Puppets, Nature & Trains: The 2009 TCA PBS Summer Press Tour – Feature – Part I

Public broadcasting is always based within the aspect of education but the key of all is to essentially make learning fun. The key is structure and a fresh new face.

Sesame Street The stalwart of years is reaching its 40th anniversary which was marked in the inset of the meeting with a taped introduction from President Obama endorsing the importance this program has had over the years. The initial perception was in making the elements modern without sacrificing imagination. Mr. Snufalpagus as pointed out was created with the inception of never being real until people started believing. The reality is that nature is age appropriate although modeling science is challenging. The angle of parody is also of essential relevance with the new season taking intrinsic looks at “Mad Men” focusing on “being mad”. They also did a piece called “Desperate Houseplants”. The anniversary show will follow Big Bird changing his habitat following the psychology that imbues this character.

Electric Company The yin to Sesame’s yang has always balanced on the vision of the Company. Even from its sizzle reel, the show seems a little more up to date incorporating some elements of hip-hop directly. This integration of more urban culture is reflected in Shock, one of the hosts, who raps his way into the presentation with a beat box straight up like Michael Winslow from “Police Academy”. The key with upping the freshness of EC was how to keep it in the now. The online component which focuses them in a very specific world, they said, was key to incorporating 10 new learning games which uses Shock’s phonetics and beat boxes to help kids learn. Building on this component, Shock is going on a 20-city outreach program aimed at optimizing literacy viability. In this structure there will be less parody and more direction within the process since Shock admits that the new learning has “to key at the You Tube generation”.

Inventing LA: The Chandlers & Their Times The Chandlers had an undeniable impact on Los Angeles culture especially within the publishing industry with their leadership of The Los Angeles Times. This documentary, which premiered at last year’s Santa Barbara Film Festival, offers an insight within the dynasty. Harry Brant Chandler, son of the former LA Times publisher, speaks of his father’s intent in that bringing less-than-optimal people into the fold was like bring in pilots that had no flight training. Harry relates that his father was so focused that he literally didn’t care about his son until he went back to the LA Times to help start the internet division. At a certain point, the reality had to settle in where he had to let himself be pushed aside. The key angle was strengthening the news content of the paper. Gaping holes could be too easily spotted. Recently, the LA Times in his mind, as a result, has abandoned almost all its suburban coverage so now there is very little perception within a print context of what is going on in Pasadena or the San Fernando Valley. At one time, Harry Brant explains, his father was on over 26 directors boards which encompassed a reach much further than the newspaper. In perception, Los Angeles might still be a desert town without the Chandlers. The questions that show perception is the discussion decades ago which included the need for an intrinsic mass transit system which still has not been accomplished.

The Human Spark Alan Alda has always had a soothing presence about him especially where the art of learning is concerned because he seems genuinely respective of the avenues he is exploring. Alda jokes that within his point of learning on “Spark”  he realizes that he “is not human yet” but still admits “I use a knife and fork myself”. Graham [Chedd, the series producer at “Nova”] puts him in the middle of this discussion and creates the basis with the scientists. Alda says he is just in it to have fun but the angle is figuring how that will turn out on screen. The challenge is making it so the scientists can explain to him what they are seeing in a functional form. One example is the human socialization concept and being able to read people’s faces. Alda explains that he was trained in improvisation and you “were taught to relate”. The reality, he says, is that we have found no other animals that relate to each other the way humans do. In addition, the traits of working together as a group towards a common goal and being able to cooperate are also quite rare. Certain emotions like spite and envy are also quite visceral to explore. John Shey, an associate at Stonybrook University who collaborated on the series, relates that “evolution is a conservative process”. He says that Alda is like “a very difficult student”. He admits though that one of the nice benefits within the process is that you have to work alot harder to make your points clearer. He says that “chimps don’t have the same sense of getting pissed off” continuing that it would be different if they put Alan in a cage since he would share his raisins (if he were given some). Chimps, he says, just take what they can get.

