the
curriculum background and the developmental thinking behind each of
There are also sites within www.Disney.com that have games,
suggestions of games for kids, things they can play.. there's even
a a celebration center that will help you create themed birthday
party. For example, there's Handy Manny coloring page that can
serve as placemats, and in the last year or two, we've started to
tap into a lot of social networking of Handy Manny and Mickey Mouse
Clubhouse. It's amazing to see how moms are on those pages sharing
thoughts, ideas, encouraging other moms to see certain episodes, or
saying, 'here's a great recipe for a Handy Manny cupcake.' We're
amazed at the depth and volume of the conversation, so I think
these new media opportunities are really ways that our shows are
able to connect with our moms and kids in a way we didn't have
Do you have any favorite shows from the Playhouse Disney
If I asked you if you had a favorite child would you tell me?
Actually, I get asked that a lot.
I do think our shows are very distinctly different from one
another and there are things about each show that I love. I love
the Imagination Movers because I think the music is fantastic and I
think it's great to have four, really warm, friendly, talented guys
who are live human beings as opposed to animated characters. I
think they model so many important things - they care about each
other as friends, they're fun, they're energetic, they love to
brainstorm and problem solve, and they don't give up when they hit
a road block. I think there's something really unique and special
And who doesn't love Mickey Mouse? He's just an amazing
character. And then you have something like Handy Manny that shows
a diverse, multicultural landscape, and I think it's is so
important for kids to see a community were all kinds of people from
all kinds of different backgrounds and abilities live and care
about each other.
Convonista says: Nancy and I went head to head on all things
kid related in April 2010. This interview was originally released a
few days later.
Maria Pilar Clark is a mom times two and Windy City-based writer.
See more of Pilar's stories here.
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