The Unexpected Way ‘Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood’ is Helping My 8 Year Old Autistic Son

Image: PBS Kids
Image: PBS Kids

In our house, viewing Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood usually starts something like this. The show clicks on, the music starts. My daughter, 3, starts dancing in anticipation. My son, 8, with high-functioning autism, starts whining and complaining that it’s the most terrible show in the world. Then it starts, and they’re both silent and rapt for the duration.

When I first saw ads for the show, I was a little reluctant. Riffing on Mister Rogers? With cartoons? It felt a little sacrilegious. Then I learned that the show was not just a rehash of Mister Rogers, my most favorite kid’s show, but a collaboration with people like Angela Santomero from Blue’s Clues. For our son Liam, Blue’s Clues was pretty much his favorite show in the world during his toddler years, in spite of being a very picky TV watchers (the show didn’t often feature his favorite thing in the world: cars). What I’ve always loved about Blue’s Clues is that it’s rooted in psychology, treating kids not as dumb little monkeys in need of entertainment, but as growing human beings in need of education and direction. It’s a lot to ask for a TV show, but it’s worked.

There’s a great NPR piece about the show that I caught when it aired, and this quote sums up what makes the approach so special:

“They developed a whole curriculum based on Fred’s research and teaching,” says Linda Simensky, vice president of children’s programming at PBS. “It’s very carefully designed for a certain age group to get the rules of how the world works—to see what happens when things go right and when things go wrong.”

But that said, I’m going to admit, after viewing a few of the episodes I wasn’t a huge fan and didn’t quite get the hype. The show is cute and simplistic, employing many of the “play along” techniques Blue’s Clues became so famous for. Every lesson is a song, teaching kids ways to remember common solutions for every day problems.

That changed very quickly.

Learning Through Songs and Repetition

What started happening with those lessons, though, rather stopped my husband and me in our tracks. Many of Liam’s most common challenges come from tantrums. Autistic tantrums. That’s when, no matter what happens, the tantrum continues and continues—I think his record is three hours—regardless of the outcome. In these moments he’s in a red zone, and there’s very little we can do to get him back to the present outside of just waiting for it to be over.

One day, he had a particularly bad red zone tantrum, and he hurt a lot of feelings—including his sister’s. I found myself giving him advice from Daniel Tiger’s neighborhood: “It’s important that you don’t just say you’re sorry—say sorry, and ask how you can make it better. Being sorry is about more than words, it’s actions, too.”

He did. Even if a little grudgingly.

Then a few days later, Michael and I were having a disagreement. Not a full blown argument, but it was clear that we were both very frustrated. Our daughter Elodie came up to us, put her little hand in mine, and sang, “When you’re feeling frustrated, take a step back and ask for help.”

Michael and I goggled at each other. Did she just use Daniel magic on us? She did.

Parenting a kid who doesn’t listen and spirals out of control is hard on any day. And finding way to remain calm as a parent, let alone as the kid going through it, is perilous. We forget (and many other adults do, too) that while he looks and speaks like a big kid, when it comes to reasoning and social skills, especially in times of stress, he’s like a toddler. As I once read in a book about kids with these kind of challenges, being a parent to an exceptional kid means sometimes being their frontal lobe. Now, I don’t have time to be my own frontal lobe let alone his some days. But Daniel Tiger helps.

“Wow,” said to Michael one afternoon. “I think Daniel Tiger is helping us with Liam.”

He Likes It, He Really Likes It

Image: PBS Kids; Katerina and Daniel
Image: PBS Kids; Katerina and Daniel

Then, one day, Liam turned to us and said, apropos of nothing. “I think Katerina is autistic; she’s my favorite. She has a hard time with things sometimes, and she likes ballet more than anything.” Well, that’s interesting.

Our daughter Elodie loves Daniel, and she sings the potty song (“When you’ve got to go potty, stop and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way!”) every time she goes to the bathroom. Liam’s aware of what we’re doing on some level, but we’ve found that the sound, short advice can really cut through some of the worst of his behaviors.

Short, helpful strategies, based in real research and proven techniques. For days I’m too tired to remember what to do when Liam is going off the rails because the cream cheese was spread wrong on his bagel (true story) I can take a deep breath (take my own step back) and calmly translate the words of Daniel Tiger: “Take a step back, Liam. I can help. What do you want me to do?” He might roll his eyes at me, but it often stops him in his tracks and in this instance he doesn’t hit me or shout or stomp away. He says, “Can you get me a knife? That way I can fix it. Or maybe you can if I can’t.”

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is streaming on Netflix right now.

Natania is a member of the Netflix Stream team.

A Day in the Life of a GeekMom Actor

Nice work if you can get it, GeekMom. Photo: Melody Mooney.

Most days, I am a stay-at-home mom. Other days, I am a working actor. GeekMom editor Corrina Lawson suggested I share with you a day in my life as it happens, from the set of a commercial.

I know; it sounds kind of glamorous, right? The lights, the camera, the action. First, let us back up and look at all of the things that had to happen before I actually booked this commercial. Keeping up with head shots, casting sites, actor reels, networking, research, and classes. All demand attention and updating—most of which is done after preschooler bedtime at nine o’clock at night.

Let me focus in on just the commercial acting world. How does an actor go from a smiling picture submission to booking a spot? The first real step is getting a great commercial agent. This can take years and like any transactional relationship, requires a lot of give and take. Agents have the professional connections to get actors in front of casting directors. Casting directors are looking for the right person to fill the roles for their commercial spot. Clients like Hasbro and Honda are in need of someone to put a face on their products. Often, these faces (the competition) all look fairly similar. It is a surreal thing, being the talent. I have learned how to let go of any sort of validation through the process. Sometimes, I just have the right look. Sometimes, I make them laugh. Other times, the collective minds change and my role will be filled by a tall man with a beard.

Great agent, relationships with casting directors, credits on a resume. What next? Work begets work, booking commercials, making money, and getting sent out again. That smiling picture floats to the top of the large head-shot pile and work happens. Getting noticed and getting notices that auditions are upcoming. These alerts are usually sent with less than 24 hours of prep time. The email includes a ticket about the audition, what to wear, where to go, and what to say. More times than most, sides or lines for the character are given at the audition with maybe five or 10 minutes to be memorized. This includes choices to make the words bounce off the page. No pressure right?

In my world, once the audition time is confirmed, I start scheming. Who will watch my three-year old and how to get there on time? Just last week, I was given two hours notice to get to a casting. Ella had to come with me in the actual audition room. Thankfully, the casting director was very understanding. Auditions are not paid work, so hiring a sitter is sort of a counterproductive expense. I have commented often how the unpredictability of this world is in such a stark contrast to the ideal routine life with a young child. I try to take things one small step at a time. Life is a moving target, right?

When I first became a mom, the desire to work outside of the home really disappeared. J.J. Abrams could have offered me a part in the new Star Wars and honestly, I would have turned it down. Ella needed me and my world was hers. I know it’s important for daughters to see their moms in other roles. I am glad that balance is returning to our home. Mr. Abrams can visit me with that part any time now.