Ken Burns’ The National Parks The ultimate documentarian takes his vision into a singular perception of the preservation of beauty from a nature standpoint. Ken Burns begins saying that we have reached a level of existentialism in the United States where the “nature deficit”, he says in reference to Dr. Phil, is a real thing. The worst result you want to have at a national park is no one coming. He hopes in a way, like with his Civil War films, that there will be a renewal of interest. People from all over the world come to see the national parks here in the US because we, as a culture, created the model. For him personally concerning this subject matter, he says that “my nerves are so close to the surface”. He first started shooting this new film in the spring of 2003. A moment of clarity for him though dates back to 1959. His mother at that time was dying of cancer and his father was not really around for him. His dad never played catch with him. However during that time this father took his son on a drive through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and sang a song which he remembers to this day. Burns quotes John Mayer in saying that he “surrendered myself to this beauty”.

Dinosaur Train This new perception from Henson Studios spearheaded by Lisa Henson works on the auspice of combining elements of biology with sociology. Lisa admits that it is a changing subject emphasized by the challenge of not using superlatives. She reminisces about when she was a child and “Sesame Street” launched. The selling point quality of The Muppets was encompassed in their creation. Letters today within the structure, she explains, are sold with a gotcha quality. She explains that her father (Jim Henson) always stayed away from the “birthday party mentality”. She also proudly states that Henson never gave up, citing his groundbreaking progression in learning stop motion animation and incorporating the Moog synthesizer to make certain sounds for The Muppets and other productions.

The new form currently coming into play on the market is currently 3D. “Dinosaur Train” is envisioned through 3D animation. Jim Henson himself was working at it up until 1990 and the R&D angle has been in play for close to 20 years. As a company, they have just started their first steps into this world. When she was growing up, their family had no limit on the TV they were allowed to watch. She used to memorize alot of the “Looney Tunes” she would see but her parents weren’t so much into animation at that time. Her perception was of their necessity in putting together TV pieces and getting them up live. Her parents had 5 children and they were all drawn into the business since much of their childhood involved being around The Workshop. One of the earliest pictures of Lisa is her in a basket while her parents’ backs are to her performing their puppets.

Masterpiece Contemporary: Hamlet David Tennant, presently leaving BBC’s “Doctor Who” takes on the perception of the Bard with the irrefutable Sir Patrick Stewart playing his father. Tennant says that it is difficult to be objective about such an iconic figure. There is a weight, he says, where every line is in quotations and you try not to be weighed down by it. However, he says, it is an iconic role he has always fantasized about. He says that the challenge is trying to keep things behind you.

Endgame This production takes the real life drama of Michael Young who broached African politics in a corporate strategy which angled into the dangerous elements of apartheid. Jonny Lee Miller who plays Young says that the main angle of the talks back in those days is that no one knew they were going on as they were held in secret in the English countryside. The visceral attraction to the piece, he says, is that one remembers the events but with no conception of how they came about. The real Michael Young, sitting right beside him, says with genuine sarcasm that “you realize how easy it would be to do if you had templates to follow” in terms of the talks. Now the format is being used in Northern Ireland and the Middle East in peace talks indicating those certain conceptions of time.

American Masters: Joan Baez The key of representing this woman is her interrelation of the events she was witness to. Baez relates the first time she went to the Newport Music Festival. She says she “felt like dying and scared” but admits that it was very well received which motivated her to come back for a number of years. She remembers flying over Woodstock with her mother and Janis Joplin as the storms were looming but explains she was not aware of the impact it would have later. In terms of her politics in relation to the day, Baez says they have not changed especially in regards to her mentality to non-violent acts for social change. She knew early enough with politics not to expect too much but admits that “we didn’t give ourselves enough credit for what got done” which also applied to Vietnam. She says that “Nixon did not make that decision…we forced him to”. She does says that she has made a familial change in an attempt to spend more time with her family then she did in the 70s and 80s despite the fact that she still does 60 to 80 dates a year. The key to this longetivity she says is “honest reinventing” and “doing it with integrity”. In regards to her singing voice, she admits “I became mortal!” adding “What a nuisance!” She says that her voice is now lower in pitch and states that she will never have that high vibrato voice again that she enjoyed for so many years. As far as current voices that move her, Jonas Kaufman, a tenor, was the last person she truly listened to and remember liking.

And the melody continues…