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Thursday, May 02, 2013

Lisa Henson on Teeny Tiny Dogs, Teaching Happiness, and Her Father’s Influence

by Stephanie Reid-Simons

The canines are small, but the legacy is huge – Teeny Tiny Dogs is an Amazon Studios pilot from the Jim Henson Company (and created by Howard Baker of Rugrats fame).

 “Our company has had a long history of creating great dog characters and we knew that we could bring Howard’s vision to life in a fun, meaningful way with our Henson style of puppets,” said Jim Henson Company CEO Lisa Henson.

Teeny Tiny Dogs is one of 14 Amazon original pilots now playing for free at Amazon Instant Video and LOVEFiLM. Viewer response will help determine which of these shows return with full seasons.

We asked Lisa Henson about the show, what she would every parent and child to know about it, and her inspirations.

Describe Teeny Tiny Dogs …
Teeny Tiny Dogs follows four dogs - Butch, Butterfly, Dinky and Polly - as they help one another navigate the big world despite their teeny, tiny, small size. The series is for preschoolers and follows our company’s history of great, funny, entertaining puppetry.  As important, it also has a solid educational goal, promoting happiness in our young viewers through friendship, learning, growing and developing a strong sense of self.

Why did you want to tell this story, with these characters, in this world?
Teeny Tiny Dogs was created by Howard Baker.  Howard had worked with us on some previous projects and he’s a very talented artist and director.  He came to us with the little dog characters and we all just fell in love with them.  … And when we began developing the series, this wonderful curriculum emerged that centered on happiness, helping preschoolers build their self-esteem, confidence, and resilience.  We started to see that these four teeny tiny dogs could tell big important stories to our young audience at home.

What do you want every parent to know about your show? Every kid?
I want parents to know that many of us here at The Jim Henson Company are parents ourselves so when we develop a show for preschoolers, be it Sid the Science Kid, Dinosaur Train, Pajanimals or Teeny Tiny Dogs we take that responsibility seriously, even when the show we are creating is a lot of fun! Teeny Tiny Dogs is a great addition to our preschool projects because these are relatable characters that we know kids will see as friends they can trust and learn from.

I want kids to know that Teeny Tiny Dogs is a hilarious playdate with four of the greatest furry pals you’ll ever meet.
And I want everyone to know that what they are seeing now is not anywhere near a finished show!  This animatic is only a step in the development process and we use it to inform the look, tempo and story of the show.  We cut in just a couple of scenes with Dinky the puppet, but our final series will be a puppet production featuring puppets from our workshop performed by our renowned puppeteers.  Our completed show will have no animation, but we are presenting the animatic now to get feedback from our potential audience and parents.

How has the Amazon experience been?
I feel like we are literally watching Amazon change the way entertainment is created for children, and change the way families will enjoy that entertainment.  It is new to us to have our in-development work shown to the public at this early stage, but it is exciting to include our audience in this process and we welcome their response.

Tell us something about yourself, your influences, what inspires you.
I have been fortunate enough to be a part of The Jim Henson Company my whole life.  Watching my father, Jim Henson, create shows and characters that encouraged children to believe in themselves, imagine and aspire to reach their dreams was very inspiring to me and showed me that media can entertain, educate and make the world a better place.  I have been leading our company over the last ten years as we have created many new preschool properties that continue this legacy and it is an honor and privilege to do so.

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