by Daniel Melfi
Two radio and television arts alumni have paired up with the creators of the Muppets to produce a new children’s show for TVOntario (TVO).
Mark Bishop and Matt Hornburg will serve as executive producers for Hi Opie!, which centres on a five-year-old character named Opie as he enters full-day kindergarten.
The show is co-distributed by Marblemedia, the company Bishop and Hornburg co-founded after graduating from Ryerson. According to Bishop, it’s currently in its pre-production stage.
“We are in the midst of designing our set and our writing team is working on creating heartwarming adventures for Opie and his classmates to embark on,” Bishop said.
Opie goes through the intellectual and emotional experiences of a child entering full-day kindergarten for the first time. With his realchildren classmates, he takes on the adventure of going to school.
“When we were first presented with the premise of Hi Opie!, we instantly knew it was the project for us,” Bishop said. “[It's] our first live-action preschool series [in which the] main character is a puppet.” They first started Marblemedia in Bishop’s dining room in 2001.
Since then, the company has grown into a successful content creation platform specializing in television and new media production.
“We developed it with Marblemedia and after the development was completed, we decided to go forward,” said Patricia Ellingson, TVO’s creative head of children’s and parents’ media. “Now we’re in the various outlines and script stages, as well as casting.” Bishop and Hornburg’s involvement with the production of Hi Opie! began when the Jim Henson Company reached out to marblemedia, said Bishop. The iconic company had been working on the concept with Barbara Slade, a writer for Angelina Ballerina and Rugrats.
Bishop first presented Hi Opie! to TVO as a draft concept. The importance of the values highlighted in the show and its relevance to Ontario families is what motivated the station to move forward with the concept, Ellingson said.
“The show takes place in a kindergarten and is set up in a way that is based on the new Ontario all-day kindergarten program,” Ellingson said. “It’s really about playbased learning and emphasizes that play is the platform for inquiry and exploration.”
The show will emphasize social skills as well as math, science and literacy skills. Learning to share, waiting your turn and communicating feelings are important lessons for children to learn in preparation for Grade 1, according to Ellingson.
“All of those things in the allday kindergarten program are really the springboards for the story ideas that you’ll see in the series,” Ellingson said.
The Jim Henson Company is creating the expressions and design of Opie from their own production studio.
“The process of creating his look with different fabrics and foams, as well as developing his facial expressions, has been a remarkable experience for us,” Bishop said.