2006_01_joshselig_big.jpgVital Stats

- Josh Selig
- 41 years old
- Born on the Upper West Side, now lives in Battery Park City overlooking the water.
- Founder and president, Little Airplane Productions

Josh's world:

You appeared on Sesame Street as a child -- do you think that affected your eventual career trajectory?
Absolutely. Growing up on the set of Sesame Street scarred me for life. My childhood was a blur of furry monsters, alphabets, and googly eyes. I thought Hooper's Store was a real store, and I was confused when they wouldn't take my money. I had no other choice but to pursue a career in children's television. Who else would have me?

Why the interest in pre-school programming? Do you have kids of your own?
I make pre-school shows because I believe that human beings peak at age four.

Also, I am very immature.

I have no children. But I would like to have three. Why, do you know somebody?

Having won 10 Emmys for your work on Sesame Street, just how big is your mantle?
I don't actually like the Emmys or awards of this nature. I think competition should be reserved for things like thumb-wrestling where there is an actual winner. Most creative awards just make people feel bad, and usually there is a political aspect to the voting. The only Emmy I have that I really like is the one at my mom's house because she likes it, and when she looks at it, it makes her feel proud.

What was it like being a consultant on the international editions of Sesame Street? Any particular favorites?
That was a really interesting job, and I got to fly business class. In business class they give you warm nuts. But when you land, no matter how far you have flown, nobody claps. My favorite "co-production" was the Israeli-Palestinian version of Sesame Street. I was the Resident Producer, and my job was to take taxis between Tel Aviv and Ramallah and make sure the two production teams played nice with one another. There were two "streets," one was set in Israel and one was set in Palestine, and each day the furry little Muppets would visit one another and argue about things like whether falafel came from Israel or Palestine. It was a great job, but I found there was far too much arguing in general in that part of the world for me. When I returned home I decided to quit Sesame Street International and start my own business, Little Airplane Productions. We argue sometimes at my company but not nearly as much as they do in the Middle East.

Your new series, Wonder Pets! comes this Fall to Nick Jr. What can you tell us about it?
The Wonder Pets! is a new show about three classroom pets -- Linny the Guinea Pig, Ming-Ming Duckling and Turtle Tuck -- who travel the world saving other animals in distress. Each episode is a mini-opera, and the animals all sing much of their dialogue. It is really crazy and beautiful, if I do say so myself.

Thanks to our wonderful music producer, Jeffrey Lesser, we are able to work with some great composers such as Robert Lopez (Avenue Q), Michael John LaChiusa (See What I Wanna See), and Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years) .

The Wonder Pets! is animated in a style called "photo-puppetry animation" that was created by the smartest person I know, Jennifer Oxley. She is also the Creative Director at my company, a fact for which I am grateful every single day.

What’s trickier -- producing animation or working with children?
Animation is trickier for me because it is very high-tech, and I am very low-tech. I enjoy working with children because you can easily see what's on their minds or they will simply tell you. Grown-ups are a bit harder for me sometimes.

Wonder Pets! will also have orchestral scores. Music is such an integral part of your series -- why the emphasis?
Well, I like music. Kids like music. I also believe that kids have the right to hear high quality music. I think good music helps hotwire their brains for a deeper appreciation of quality music later in life. I have no evidence for this, but I know that I remember the great music on Bugs Bunny, but I cannot remember what they played on Romper Room.

Besides the old guard of Nick, Disney and PBS, it seems like other cable channels are getting into the kids business. Is it altruism, or are people realizing how big the pre-school business is?
Licensing is a very big business and it has attracted a variety of players to this field who couldn't care less about quality children's programming -- they simply view kids' shows as extended commercials for products. I think the better "old guard" broadcasters are very innovative with their programs, and they exercise restraint when it comes to what they sell and how they sell it. There are many enlightened network executives out there, particularly at places like Nick Jr., Playhouse Disney and PBS.

How much test-marketing goes into a series? How do you know when the show will work? Are there certain elements you’re always looking to include?
When I create a new show, I just go with my instincts. I try not to over think it. Thinking can kill any good idea. I learned to "go with my gut" early on from people like Amy Friedman at Noggin. She has one of the best guts in the business. Certainly all networks do a lot of focus-group testing, but I think everyone takes these results with a grain of salt. After all, making TV shows is not a science. Making a series can take many years, so I have to really like the show and the characters that I pitch to a network. (I apologize for the number of clichés in this paragraph.)