My daughter is beginning to understand that I am an actor and what that all means. I try to involve her in running lines, getting mommy camera-ready, and even practice silly dances together. She tells me to “break a leg” when I leave. It’s just part of our day-to-day life. Getting paid to act is nice work when I can get it and l am grateful, but it is not easy. There is a constant juggle. I am lucky to have a great agent, supportive friends and family, and a patient husband.

So here it is for you to follow along on; a day in the life of a GeekMom actor:

5:30 a.m. Wake up after restless up-and-down night with Ella. Get hair and makeup to a “natural” look. Look up where the set is and join the morning commuters.

7:00 a.m. Arrive at craft services, food trucks, coffee, crew, and security. There is a team of hardworking people who are skilled in putting together a moveable feast of film production. Paperwork, sign-ins. actors, crew, production,;these are the members of my tribe. Coffee on hand, time to wait.

7:30 a.m. Text from my husband, asking where my daughter’s witch tights are.

8:30 a.m. Wardrobe, hair and makeup. They are always the coolest team on the shoot. Music, hairspray, and gossip. Back to waiting. I really don’t mind the waiting. It is a rare thing indeed to get to sit anywhere long when you have a preschooler.

9:15 a.m. Call from home. This time, the monkey pants can’t be found.

10:30 a.m. All of the talent (all of us) are taken to a holding area off-set. Seeing any set for the first time is always exciting. Lights being hung, art department making things look real, walkie-talkie noise, and hustle. More waiting.

11:00 a.m. Rehearsal, wardrobe checks, Diet Coke and yes, waiting. I have signed some paperwork which prohibits me from sharing actual details, but this is going to be a hilarious spot. The choreographer is from a well-known dance competition show.

12:00 p.m. First shot of the day, a tight close up on me! Can’t wait until I can share this with everyone. It’s a great, fun spot.

1:30 p.m. Check my phone to find out I have another audition tomorrow. It’s for a film, lots of sides. Wondering how I am going to learn them being on set all day. Homework tonight!

2:30 p.m. Break for lunch. I had the shrimp and chicken. Called my little one and her dad to check in. She has fallen asleep in the shopping cart.

3:30 p.m. Back on set after makeup touch-ups.

5:30 p.m. Break time. Heading to the craft services table for snacks and coffee. There is always tons of food on sets. Well-fed actors and crew tend to be happy actors and crew.

6:30 p.m. Last shot for me. I dropped the beat. I am DJ Housewife.

7:30 p.m. Last call home from a crew member’s cell phone, because mine has died.

8:30 p.m. Time to head home. I am welcomed by my husband, who had a successful day with his girl. I get in just in time to read a goodnight story to Ella. She insisted she wait up for me. My heart is full. I am proud of myself for working hard on set, but the best moments of my day are here in the dark with my family.

Melody is represented by Firestarter Entertainment. Her IMDB credits include a cameo on the popular geek show, The Guild: Season TwoShe was also Hygena on the Stan Lee Syfy channel show, Who Wants to be a SuperheroHere is a look at some of the things she has filmed since becoming a mom:

Cutting the Cord: Yes or No?

Bill Hendrickson is contemplating taking his Viagra through my Apple TV. I'm trying out Apple TV's mirror capability, so we can watch Amazon Prime video on our TV complete with audio! As cool as this is, are we ready to cut the cable? Photo: Patricia Vollmer
Bill Hendrickson (Bill Paxton) is contemplating taking his Viagra through my Apple TV. I’m trying out Apple TV’s computer mirror capability with an episode of HBO’s Big Love; so even though it’s not programmed into Apple TV, we can still watch Amazon Prime video on our TV, complete with audio! As cool as this is, are we ready to cut the cable? Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

There are some big changes going on in this GeekMom’s life. For starters, I’m starting full-time work later this summer. I don’t know how long the work will last, and I’m grateful for the flexibility in our kids’ child care that I can work for as much or as little as the Air Force needs me.

The other thing changing is my family’s television viewing habits. I’m watching our sons tap into our cable system’s “On Demand” options more often, and they are now well-versed in navigating Netflix and Amazon Prime video on our house’s Blu-ray players. More of our friends and family are foregoing cable and satellite and opting for the options that promote “binge viewing.” Guess what? Our family is now heading in that direction. Right now, we’re enjoying Netflix’s awesome programming, such as Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards. In addtion, we are using Netflix and Hulu to play catch-up on television series we never got around to watching the first time. On my wish list is the UK version of The Office as well as 30 Rock.

We haven’t officially cut the cable yet. When we moved into our new house in Colorado last June, we took advantage of a promotion: $99 per month for 12 months. That was in late June. So we have a month left in this promotion before we actually make the cut without a penalty. In the meantime, I’ve been doing a bit of shopping:

1. HD Over-the-Air Antennas. For the first time, we have a clear line-of-sight view of our local television HD transmitters sitting on top of Cheyenne Mountain. I bought a couple of inexpensive over-the-air antennas from Amazon that simply plug into our televisions’ coax cable ports—and voilá! I have all of the major networks, including The CW and several Latino networks. $32 per television set; we have two televisions.

2. Netflix and Hulu Plus subscriptions. During our move between Florida and Colorado in 2013, we had turned off our Netflix streaming subscription. I ended up canceling it for nearly a year and just resuscitated it in March. That runs us about $8 per month. In addition, I recently started Hulu Plus, which is also $8 per month. We’ll see if we need to keep both services concurrently. We use Amazon Prime quite a bit, so the Prime Instant Videos are also available to us, but we admittedly don’t watch many of them. $16 per month.

3. Apple TV. I crowdsourced this one on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I asked, “Which streaming video player should we get?” While I had many simple declarations of “Roku!,” “Amazon Fire TV!,” and “Chromecast!,” I had to do a little digging to find out the features of each of devices. Guess what? They’re basically the same.  Apple TV was the winner, mostly because we have a house full of Apple products that can easily stream to an Apple TV device. I ordered an Apple TV device and it just arrived today. I’m looking forward to exploring its full capabilities. $92 one-time cost.

So after an upfront cost that’s still less than one month of cable, I’m thinking we can get our television recurring costs down below $20 per month.

What do you think? I know many families now go without cable; how has that been going for you? I’ve prepared a list of pros and cons here, although we’re pretty certain we’re going forward with the change, at least for now.

Pros of Cutting the Cord

  • Cost. We will be freeing up nearly $100 per month, which goes back into our family’s budget. I like that idea.
  • More deliberate viewing experience. My husband is a chronic channel-surfer. Until recently, he would flip through channels and simply rest on something that catches his attention. Recent changes to our Comcast program guide has made the channel surfing even less like the good old days. So now, we only have the TV on when we have something in particular to watch.
  • Less exposure to channels you don’t want your kids to see. This has always rubbed me the wrong way: paying for a large programming package when in reality, we don’t watch over half the channels we’re paying for. In addition, we end up with numerous channels we don’t necessarily want our children to be watching.

