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'Wonder Pets' Creator Talks Preschool TV

Like many of us, kids' TV writer Josh Selig can say he grew up on Sesame Street. But unlike most of us, he literally grew up on the show as a cast member, rubbing elbows with Big Bird, Ernie, Bert and the gang. Selig has since spent his career working in children's television. He is a multiple Emmy Award-winning writer for Sesame Street, and went on to create Little Airplane Productions in 1999, the birthplace of such beloved shows as The Wonder Pets!, Oobi and 3rd & Bird.

Selig's most recent project is Meet the Small Potatoes, a feature film based on his Small Potatoes series about a rock band of talented tubers. The film is a kind of mockumentary of a mockumentary—think This Is Spinal Tap for the stroller set. After screening at the Los Angeles Children's Film Festival, it will be available on DVD beginning April 30.

He talked to mom.me about good preschool TV as well as his favorite character.

What are the ingredients of good preschool TV?

Beyond the usual stuff—great characters, writing and production design—the best shows tend to originate from deep within an individual and reflect his or her own childhood experiences. The more personal a show is, the more universal it is. I think that's pretty much true of everything.

Is it important for a show to have a curriculum, or can kids just be entertained?

I think the most important thing is that a show respect its young audience. This can happen with or without a curriculum. After all, most of us first heard Rossini's The Barber of Seville in an episode of Bugs Bunny. The worst shows, in my view, talk down to children and expose them to music, writing and design that is not high quality.

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What's the best way for parents to learn about shows for their kids without having to watch all of them?

Talk to other parents. Check out clips on YouTube or Netflix to see what your kids like. Never trust ratings or parenting websites, as these tend to lean towards shows that are the least interesting and ruffle the fewest feathers.

Who is your favorite character in preschool TV, and why?

I've had a real soft spot for Grover ever since I was a kid. Grover is not particularly clever or talented, but he does try very hard. Though I always wanted to be Spider-Man, I'm basically Grover.

Some shows that are really annoying for adults are the ones kids want to watch over and over again. What gives?

Some of the shows that parents don't like offer something very special to young children: They make them feel helpful or make them feel loved. These qualities outweigh good production values in the eyes and the hearts of most child viewers.

My kid tends to get obsessed with certain characters. Should I be worried?

Not at all. Just as teenagers get obsessed with a song or a band, preschoolers get obsessed with a character or a preschool show. This usually lasts anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, and then they move on to something else. Many kids get obsessed with Ming-Ming Duckling on The Wonder Pets, and some will even talk like her for a while. (Ming-Ming pronounces her "r's" like "w's.") This is harmless, though one parent actually sent me a bill for her kid's speech pathologist!

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