What sort of feedback do you get -- and does it tend to come from kids, parents, educators..?
We do work closely with a child-psychologist, Dr. Laura Gussoff Brown, on all the shows we make at Little Airplane. She is a really good egg. She writes a curriculum for each of our new shows and also helps us get feedback from kids on our scripts once the show is in production. She is very empathetic and one of my favorite things in life is to watch her talk to and listen to kids. If I were in therapy, I would want her to be my shrink.

Your show Oobi on Noggin features hand puppets. How did that idea come about? And in a world of whiz-bang gimcrackery, are kids really that enchanted by something so simple?
Simple is good.

Everything about Oobi is stripped down to the bare essentials: the writing, the puppets, the educational goals. What is left -- when it all works -- are clear stories and emotional performances unencumbered by lots of fur or feathers. We were able to work with some of the best puppeteers in the business -- Noel MacNeal, Tim Lagasse, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, and Tyler Bunch -- and this was key to pulling off a series in which there was simply nowhere for the performer to hide. Children seem to love Oobi! and many mothers seem to have developed a "thing" for Grampu.

I first got the idea for Oobi while watching puppeteers in Poland audition for a puppet show without using puppets. I was amazed at how much expression the better ones could get out of their bare hands.

Little Airplane also runs an Academy for adults interested in the business. What inspired you to host such classes? How’s it going? Can we expect the next generation of Sid and Marty Krofts?
The Little Airplane Academy teaches adults the basics of how to make a preschool show. The five-week course covers everything from pitching to directing to legal and business affairs. It is taught by the best people in the industry and is held in our production offices in Tribeca. The course is going very well. We have just begun our second session, and we are hoping to offer a three-day intensive course in the spring.

Speaking of the Krofts, what were your favorite shows as a child?
Gilligan's Island. Spiderman. Rocky & Bullwinkle. Magilla Gorilla. Bugs Bunny.

Your short, The Time Out Chair screened at the first Tribeca Film Festival. Is filmmaking an outlet you’re interested in pursuing as well?
I actually got my start making short films for Sesame Street and I've also made shorts for Playhouse Disney and a few other clients. I am very interested in growing as a filmmaker and I am currently working on a feature length script we hope to produce at Little Airplane in 2007. It will be a story about a young, angry girl who learns to make peace with the world.

Things to know about Josh:

What's the best thing you've ever purchased/salvaged off the street?
"Words For The Wind" by Theodore Roethke. I found it in the street at Astor Place and it changed my life.

Which city establishment sees more of your paycheck than you do?
The Tribeca Soho Animal Hospital. My kitty cat has diabetes. I have to give her two little insulin shots a day now. It is not as bad as it sounds. She's doing very well now.

Gotham Mad Lib: When the ____________ (noun) makes me feel ___________ (adverb), I like to _____________ (verb). (Strict adherence to "Madlib" rules is not required.)
When the Mad Lib question (noun) came up (verb) I was distraught (adjective).

Personality Problem Solving : Would you consider your personality more hysterical or more obsessive, and have you changed since living in New York; has "New York" become a part of you?
I am obsessive but I am really trying to get better. I was born on the Upper West Side so I cannot distinguish myself from New York City and I often confuse the two of us.

NYC Confessional: Do you have a local guilty pleasure?
I have become hooked on running each night by the Hudson River. It is very beautiful.

When you just need to get away from it all, where is your favorite place in NYC to be alone, relish in solitude and find your earthly happiness? (We promise not to intrude.)
Anywhere near water will do.

What's one thing you've done (or regularly do) in NYC that you could not have conceived doing anywhere else?

Assuming that you're generally respectful of your fellow citizens, was there ever a time when you had to absolutely unleash your inner asshole to get satisfaction?
I take out a lot of my aggression against the people who call my home to sell me things.

There are 8 Million stories in The Naked City. Tell us one, but try to keep it to a New York Minute.
I used to be a street performer, and I would juggle and eat fire outside some of the Broadway theatres. One night Dom DeLuise came out of a theatre and yelled at me because my shirt was untucked. He told me that everything mattered and that no detail, including an untucked shirt, should ever be overlooked or ignored. He was right. I also saw a sea lion (or maybe a seal) in the Hudson River last summer. It was real.

Wonder Pets! premieres March 3rd at 11:30 am on Nick Jr. Tell Josh what you think about it at: joshselig@littleairplane.com, and for more information about his company and their projects, visit www.littleairplane.com.

-- Interview by Lily Oei and Aaron Dobbs