Cons of Cutting the Cord

  • Sports. This one will be very difficult for our family. Some GeekMoms testified that because of live sports, they need to keep their cable. We enjoy NFL, MLB, and NHL events, as well as NCAA football. Most online programming options for sports require an account with an existing cable and satellite provider. I’m not sure how well we’re going to do with this.
  • News and weather. Our Apple TV comes with SkyNews. However, even to watch CNN and FoxNews live broadcasts through my iPad, I needed a login and password for my existing Comcast account. As for weather, I’ve figured out how to broadcast WeatherNation through my iPad, which was nice.
  • Cable and premium programming. Similar to the sports and news issues, watching networks such as FX, AMC, and Showtime is requiring my Comcast account as well.
  • “Real-time” viewing experience. I have enjoyed watching favorite shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead as soon as it airs, but it’s okay if I don’t watch the shows right away. If I get the itch to watch it real-time, I can always invest in a series season pass through iTunes, right?
  • Is this going to blast through our unofficial home bandwidth limits? As far as I know, I don’t have a limit (we have Comcast Internet), but I wonder if we will see impacts—such as slower upload/download speeds—if we overdo things.

You’d think I was discussing swimming with sharks with how scary this is seeming to my family! Do you think our family is making a smart move?

How Captain America Made Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a Better Show

Courtesy of Disney/ABC.

As you’ve probably heard, ABC just announced that it has renewed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a second season. Five weeks ago, I might have greeted this news with indifference. Although I enjoyed the pilot with a few minor reservations, the episodes that came after it left me feeling underwhelmed at best. Still, I kept tuning in faithfully on Tuesday nights, clinging to the hope that the show could eventually live up to its vast potential.

And then Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out in theaters and turned the Marvel universe upside down. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was forced to deal with the fallout and in doing so, became a show worth watching.

This is the part where I need to warn you that the remainder of this article will discuss plot developments and major twists in detail from both the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series to date and Captain America: Winter Soldier. If you haven’t caught up with the show or seen the film, you might want to stop reading this and come back later, after you’ve done both. This has been your official spoiler warning.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled post.

Back in September, we here at GeekMom, like many Marvel fans, had high hopes for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the first TV series based in the same universe as The Avengers. The fact that Joss Whedon was producing the show solidified its spot in our must-watch list for fall, not to mention the central role of Clark Gregg’s resurrected Agent Coulson. I mean, how can you not love Coulson? GeekMom even ran a series of articles on the history of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the comics and profiled each of the show’s characters in the run, all the way up to the premiere. Then it premiered, and though the pilot showed some promise, it left us wanting more. Much more.

For weeks after the series premiere, I continued to tune in, less and less enthusiastically. There was the lazy writing, the handwavium that passed for technology, and plot holes big enough to fly the Bus through. But the most egregious offense, in my opinion, was that the show never managed to make me care much about any of the characters, with the standout exception of Ming-Na Wen’s Melinda May and, of course, Coulson himself.

The rest of the characters seemed like bland, thinly drawn cardboard cutouts. Skye (Chloe Bennet), who was our entry point into the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the pilot, turned out to be nothing more than a cipher with the seemingly omnipotent ability to crack any computer system the plot might require. The loyalty everyone on the team (even May, in her own way) instantly felt toward Skye, even after it appeared as though she’d betrayed them all to the Rising Tide (anyone remember them?), felt forced. As much as the show really wanted us to care about her relationship with chiseled tough guy Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), the spark between them never quite grew into a flame. I was so indifferent, I didn’t bat an eye when he started sleeping with May on the side.

Courtesy of Disney/ABC.

Earlier in the season, if I’d compiled a list of things that could fix what ailed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I probably wouldn’t have included “get rid of S.H.I.E.L.D.” But it turns out, that was exactly the right thing to do.

After the big revelation in Captain America that the organization was infested with Hydra operatives working against it from the inside, the show was forced to deal with the consequences. In episode 17 (“Turn, Turn, Turn”), everything changed—maybe not for the better from the characters’ perspectives, but surely from ours.

Suddenly, they had a clearly defined purpose and a deadly adversary, two things sorely missing up until this point. How many times could Coulson’s team willfully ignore protocol and still be allowed to operate without straining our credibility? Now that they’ve gone rogue, protocol is a thing of the past. And all of those lapses in the security of a supposedly top-notch secret organization begin to make some sense. We can blame it all on Hydra, working to undermine S.H.I.E.L.D.’s command structure from within. Though I doubt the writers intended it to work out like this, it all seems kind of brilliant now.

Best of all, Ward has a new role to play beyond just the team’s dull muscle. Bringing in John Garrett from the comics and hiring Bill Paxton to play him were good ideas to begin with, but making him Hydra was the first bold choice the show has made. It wouldn’t be the last. Taking Ward over to the dark side along with him revitalized that character and shed new light on his interest in Skye. Has he been playing her and the rest of the team all along? Is there real affection there or does he have an agenda of his own? Now, these are intriguing questions. We also got to see some actual evidence of Skye’s worth to the team in the way she handled that discovery in the Providence base and her smart moves from that point on.

The way each of the rest of the characters have dealt with Ward’s betrayal has allowed us to get to know them better. As Fitz searched for another explanation and stubbornly held onto the notion that Ward wasn’t as bad as he seemed, we learned more about what makes him tick. The way Simmons gently nudged him to accept the truth also showed us her true colors. We didn’t just hear them say how they felt about each other; we saw it in their actions. May’s role in the T.A.H.I.T.I. project is now out in the open, and her loyalty to Coulson is no longer in question. The way they teased her as the mole leading up to “Turn, Turn, Turn” was a clever bit of misdirection.

Courtesy of Disney/ABC.

This new, heightened state of pressure has conversely brought a lighter tone to the writing. We’re getting bits like last week’s incoming file, May and Coulson cosplaying as Fitz and Simmons, and May actually cracking jokes: “Watch out, Hydra. Here we come.” There was even a meta-acknowledgement of the problems with Skye as a character with the revelation that her legal name is literally Mary Sue.

It’s good to see the writers no longer taking things so seriously and employing the kind of trademark quips that have made Whedon’s work a joy to watch, even as he was ripping out your heart. For so long, the tone of the show as been uneven, but it feels like the writers have finally realized that they’re making a show with comic-book origins set in the world of international super-spies. There’s fun hardwired into the concept, but we hadn’t seen much of it until now.

We’ll see if that trend continues in this week’s season finale. Since it was made before the pick-up was announced, I expect a resolution to the events of the last few episodes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they reset the table for the next season. Which, by the way, I’m really glad we’re going to get. That’s something I might not have said in the middle of this season. But if they manage to keep up the trajectory they’re on, I predict we’re in for a wild ride and I’ll be firmly on board.

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season finale, “Beginning of the End,” airs tomorrow night on ABC at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Wander Over Yonder Gives Fans What They Want

Image courtesy of Disney.

The last time I spoke with Craig McCracken, his new animated series Wander Over Yonder was about to premiere on the Disney Channel. I caught up with him again recently at the opening of “Man vs. Machine: The Robot Show,” the latest in-house art exhibition to grace the walls of Disney’s Television Animation studio in Glendale, California (you can read all about it here). Now that the show has been airing for a while, I asked him how he’s felt about the response he’s gotten from the audience.

“A lot of times what happens is there’ll be things that we’re doing organically in the show that we really like, and then we see that audiences respond to that same thing,” he said. “It kind of gives us the encouragement that all right, that was the right path. That was the right choice. So we’ve definitely being doing that. I mean, we see what the fans are responding to and we love those exact same things for the exact same reasons, so we’re happy to continue doing those things for fans.”

