I have always worked with children, and with teenagers. Professionally, the story probably begins with the development of Nickelodeon, the first children’s television channel, and with MTV, which was, at the time, the first channel intended for teenagers. At QUBE, we produced many children’s television programs involving a circus theme, magic, and irreverent fun. One notable pilot was Across the Board. There’s a clear through-line to the development, production and success of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?
Before and after, there have been many adventures in children’s publishing, product development, marketing, and lots of interaction with children and teenagers who helped to shape every product, every service, every character, every concept. For several years, development activities for new children’s television series, often addressing literacy, math, science, and technology, was concentrated at WGBH, Boston.
During Carmen, we partnered with LEGO on their first R&D for a television series. Cartoon Network’s first original series was The Moxy Pirate Show, made with then-new motion capture animation. Our team conceived, wrote and supervised Travels on the Silk Roads, a graphic interactive adventure for The Asia Society. HarperKIDS’ CD-ROM, Whatley’s Quest was lavishly illustrated to introduce young children to the wonders of the alphabet. A key component in CompuServe’s attempt to compete with the fast-growing AOL was the first children’s online service, a wonderful concept with endless information about growing up, animals, imagination and much more.
One standout from this period, noted by Newsweek as an especially innovative children’s product, was Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary for KIDS published by Mindscape. A complete reinvention of the dictionary, we made words fun. This followed development work for SONY on Beakman’s World, and a wide range of software development, business planning and marketing activities for every leading children’s software publisher, including The Learning Company, MECC (Oregon Trail), and many others.
In the midst of this effort was KIDSOFT, the Silicon Valley firm that partnered with so many children’s software publishers to help build an industry. The quarterly magazine featured stories about children, schools and families using computers, often for the first time. We operated AOL’s very first retail store, and a mail order catalog with hundreds of kid-tested, parent-approved products. The company was sold to Hearst, where development of a business plan for children’s software company continued.
Responding to the alarming high school drop out rate, we decided to address the problem closer to its roots: middle school students who were just beginning to consider their future. The result was The ‘A’ Game, produced to support the CPB American Graduate initiative. An interactive game now distributed for free use by PBS Learning Media, the product helps students to identify their own questionable behaviors, and brings likely scenarios to life. It’s produced to be fun, and change early thinking. One fifth grader told us, “I’ve never thought about my future before. Now, I will!”
Other: 30x30 KidFlicks, a student filmmaking festival series for HBO Family; an online service to combine homework help with an early form of social media for Infonautics; and a limited series of books called You Can Do It! to encourage teenagers to think about future careers for Little, Brown.
Newest project: A new internet service called Kids on Earth to connect children and teenagers around the world for fun, learning, and altruism. Our growing list of places where kids have been interviewed includes Uganda, Hong Kong, England, US (Kentucky, West Virginia), Slovenia, Sierra Leone, Pakistan, and more. These activities are currently based at The Annenberg School for Communication at The University of Pennsylvania.
Senior Vice President, KidSoft, early leader in children’s computing (acquired by Hearst)
Children’s program development, WGBH; extension of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?
Author, You Can Do It!, storytelling format to encourage wide-eyed career exploration
Strategic Marketing: Parker Brothers, Learning Company, Oregon Trail, Harper (Collins) KIDS, Hearst, more
Co-Executive Producer: On the Other Side of the Fence; winner, United Nations Public Service Award
Kids on Earth: Connecting children and teens throughout the world through personal storytelling (coming soon)
Copyright © 2019 by Howard Blumenthal. All rights reserved.