|  August, 2004
Behind the Scenes With the Creator of Oobi
Emmy award winner Josh Selig talks about his start in children's television and his hit preschool show.
By Rory Halperin

For Josh Selig, the creator and executive producer of Noggin's Oobi and Nick Jr.'s Linny the Guinea Pig, working on quality programs for preschool viewers has always been a top priority. Here, he speaks to Child about his production company, Little Airplane, and the differences between the first and second season of Oobi (which returns to Noggin on September 6).

Q: How and why did you get started in children's TV programming?
A: I began my career as a child actor on Sesame Street. I was 4 years old and I remember telling my friends that Sesame Street was a real street inside a building. I returned to the show after I graduated from college, first as a writer and filmmaker, then as a producer for the Israeli-Palestinian co-production.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your production company, Little Airplane.
A: Sadly, we live in a world where toy sales often drive the creation of TV shows. In some cases, children's shows are simply long commercials. I started Little Airplane because I wanted to create programs that offered young children the highest-quality educational entertainment. After 9/11, we had some difficulties because our offices are just blocks away from where the World Trade Center stood. Some of my employees urged me to leave the area, but I felt that would be like leaving a sick friend. We stayed in Tribeca, and Little Airplane has really flourished over the past three years. We have been very fortunate in many ways.

Q: Why do you focus primarily on preschool shows?
A: I honestly believe that human beings peak at about age 4. The average 4-year-old is more creative, more interesting, and has a better sense of humor than the average 40-year-old -- me included! At Little Airplane, we feel honored to serve such a distinguished audience.

Q: Tell us a little bit about Oobi. What was the thinking behind it?
A: I was convinced that children's television had gotten too busy. I wanted to see what would happen if I distilled every element of a show -- from the puppet design to the language -- to its essential elements. My hope was that this simplicity would allow for a stronger emotional connection between the child and the characters. It was an experiment, and I'm delighted to see that it seems to have worked.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for using hands instead of puppets for characters?
A: The original idea came to me while watching puppeteers audition for a show in Warsaw, Poland. The puppeteers were working without puppets, and I was amazed by how much emotion they were able to convey with only their hands. What I discovered is that kids are fascinated by the fact that Oobi is a hand, not unlike their own. Watching the show, kids invariably begin to play Oobi. I love that they can do this without having to buy anything. Oobi is always free and very close by.

Q: Why do you think Oobi has been such a huge success, and what do you hope children are getting out of the show?
A: I think that the simplicity allows young children to enjoy the characters and storylines. It's a show entirely without clutter. Kids' television is like a big soda machine, and watching Oobi is like drinking pure rainwater. I hope that children come away from it feeling that the world is a safe place where they will be respected, listened to, and included. Overall, I hope that Oobi makes them happy.

Q: Any differences between the first and second season? What can parents and children look forward to seeing?
A: In Oobi's first season, we mostly explored the home life of Oobi, Uma, Grampu, and Kako. In the second season, we take our characters out into the neighborhood where they meet new friends and experience milestone "firsts," like attending preschool, going trick-or-treating, and learning to use chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant. It's a very big year.

Q: Do you have any other preschool shows in the works?
A: Yes. We're currently developing new shows for Nick Jr., Playhouse Disney, and Sesame Workshop. It's a very busy and exciting time for Little Airplane.

Copyright 2004