One of the unexpected reactions McCracken has found is just how popular the show’s main antagonist, Lord Hater (voiced by Keith Ferguson), has become. He may be out to conquer the universe and rule it with an iron fist, but deep down he’s just an overgrown adolescent riddled with insecurities. His relationship with Jack McBrayer’s Wander is more complicated than it seems, and McCracken plans to exploit those depths in the episodes to come.

Image courtesy of Disney.

“We found that Lord Hater is kind of a breakout star character,” McCracken said. “People just love him. And we love writing for him. And even though he’s a villain, he’s really just sympathetic and really lovable, so we’ve kind of embraced that. We love him and the fans love him, so you’re going to learn more about him. He’s not as evil as he says he is. He’s a lot more vulnerable than he maybe portrays. And we also learn more about what Wander’s trying to do with Hater. He’s kind of slowly trying to wear him down and just make him his friend, because he knows that deep down, somewhere inside of him, there’s a good guy. And Wander’s just kind of going to keep persisting until he finally gets that guy to come out.”

There’s a certain aesthetic appeal to Hater’s design as well. With a hooded skull face and lightning bolt embellishments reminiscent of 1980s death metal, there’s a bit of a nostalgic quality to his aesthetic. McCracken promises even more of that to come.

“There’s one episode where Hater’s feeling down in the dumps and he doesn’t know if evil’s the same as it used to be, so Peepers takes him out in his own van. So we have an old van with a skull painted on the side of it. And they kind of go out and they’re just kind of doing what bullies or teenagers do when they’re being rowdy. They kind of just get back to the rudimentary thing of being jerks.”

That episode will be part of a run of brand new episodes premiering this summer on Disney XD. (Reruns will still air on the Disney Channel, but XD is Wander Over Yonder’s new official home.) McCracken said he’s looking forward to the opportunity to reach even more viewers.

“I’m really excited about it because it’s some of our best work from the season,” he said. It’s going to be airing right at the time when they’re doing a big push for shows in the summer. Wander’s been normally premiering at night, but I’m curious to see how it’s going to do in the mornings or in the daytime, because it’s a really bright and sunny and positive and energetic show. It seems like the kind of show where after you watch it, you want to go outside and run around. Wander kind of gets you excited about having fun.”

Man vs. Machine: Disney Artists Take on Robots

From L to R, Disney Television Animation’s Craig McCracken, Sam Levine, Dan Povenmire, Lisa Salamone-Smith, Eric Coleman, Daron Nefcy, and President of Disney Channels Worldwide Gary Marsh. Photo credit: Rick Rowell/Disney Channel.

From the outside, Disney’s Television Animation studio doesn’t look like much. There’s no giant wizard’s hat out front like the Feature Animation building or seven stone dwarves holding up the roof like the Team Disney building on the Burbank lot. Driving through the gate and into the parking lot of the nondescript brick building in an industrial part of Glendale, you’d never know that it’s currently the home of some of the company’s most creative and prolific talents. At least, not until you step inside.

The small lobby is filled with computer screens showing clips and promos from many of the shows in production: Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Sofia the First, Gravity Falls, and the phenomenally popular Phineas and Ferb. Up one flight, down the hall and just past the cereal bar there’s a unique space that serves as an in-house art gallery, where staff members are invited to show original pieces they’ve created in their spare time. The art is periodically rotated and usually centered around a theme. GeekMom was invited to the opening reception for the latest exhibition, titled “Man vs. Machine: The Robot Show,” where some of the biggest names in the world of television animation mingled and appreciated the work of their colleagues.

Kimberly Mooney, manager of development at Disney Television Animation, explained that the rotating gallery was always imagined as a part of the studio’s office space from the very beginning. “It goes all the way back to when this building was being renovated and built for us to be an animation studio,” she said. “We wanted a dedicated space where we could showcase the artists’ art, their personal artwork. It helps to establish that real sense of community we have here.”

Alex Rosenberg, an assistant at the studio, added that everyone is welcome to submit work to the shows, even if they’re not professional artists. “Eric Coleman, our SVP, actually put in a piece this time,” she said. “And we have work from people who are in tech and a coordinator on our current series side who did one. We have writers who submitted pieces. It’s a really nice way to showcase the talent that’s here at TVA and celebrate artists who are outside of what we normally define as artists.”

Povenmire with his piece “Girl vs. Machine.” Photo credit: Rick Rowell/Disney Channel.

Phineas and Ferb co-creator Dan Povenmire contributed “Girl vs. Machine,” a drawing of his two daughters taking on a massive wave of technology with a pair of slingshots. “The theme was ‘Man vs. Machine’ and I was thinking about it for a while and I was like, ‘Screw it, I should just do “Girl vs. Machine” and then I can put my daughters in it and then I’ll have a place to put it when I’m done with it,” Povenmire said. “And they love it. They’re like, ‘That’s us!’ And they like looking at all the little things in there and trying to figure out what they are. Like, ‘Oh, there’s our Zoomer dog. That’s our boom box!’ I put a lot of other stuff in there too. I was basically just doodling for a day.”

He enjoys the opportunity for self-expression the gallery offers and the chance to see what the other Disney artists are all about. “We’re all in the same building but everybody who is working on a show is really working on one piece of art that they’re all doing together,” he said. “It’s a big, collaborative piece of art. And nobody gets to see what these people actually think of themselves if you just say, ‘Hey, go off in a direction.’ I love seeing the kind of stuff that people do at home. It sort of gives you a different feel for them. And it’s gotten so I can tell different people’s art, though it’s nothing like what people do here.”

I also got to chat with Craig McCracken during the event. He’s currently the creator and executive producer of Disney Channel’s Wander Over Yonder, but you might also be familiar with his earlier creations The PowerPuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. His piece, “Taishi,” features a graphic, 70s-inspired profile of a humanoid robot with flowing yellow and orange locks.

McCracken and his robot “Taishi.” Photo credit: Rick Rowell/Disney Channel.

I asked McCracken which piece in the show was his favorite. “I’m leaning toward Alex Kirwan’s,” he said. “He’s my art director on Wander and he built a model of a very obscure robot from a Donald Duck cartoon. It’s like so inside baseball because he’s in this one specific Donald Duck cartoon. And he’s like, ‘I’m going to make a sculpture of that.’ I’m like, ‘I think only you and like 10 people in this building are going to know who that character is and appreciate it.’ But if anyone would, it’s the people here.”

Phineas and Ferb Creator Dan Povenmire on the Big Star Wars Crossover Episode

PhineasandFerbStarWarsAfter their successful Marvel crossover episode last summer, the creative forces behind Disney’s popular animated series Phineas and Ferb turned to another corner of the studio’s media empire for inspiration—Lucasfilm. Yes, “Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars” is on its way to Disney Channel this summer and fans of both franchises are eager to see what happens when “Doof meets Darth.”

I recently had an exclusive chance to talk to Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz himself, AKA Phineas and Ferb co-creator and executive producer Dan Povenmire, at the opening of Man vs. Machine: The Robot Show, an in-house art exhibition at Disney Television Animation’s offices in Glendale, Calif. (more on that event to come). We talked about his reverence for the Star Wars legacy and how this special will be different from the animated spoofs that have come before.

