Writing for children's TV is not kid stuff

Doug Cordell

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

TESS VIGELAND: The show must go on. Or must it? Organizers of the Academy Awards are scrambling to figure out what to do if the Hollywood writers' strike is still in effect during the February 24 festival of pomp and self-congratulation. So far nobody's worrying about the Emmys, which usually fall in September, but commentator and Emmy-nominated writer Doug Cordell says anyone writing TV for kids deserves more than a statue anyway.


DOUG CORDELL: I never set out to write for kids TV, but like most playwrights with lofty ambitions, I was broke. So when a friend offered to hook me up with a broadcast puppet show, I panted "yes." How hard could it be writing for 4-year-olds? In my interview the producer asked why I wanted to write for children's television. "Well," I said, stalling. "I like children, and I like television." They hired me anyway.

It turned out to be more than I bargained for.

For one thing, it wasn't the cynical Krusty-the-Clown atmosphere I'd been banking on. Everyone took the show extremely seriously -- especially the puppeteers, several of whom stayed in character during lunch.

And because of the target audience, none of the characters themselves -- the bear, the pig, the rabbit and so on, could lie or even be disagreeable to one another. Conflict being an essential ingredient in drama, I practically got an aneurysm coming up with a story.

Then at the script read-through the producer had a problem with my idea of the rabbit getting running shoes.

"Rabbits don't wear shoes," he said with a smirk, in front of the cast and crew.

"He's wearing a vest," I pointed out.

"The vest is part of his character," he said solemnly, and the script assistant made a note.

Meanwhile the pressure to crank out material was intense. My back went out and I couldn't sleep. One of the other writers gave me sleeping pills, which worked ok except they made you surly enough by the afternoon to want to eat glass.

By the end of the season I was editing scripts on my back on the office floor, but I was a celebrity to my nieces and nephews. I'd also gotten a date with the cute girl who tended the bear puppet, and I'd made good money.

Months later we were nominated for an Emmy, and I was surprisingly disappointed when we lost to a show about singing vowels. Now really, I thought, how hard could that be to write?

TESS VIGELAND: Doug Cordell is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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