The Pond

Posted: Dec 03, 2004 12:00 AM

?When pitching shows for kids, I met with studios, networks and writers.  The most disappointing were the writers - many of whom clearly didn't care what parents thought or how their work affected kids.  I wish parents could meet them.  If they did, there's no way they'd trust them to baby-sit their children.  They wouldn't trust their kids' minds to these people for even ten minutes.?

        - Charlie Richards

There?s just no such thing as a passive sitcom.

Most folks I know (ok, other than the ones I work with, who are clearly addicted news junkies) watch TV to be entertained.  That?s it. They don?t watch to further a personal agenda or to learn how to cook.  They watch television sitcoms because they want to plop on the couch and stuff potato chips in their mouths while the tube stuffs entertainment into their brains (classic definition of  ?couch potato?).

I?ve done it myself from time-to-time (although my choice of junk food is the mind-enhancing, mood-altering, delectably delicious Baskin Robbins Rocky Road ice cream).

What most folks don?t realize, however, is that many sitcoms are created not simply to entertain. They are created to drive an agenda, to further a world-view, to break down ?barriers?. 

I?ve written before about how MTV has made a big business out of manipulating our teens? minds for money, all the while pushing them further into the abyss of an already over-sexualized culture. But parents of even the youngest children must understand that much of today?s TV programming for their tots is designed to be the first of a gradual breaking down of sensitivities and values.

Don?t believe me? Ask veteran sitcom writer, Charlie Richards.

Charlie is the creator and writer of the wildly popular ?The Pond? radio show for kids  ? one of the few programs filled with all the goodness parents really want for their children.  He was driven to create such a show based on his experiences in Hollywood when he was called on by some of the top industry executives to pitch programming ideas for children. 

A little background on Charlie is necessary at this point. Charlie had earned an excellent reputation as a first-class scriptwriter for an edgy sitcom for adults.  When the show he was working on went off the air, he was surprised to receive multiple invitations to pitch children?s programming to network executives at places like Disney, Nickelodeon and the Fox Family Channel.  Charlie was a bit puzzled because he had never written for kids? shows.  But he cooked up a few creative ideas as requested and began pitching solid, decent programs for children.  He was told his writing was ?brilliant?- that he was ?a genius? - but his ideas kept getting rejected.  The same folks called him back time and time again, but they always rejected his ideas for wholesome programming.

Here?s the clincher of the story in Charlie?s own words:

In what was my fifth and last pitch to Fox Family Channel, it all came together. Frustrated by all the "I don't think so's," I blurted out "What are you looking for?"

Kevin Plunkett, director of programming and development for the Fox Family Channel, looked at me and said, "I want you to create a show like 'Action. '"

Now, "Action" was a filthy prime-time sitcom that had words bleeped out on every episode. It was written and created by Chris Thompson. I know Chris well - I was a staff writer for House Rules, also his creation.

Chris is a bad boy - even to the malcontent sitcom writers of Hollywood. He does what he pleases and breaks every rule. "Action" was written with HBO in mind, but the main Fox network wanted it and got it. Chris refused to do the show unless he could push every envelope, and Fox said that's fine.

So here I was, being asked to create something similar for the Fox Family Channel.
And then it all hit Charlie. He thought about his many pitches and realized his shows were rejected because they were filled with moral messages and goodness --and Hollywood just ain?t into selling goodness to kids anymore.

But Charlie is.  So he refused to play the game. He left the world of Hollywood and started on a mission to provide parents and children with programming that is entertaining, top-notch and filled with good old-fashioned values.  And now, after his success on the radio, he has stepped out once again and created a masterful video/DVD production that brings his characters from ?The Pond? to life. The delightful production is one of the best animated products for kids I?ve seen in a long time. And it?s laugh-out-loud funny.  Although it hits stores in January, it?s available now, on-line,  and would make a terrific Christmas gift for the young children in your life. 

Why take the time to check out ?The Pond: There?s Something Funny in the Water??  Because, if you?re like many of the readers of my column who have written me over the years, you?re a little sick of the garbage that Hollywood so frequently doles out.  It?s time we all do more to support courageous, creative talents like Charlie who brilliantly fill the void.