“We’re doing it completely different than other people have done Star Wars,” Povenmire said. “Like, Family Guy and Robot Chicken have done Star Wars where they sort of make fun of the characters or have their characters as those characters. And we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to leave Star Wars alone as though it was sacred.”

We’ll see the gang embark on their own adventure, in typical Phineas and Ferb fashion, as the events of A New Hope unfold in the background. At the start of the story, Phineas and Ferb are living one moisture farm away from Luke Skywalker, until a certain escape pod arrives carrying a certain pair of familiar droids. When the plans for the unfinished Death Star get knocked out of R2-D2 in the Tatooine desert, it’s up to the gang to ensure they are delivered safely to the rebels. Of course, their task is made more difficult by their “Stormtrooper-like” sister Candace, ever intent on busting the rebels, and the evil Dr. Darthenschmirtz’s latest creation, the “Sith-inator.”

Ferb, Povenmire, co-creator Swampy Marsh, and Phineas at last summer’s D23 Expo.

“The stories interact, but nothing ever changes what’s happening in the original Star Wars,” Povenmire explained. “If there’s a scene from the original Star Wars, it’s exactly the way it happened in the movie. We have things like the famous shot of Luke looking out at the sunset, and then we widen out and Perry is pushing R2-D2 past him in the background. So it’s all stuff that happens just off screen. Or their stuff is happening just off screen.”

I asked him if was his decision to keep the original story more or less intact or if it was a restriction handed down from the powers that be. He said that he and his team made the creative choice out of love and reverence for the source material.

“We were much more precious with the Star Wars storyline than even I think Lucasfilm was,” he said. “We were like, ‘We don’t want to touch anything. We don’t want anything to be different in Star Wars.’ And I think that’s what they really responded to. They could see that we were in love with Star Wars as much as they were. I think they’re a lot less precious with it.”

I pointed out that Star Wars is having a big moment right now, with the new cast just announced this week and more goodies to come this weekend in celebration of Star Wars Day on May the 4th. He said he’s following the news closely and is just excited as the rest of the fans for the new live-action sequel, directed by J.J. Abrams: “I’m very excited about all the new Star Wars stuff, and I think J.J. is the guy to do it. I think he did such a good job with, well, everything he’s touched basically. I’m a big fan.”

Ben From Parks And Recreation Loses It When He Gets An Iron Throne

Image: Parks and Recreation
Image: Parks and Recreation

There are things out there for every fandom that are just so cool, that so perfectly capture that fandom, that they can make any fan go a little nuts.

Lightsabers and blasters with the right lights and sound effects top the list for Star Wars fans. Communicators that you can put on your shirt and tap to hear that little beep sound are up there for Star Trek nerds. And for Game of Thrones fans, it would have to be the Iron Throne.

I am by no means a hardcore fan of the series and I’ve only read the first book because it was 700 pages of description that made my eyes bleed, but I do like the show and I can not wait for its return. Last year, at SXSW, they had a replica of the Iron Throne and you better believe I waited my turn in line to sit and have my picture taken pretending I ruled Westeros.

It was ridiculously fun and people were all giddy and smiley like a bunch of kids, but no one’s reaction tops this one from a deleted scene in Parks and Recreation. It’s from the episode titled Anniversaries in which Leslie gifts Ben with his very own Iron Throne.

His reaction is somewhat over-the-top. No, in reality, it’s exactly what every fan of every fandom does when presented with something this amazing to call their own. We may not do it out loud, but in our heads, this is exactly, precisely the scene that plays out.

While we might be saying, “Hey, cool, you got me an Iron Throne. Thanks,” in our heads we’re saying “Oh. My. God. You got me an Iron Throne! An Iron Throne! Mine! Mine! Mine!” only with many more exclamation points.

Enjoy this slice of Game of Thrones fandom and you’ll wish it was you in your office. Or maybe it’d look better as the centerpiece of your living room?

(via Nerd Approved)

That Time Zombies Reached Out From a NYC Sidewalk Grate [Video]

Walkers Lurk Below the Streets of NYC, Image: AMC

Thanks to The Walking Dead, zombies are all the rage these days. It doesn’t even have to be Halloween anymore for people to make zombie references. You’ll see untold numbers cosplaying as zombies at every convention, and if you live in New York City, they may have grabbed your ankles through a sidewalk grate.

I hate walking over those big grates because I was once told a horrible story about one giving way and a person falling to their untimely death. I was maybe eight at the time, but it’s stayed with me and to this day I hate walking over those grates.

Thanks to AMC, I’m thinking there are a few New Yorkers who will never, ever, ever walk over them again.

To promote the return of The Walking Dead this Sunday night at 9pm, they staged a little prank. It started with setting up what looked like a construction project complete with orange-vested workers and a big tent erected over a section of grates near Union Square.

The fake workers installed modified grates with spots that would pop loose for zombie hands to reach through while makeup artists create a little horde of Walkers. The Walkers crawled into the space beneath the grates and then all they had to do was wait for innocent, oblivious New Yorkers to wander past.

Yup, never walking over a sidewalk grate again. Ever. For the rest of my life.

Open Letter to The Weather Channel II: Is This a Weather War?

The Weather Channel needs to step up their game to compete against the likes of WeatherNation and the upcoming AccuWeather Channel; those latter networks will be presenting views with the weather! Imagine that! Screen capture: The Weather Channel.
Screen capture: The Weather Channel.

Dear Weather Channel,

It’s me again. I had spoken out back in March about your long-form programming choices, integration of seemingly-unrelated NBC news into your weather products, and naming of winter storms. I don’t need to beat that dead horse.

But now I’d like to ask you to listen to your audience just a little. It’s apparent when you’re asking for more money for DirecTV to air your network that you’re living in a dream world. It seems to me that with all the media rhetoric about your programming choices and naming of winter storms, you’d get the hint:

The public wants The Weather Channel to show…wait for it…wait for it…the weather.

I understand that it’s expensive to do that. And that advertisers are resistant to offering you money on a gamble that their purported audience might catch their ad in their 5-10 minutes of dedicated viewing per day.

Do you see the advertisement at the bottom of this local forecast? Who says you can't advertise on weather programming? Image credit: Matthew Sittel, used with permission.
Do you see the advertisement at the bottom of this local forecast? Who says you can’t advertise on weather programming? Image credit: Matthew Sittel, used with permission.

But things are changing. Television as an institution is changing. Advertisers can’t be using “long form programming” as an excuse to not do business with you anymore. Viewers use their smartphones and tablets to view news and weather. They use Netflix to binge-watch their favorite shows well after the season ends. For those rare instances we watch live TV, we record it on our DVRs and start viewing 11-22 minutes after the show starts so we can fast forward through commercials.

DirecTV CEO Mike White issued a rebuttal yesterday to The Weather Channel’s media storm imploring the public to demand the return of the network to DirecTV or else cancel their service altogether. White’s message is pretty sobering:

A growing number of customers have complained that The Weather Channel devotes 40% of its programming day to reality shows, preempting the hard weather news they really want. Why should you pay for 100% weather information, and only receive it 60% of the time?

