Slumberkins is making its debut, today, November 4th on AppleTV+ and we were lucky enough to be able to chat with show executive producers Kelly Oriard and Callie Christensen. With great material and a wonderful voicecast, we ask some questions about how it all came together.
BSCKids: Tell us a little bit about how you got involved in the Slumberkins television project?
Kelly Oriard and Callie Christensen: We met Halle Halle Stanford, President of Television at The Jim Henson Company and an Executive Producer on the show, at the Alt Summit 2018 conference. She loved our books and she shared a vision for what this show could be – along the lines of other great Henson preschool shows like Word Party. Halle reached out to Alex Rockwell, the creator of Word Party, who went on to create the full world seen in the series. We gave notes throughout this process to ensure it was true to our brand, and Kelly consulted heavily on the curriculum that is the foundation of the series. The Jim Henson Company is renowned for puppetry, and early on, Halle had the idea to realize the series as a 2D and puppet mixed media show. Henson created a test video of this idea with the visual approach and used it to sell the show to Apple TV+. As co-executive producers, we provided topics to the writing staff to inspire themes and ideas that could be seen in the episodes, including the journey that the characters go on to work through their feelings and the therapeutic mantras that accompany each character. It has always been a dream of ours to bring Slumberkins to life as puppets and we are so proud of the final product. We are so grateful that The Jim Henson Company was able to create an extraordinary puppet series from our beloved Slumberkins.
You have some great voice talent on the show, tell us how they were selected.
Kid voice talent was carefully aligned to match the personality that the production envisioned for each character. It was also a priority to have a diverse representation of talent, and the show greatly benefitted from the support of Apple TV+, who also helped bring in the incredible voice talents of Pamela Adlon (“Better Things”), Jason Ritter (“Raising Dion”), Yvette Nicole Brown (“Big Shot,” “Disenchanted”) to play the parents.
There are a lot of different characters in the books, do you see new characters coming in different seasons?
With the success of the show, we would absolutely love to see more of our characters come to life down the road. Each one has a unique story to tell that we feel will deeply resonate with children as well as parents.
So what was the process of making the puppets for the characters? What we see in the show, how long did the process take and how many versions did they go through?
Developing the characters into 3D puppets was actually pretty tricky, but The Jim Henson Company and Jim Henson’s Creature Shop are the best in the business. It took months to really bring them to life. We never thought the early days of hand sewing our plush toys would come back to help us create a TV series! But that experience really allowed us to appreciate the process of building puppets as we weighed in on their new shape and form.
The music seems to be a huge part of the show, tell us a bit about you decided to work with songwriter Ingrid Michaelson.
Ingrid has been a favorite artist of ours for forever. When Apple TV+ and The Jim Henson Company asked what kind of soundscape we pictured for the series, we said Ingrid Michaelson. And our dreams came true when they were able to bring her on board. With her recent success writing the musical adaptation of “The Notebook,” we could really see how her immense talent brings forth great emotion in a simple, relatable way.
Are the show stories based on the book stories or are they new ideas?
While the characters stem from the brand, their personalities were expanded, and the families and friends, and all the storylines within the show were written as original content.
What makes Slumberkins different from other kids shows airing and why should families be tuning in.
The scripts in the stories take a different approach than any other within the landscape. Each story arc follows a specific character’s perspective, a tool to model emotional regulation and life circumstances. There are some shows that help children identify feelings and change behaviors, but our show goes deeper to address the underlying emotions and beliefs that cause the behavior. The Slumberkins process is the first example in kid’s TV that helps children and families decode and process emotions on this deeper level.
Thanks to Kelly Oriard and Callie Christensen and the Slumberkins team for making this interview happen!