We conducted a very thorough evaluation of the usage and value of The Weather Channel, and we determined it was worth one-quarter of the price The Weather Channel is demanding for their programming.

So no matter what you’re trying to earn from advertising, if you aren’t showing the weather on The Weather Channel, you won’t have the viewers. I can watch total strangers operating vehicles in extreme conditions on Discovery and The History Channel. I don’t need names to winter storms when no other meteorology colleagues are going to follow suit. Perhaps you can consider returning to grass roots graphics and presentation styles? Delve deep into the meteorology. Americans can look up anything on Wikipedia now, feel free to use the words “vorticity” and “eyewall replacement cycle“! You don’t need to invest so much in the sexy flat screens and stylish clothing. If your information is presented accurately and in a timely manner, you’ll get your audience back.

Who remembers forecasts like these? With Kenny G playing? Image credit: Matthew Sittel, used with permission.

You’ll have to work extra hard now that there might be up to FOUR 24/7 weather networks available to Americans by year’s end. Take a hint from WeatherNation, the startup network that DirecTV has elected to replace you with. Watching their live stream through their website** brought back so many memories of that 1980s-esque Weather Channel I have been missing for so long.

AccuWeather recently announced a 24/7 television network just for the weather, and the Network Weather Company (co-founded by former Weather Channel on-air meteorologist Dave Schwartz) announcing plans in December to start their own 24/7 network in October 2014…also promising to provide nothing but the weather.

**I have Xfinity cable television at my house. Since it’s a Comcast-owned company, like The Weather Channel, I get the feeling I won’t be seeing WeatherNation through my cable provider for a long time. But at least WeatherNation, unlike The Weather Channel, offers live webstreaming of their feed. Thanks to WeatherNation for that.

This past month there’s been quite a bit of discussion about weather media, both in terms of the flood of meteorological data being made available on television, as well as the business impacts of these announcements. I suggesting reading both blog posts for some additional analysis on the matter.

I don’t watch The Weather Channel anymore. It doesn’t work for my family and me. Once upon a time I had it on for upwards of 4 hours per day. But you lost me a couple years ago.


GeekMom Patricia
Former Weather Channel Biggest Fan

Relax With the Crawleys in Behind The Scenes at Downton Abbey

Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey, Image: St. Martin's Press
Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey, Image: St. Martin’s Press

Season Four of Downton Abbey doesn’t premiere in the U.S. until January 5th, but if you just can’t wait that long for its return, then you’ll love Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey.

This beautiful book is loaded with full-color photographs of the cast, sets, and many costumes used to create the period drama. It also has interviews and behind-the-scenes details about how they so perfectly capture life at Downton Abbey.

It’s not actually at a place called Downton Abbey, but at Highclere Castle and more often than you’d expect at Ealing Studios. You’ll get a look at how they transform those locations into the Downton Abbey we all love and how they add to the real furniture and décor to make it perfect for the period.

There’s not a person out there who hasn’t marveled at the incredible costumes seen on screen and there are loads of details about the work that goes into making it all look just so. Learn how they recreate period costumes and make styles of dress unique to each character and how the evolving fashions reflect the changes the characters experience each season.

Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey also has some interesting behind-the-scenes details about just how much effort it takes to recreate something like a single dinner. Ever wondered how much food they need to prepare to get through filming a meal? This book will answer that question.

Fans of Downton Abbey will love getting a deeper look at the characters, costumes, and locations that bring their series to life, but be warned. This book covers seasons one through four, so if you haven’t seen the fourth season, then you may want to wait until the show returns in the U.S. on January 5th before you crack open the pages.

Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey is now available for $29.99.

GeekMom received this book for review purposes.

Geeking Out Over the Emmy Nominations

Major excitement in the Supporting Actress category. Photos from PBS, HBO

Today’s the big day! It’s Emmy nomination day. Emmy brought with her much good news for TV-loving geeks. Let’s have a look at some of the interesting categories.

Outstanding Drama Series
Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Mad Men

Among the GeekMoms, there are avid fans of all of those shows. Of them all, I think Game of Thrones had the best season. I came late to the GoT party, but I’ll be wrecked about that Red Wedding for a while. I’m secretly hoping for House of Cards to win, though. Netflix has really stuck its neck out to change the landscape of television and deserves to be rewarded for it. Hopefully, it means more quality shows headed our way.

My money’s also on Kevin Spacey to win for House of Cards, though there were points in the series where his character Francis Underwood sank so low I almost stopped watching. Game of Thrones was woefully not represented in the Lead Actor in a Drama category, unfortunately. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau had a great season as Jaime Lannister.

Outstanding Comedy Series
30 Rock
Modern Family
The Big Bang Theory

30 Rock is a favorite here, celebrating one of my favorite geeky women, Liz Lemon. It’s hard not to love some of those other choices, too (Louie!), though I’m the lonely geek that doesn’t love The Big Bang Theory. What’s sorely missing on this list, though is Parks and Recreation, with my favorite geek couple on television, Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt. Did you see the episode where Ben’s eBay username was Tyrion Lannister as he tried to by Leslie a waffle iron? Adorable. Better yet, see how Amy Poehler would recast Game of Thrones with Parks and Recreation characters. I’ll take comfort in the fact that Amy Poehler is nominated for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Emmy also snubbed Nick Offerman. His Ron Swanson is one of the best characters on television. Speaking of best characters (and Tyrion Lannister), I’m rooting for Peter Dinklage to win Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. (Sorry, Mr. Carson.)

The category I’m most looking forward to, though, is this:

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Anna Gunn as Skyler White, Breaking Bad
Maggie Smith as Dowager Countess of Grantham, Downton Abbey
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, Game of Thrones
Morena Baccarin as Jessica Brody, Homeland
Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris, Mad Men
Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart, The Good Wife

That’s right, people, the Dowager Countess is up against the Mother of Dragons.

What could be better? Of course, I love all of those other women, too, though Christina Hendricks was woefully underused last season. (You hear me, Matthew Weiner? Need. More. Joan.)

You can see all of the Emmy nominations on the Emmy website, and wait with me until September 22 when we’ll find out who wins.

Who are you rooting for?

YouTube Launches Paid Channels With Many Kid Shows

YouTube Franklin channel
YouTube Franklin channel

Some of you remember when it was crazy to get more than 20 or 30 channels on your TV. Some of you even remember when you got more than two channels. YouTube has one million channels. Today they’re starting a pilot of a paid subscription program for certain partners among those million channels.

Subscription fees start at $0.99 per month (some with discounts for yearly subscriptions), and they all have a 14-day free trial. There are 53 channels in the initial pilot, most of which you won’t recognize from traditional TV. A few you likely do know include UFC, Franklin, and Jim Henson Family TV. The latter means legal, online, paid access to Sid the Science Kid, Fraggle Rock, the Pajanimals, and more. NatGeo Kids is on the list, as well as several other kid-friendly channels. The blog post about the launch mentions that Sesame Street will have a paid channel as well, though it’s not yet in the list. See the whole list of pilot channels.

Make Your Date with Jon Stewart

The terribly exciting exterior of The Daily Show’s studio. Photo: Amy Kraft

Living in New York City, we try to make the most of what the city has to offer. We hit the museums often, try out new restaurants when we can, and take in the occasional Broadway show. One thing that never occurs to us to do is go see a taping of a TV show, except for that one time I went with a group of friends to see Regis host Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Then a couple weeks ago, my husband came across the @Spiffomatic64 Twitter feed, which provides up-to-the minute news on tickets for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. My husband went to a taping of The Colbert Report when it first came on the air and was easy to get tickets, but somehow tracking down tickets to The Daily Show seemed hard. And we’re lazy like that. But with @Spiffomatic64, *poof* we had ticket reservations with no problem. They even list tickets for same day, so it’s definitely worth having a look if you’re passing through town or have an afternoon to kill.

A tweet from the day of our taping.

And it does take all afternoon. First there’s ticket pickup, which opens at 2:30 but people probably start lining up for around 1:00. You only need one person from your group to take on this task. My husband got there around 2:00 and was number 134. Everyone else in your group has to pick up tickets by 4:00. The line-up in numbered pens began at 4:30. (I’m making it sound more like cattle than it seemed. It was quite civilized.) While in the numbered areas, people came by to tell us the rules. First the little hipster kid gave us the run down of how it would all play out: We’ll get into the studio where everyone has to stay in their seat. We can go to the bathroom now if we want. Jon will come out for a Q&A before the show, etc., etc. The best part was this kid talking about the Q&A: “Just don’t be weird. Think about your question in your head, and if it sounds a little weird to you it’s going to be super weird to everyone else. So don’t be weird.” Then the guy who looked more like Secret Service came out as an enforcer to the rules. I have no picture of inside the studio to show you because no way was I going to face the wrath of this guy.

Entrance to the studio. Photo: Amy Kraft

At last, we were seated in the studio. We were numbers 134 and 135, and only a handful of people made it in after us (they overbook, so here’s where the getting early to the ticket line comes into play). For the first 15 minutes or so, it was very exciting just to check out all of the details of the set, which is amazing in person. We were hoping to see a green-screen correspondent segment because we couldn’t figure where they would record them on set. We were in the very back row of the studio, which doesn’t feel as intimate as it does on TV, but it was still a great view. Then there was more waiting while listening to incredibly loud music. I realized that without my electronic devices, I’ve totally forgotten how to wait. It was hard not to get antsy knowing I could be using this time to check work emails, seeing as how I was playing hooky to go see The Daily Show.

I joked with my husband about the warm-up act for Regis. You know that comic Paul Mercurio? I never got off his mailing list after he was working the crowd outside Millionaire. Sure enough, out comes Paul Mercurio, who again passed out paper to get people on his mailing list. Way to hustle.

Finally, out comes Jon Stewart for the Q&A. The audience, despite the hipster’s warning, was totally weird. One girl had this whole thing about making Jon a bumper sticker and it was her friend’s birthday and then this funny happened to them… Jon couldn’t get a word in edgewise. One girl asked him what he would ask Jane Austen if he had her on as a guest back from the dead. I can only imagine what he got asked before the ‘weird’ warning. You can see why he’s always making jokes at the audience’s expense. Audiences are weird.

Then it was showtime. There were monitors throughout the studio which showed the show as it looks at home, with the graphics and clips put in. I kept finding myself watching the monitor and not the desk, until I remembered that real-life Jon Stewart was just to the left of that monitor. The first segment was all about the latest Republican primary debate, with lots of Santorum footage. For more, Jon turned to Senior Political Analyst John Oliver, who was hilarious.

This segment ends with a brilliantly-crafted joke, which John Oliver flubbed a little bit. I was curious if they were going to redo it. During the commercial break, Jon and a couple of others (writers? producers?) leaned way over the desk in John Oliver’s face looking all serious. I watched a lot of The Larry Sanders Show back in the day, which made me really wonder what they were talking about and if it had anything to do with what they had just taped. They didn’t end up redoing anything, and John Oliver headed off with a friendly wave.

The guest was Paul Rudd. Why, yes, since you ask, he is even more adorable in person. He came out with candy for the crowd, which gives you a chance to see the extent of the studio audience. The interview was basically all about candy. I left the show starving for some Smarties.  He didn’t get the extended interview, so after a couple of minutes off he went. Then Jon reshot one joke from the first segment for time, and that was it. He came back out, thanked us for coming, and bid us adieu as we headed out into the night.

It was definitely worth doing, and it’s made me want to see more. Colbert is on my list, and it seems like we should see Saturday Night Live at least once. My sister heard we were seeing The Daily Show and demanded that I get her Jimmy Fallon tickets the next time she’s in town. Anyone got an inside scoop on that one?

What would you go see given the chance?

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind: The Attention Span Of A Toddler

Image: Sarah Pinault

When my son was born we swore we wouldn’t use a pacifier. On the second night in hospital, after nursing for two hours straight and 18 hours without a nap (me that is), we heeded the nurse’s words “It’s okay to use a pacifier you know.” Those four hours of sleep were so worth it.

When he became inter-active a short while later, we swore we wouldn’t let him watch television. We were going to be those parents that followed the warnings of pediatricians everywhere – no TV till two years of age. We ignored the fact that I was a Jungle Book junkie as a child and that my husband’s obsession with Super Grover is as old as he is. I don’t recall when that one went by the way side, but to the way side it went.

By this point we had watched a few Disney movies with him, though he lost interest after ten minutes or so. A cute British cartoon about a family of pigs, Peppa Pig, was our gateway drug. The cartoons were 4 or 5 minutes long and therefore a nice reward for him, a nice quiet few moments of snuggling for me. Then Toy Story 3 entered our lives,  then Cars. We relaxed the rule. TV was okay, but no way were we going to allow TV to babysit our son.

Unless he had just thrown up, or one of us had the flu and the other needed a few minutes, or one of us needed the bathroom. It was never for something frivolous like facebook, or everyday like making dinner.

It was never for more than a few moments, but the television slowly became a tool in our parenting arsenal instead of a rare treat. Every other day, every other diaper change, instead of once a week. So we tried to cut back even more. However toddlers are surprisingly vocal about their preferences, and since he knew where the DVDs were and could identify the movie by the avatar-esque picture on the spine, we were sunk. After ten minutes of screaming for Buzz and confinement to the crib, I realized that it was more about me than him.

My husband has strong will power, but watching movies with my parents was one of my favorite things as a child. Sunday afternoons in front of The Simpsons with my dad became a daddy-daughter thing that lasted until I went to college. So with my son, I was harder to wean. I moved the DVDs  into the hallway, he still asked for them but less often. Then I moved them into the entertainment center, behind the doors, with a child (parent) lock. He doesn’t ask for them anymore, and honestly, it’s no longer my go to for a five minute distraction. Now I have been reminded that I can hand him a book or his fire truck, I do. I can actually let him complain at me for a few minute as well, who knew? I’m not suite sure whether I retrained him or myself, but out of sight, out of mind really worked for us.

Just to clarify, my son doesn’t have attention issues, nor was he showing signs of being endangered by the evil of television. He is extremely active and runs circles around me. He plays with all his toys constantly and would rather be in our woods than anywhere else. Just the other day he heard a piece of music, listened for a moment and then said “Mozart.” This wasn’t a problem I wanted to fix because it was affecting him adversely for the long term, it really was more of an issue for me than for him.

It was something I felt I needed to address before he grows a little more, and either of us becomes dependent. I would like him to have options and TV will always be one of them, I just hope he chooses it less often than I do sometimes. Maybe I should hide my Buffy and West Wing collections!

Happy 45th Anniversary, Star Trek

Once upon a time, there lived a man. This man was a dreamer. This man had hopes and visions of a better future, a future built upon true equality and mutual respect. This man’s name was Gene Roddenberry.

Gene had an idea. He wanted to share his dream and his ideals. The way he did this was through a television series called Star Trek. However, many people at the time did not want Gene to share his dream. He was told that it was too cerebral, too liberal, too unbelievable.  It took a lot of work for him to find someone willing to embark on this dream with Gene. But Gene did not give up. After five years of a lot of hard work and dedication, on September 8, 1966, Star Trek aired for the first time.

What aired for the first time was not Gene’s original vision. The original pilot, titled The Cage, which Gene started to create in 1964 and was completed in 1965, was rejected for a variety of reasons. Among the reasons was that, even among feminists of the time, the idea of a female first officer was simply unbelievable and insulting. Gene was also told to get rid of the character of Mr. Spock, among other things. However, the network was still impressed enough to order a second pilot. After a lot of negotiations and recasting, including negotiations to keep the character of Mr. Spock, the second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before, is what audiences saw for the first time.

Today is an important date to me—aside from the fact that today my oldest is 16. The reasons why today is important to me are extremely difficult to articulate.

Out of every thing that has influenced the geeky nerd I’ve grown-up to be, Star Trek played the biggest and most important role. This role was so important, that it received its own short story in my book.

As this day started to approach, I tried my best to figure out how I would relay all the ways in which Gene’s vision shaped me, all the ways that Gene’s vision helped to save my life. Originally, I thought I would share the story from my book. But without the context of the rest of my book and the fact the story was written two years ago, I feel it doesn’t have the impact that I think is deserving of such a day.

Growing up, I did not have the best life. In fact, it was as far from ideal as one could get. Growing up, I was told, “Don’t be silly, you can’t do that”, instead of, “Give it shot”. Star Trek taught me that I was capable of anything as long as I held on to my dreams. Star Trek taught me that I have unlimited potential and possibility laying before me, that there is no obstacle or barrier to stop me except for myself, that my imagination is something to be cultivated and nurtured, not subdued. Star Trek helped shape the nerd I am today, giving me a love for both science and art.

These messages were further ingrained within me when Star Trek: The Next Generation first aired in 1987. The character of Wesley Crusher was a life-saver. It is because I was and continue to be Wesley Crusher. Even though I was never teased by my peers for being a geek and a nerd, I had a hard time growing up because of my above-average intelligence. I received straight As without ever studying. I have an almost eidetic memory. Socially, I was very awkward. I found it extremely difficult—and still do to this day—to relate to people my own age. I had a habit of correcting adults, all the time, because they were wrong. I skipped grade 7. I felt alone. Star Trek and specifically Star Trek: The Next Generation and the character of Wesley Crusher allowed me to feel as if I belonged to something. I was not alone. And I am certain others relate to this.

Star Trek has a place for every one, regardless of sex, gender, colour, sexual orientation, disability, religion, age and background. Star Trek challenged social norms of the time and forced viewers to think. Star Trek allows people to dream of the possibilities. Star Trek allows us to believe that, as a species, we can overcome great obstacles and become united as one. Star Trek inspires many to pursue jobs in science and space. Star Trek gives us hope. Star Trek has given me more gifts than I could ever articulate.

From the day I was born, I watched Star Trek. From the day my boys were born, they watched Star Trek. One thing that makes me quite sad is that my boys do not have a Star Trek, one filled with Gene’s vision of the future, that speaks to their generation. When the original Star Trek first aired, my dad was 12. When The Next Generation first aired, I was 11. My boys are now 12 and 16. There is talk of a new series, one that is supposedly going to be true to Roddenberry’s original concept. I hope this becomes a reality.

I tried to find a 45th Anniversary tribute video that really spoke to me. However, I’ve yet to find one that even comes close to doing the series justice like the following 40th Anniversary tribute video does. Watching it never fails to put something in my eyes.

On October 24, 1991, Gene Roddenberry passed away, leaving behind a legacy not soon forgotten. May his dreams and hopes for a better future live long and prosper.

What gifts has Star Trek given you?

Explore the Wonders of The Universe




Almost exactly one year ago, a new documentary series made its debut on BBC Two. Wonders of The Solar System, presented by the then relatively unknown Professor Brian Cox with whom I share a hometown, captured the imagination of the nation and launched Cox as a new star in the world of popular science. Since the show’s debut, this new celebrity scientist has appeared on our screens countless times as the modern and young voice of televised science. His enthusiastic attitude and (it must be said) boyish good looks winning over countless viewers and forging an interest in science within those who previously had none.

Cox’s remarkable way of explaining complex concepts and systems using just the objects around him – the salt and pepper shakers at a roadside café, stones lying on the desert floor – seems to have made him a hit with the public. His enthusiasm for his subject is infectious and his methods make the subject of physics, often perceived as too difficult for the man on the street, intelligible by anyone, even those scared away from the subject in school. The material is presented in such an easily accessible and friendly manner that Wonders could appeal to any age group, yet it never comes across as condescending. Instead you feel like a friend is trying to explain the subject to you, genuinely wanting you to love their topic as much as they do. Earlier this year, during the Quadrantids meteor shower, Cox teamed up with Ireland’s Dara O’Briain (a much loved and at present extremely popular stand up comedian in the UK) to present Stargazing Live from the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, home of the world famous Lovell Telescope. This three day long live event was broadcast on the BBC with the aim of getting the nation into their gardens and equipping them with the basics of astronomy. The event heavily involved social networking sites such as Twitter and became a truly interactive experience, which on the second night had an unexpected result when countless viewers messaged the show to point out a meteor which had sailed unspotted over the head of a presenter.

Tonight the first episode of Wonders of The Universe, the sequel to the first series of Wonders, airs in the UK to much anticipation. This series promises a broader scope, pushing out from the limits of our own solar system, although it sadly will only include four episodes, in contrast to the five of the first series with this first episode focuses on the concept and nature of time.

Ultimately, Brian discovers that time is not characterised by repetition but by irreversible change. From the relentless march of a glacier, to the decay of an old mining town, the ravaging effects of time are all around us. The vast Universe is subject to these same laws of change. As we look out to the cosmos, we can see the story of its evolution unfold, from the death of the first stars to the birth of the youngest. This journey from birth to death will ultimately lead to the destruction not just of our planet, but also the entire universe, and with it the end of time itself. – BBC Press Office

I am immensely excited to see this new show this evening. If Wonders of the Universe captures the imagination the same way as its predecessor, we are in for a real treat!

Wonders of The Universe begins Sunday March 6th at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC HD. The companion book is available now, the series will be available on DVD and Blu-ray from April 4th (UK release). Wonders of the Solar system is also available now on both DVD and Blu-ray and a companion book is available for this series.

Wonders of The Solar System airs on the Science Channel in the USA.