PBS Kids has always prided themselves in providing young audiences with high-quality educational television. From Sesame Street to Arthur, you won’t find a shortage of learning material from the network. So Leslie Rotenberg, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Children’s Media and Education at PBS, made a few announcements about their shows that are currently on air and new ones that are currently in development while at this year’s TCAs.
Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman, a show that had aired from 2006 to 2010, but underwent a seven year hiatus, makes its triumphant return in 2018, as The Ruff Ruffman Show with five-time Emmy Award-winning voice actor Jim Conroy reprising his role as Ruff, as well as the voice of every character in the series, something that he’s been doing since the original show first aired. The Ruff Ruffman Show is an animated digital series digital series shown exclusively on PBSKIDS.com beginning September 28.
During the panel, the actor talked about working as a voiceover actor, how the show came to be, the show’s curriculum, and much more.
Conroy first got his start in 1997 where he voiced Claymation characters on Celebrity Death Match. But breaking into voiceover acting is “a tough nut to crack.” But after helping to specialize an internal voice message for a casting office, Conroy got more voiceover gigs, which eventually lead to his role(s) on Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman.
But as to why he does all the voices on Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman, Conroy said it all comes down to economics. “If I do all the voices, you only got to pay one dude,” Conroy said. “So that made sense to me. I can’t charge you guys by the voice. That’s mean,” he joked.
The voiceover actor had no problem creating more voices. In fact, he was more than happy to do it. Even if he was asked to do an accent he could not do, the actor did it anyway, because to him, “Whether I could do them or not was not important.” In fact, Glen Berger, the show’s head writer, told him, “The cheesier, the better.”
Ruff with Ruffman Show is best described as an inquiry based science curriculum. According to Marcy Gunther, the show’s head producer, the goal of the show is to educate young audiences about the process of doing science and what they call the science inquiry process, “which is how do you have a question? What pro do you go to to answer the question? How do you find out?”
Gunther proceeded to explain Ruff’s fearlessness to try new things makes him the perfect character for a show like this. According to her, Ruff isn’t afraid to try new things, make mistakes, or fail. She wants her audience to know that they should persevere. “That’s a really important skill that we want kids to take away when approaching science, that science is a process,” Gunther said. You’re not always going to get the right answer right away. And you have to learn from that process, and it’s and try again and reiterate.” She adds that you may even find an answer to a question that you weren’t even looking for. Which is the basis of science?
Because the show will be on a digital platform, they aren’t confined to the rules of a runtime, and because of that, they can play around with the rules while also staying true to the show. Gunther says there will be series of 20 videos that were produced in a batch of five. The show will be split into different kinds of sciences ranging from wearable science and sports science to kitchen chemistry, and structures. Each of them will have a unique storyline, and the viewer can watch them separately or binge them all together at once.
Gunther does get a lot of feed back from educators and advisers on how to improve the quality and delivery of the show. Along with PBS, they help develop both the script and curriculum. So it is very rewarding for them when they hear that educators are using their show in the classroom and that the students are engaging the content and feeling like they are scientists themselves.
These videos work well together when they are used in conjunction with the games and hands on activities. The goal of all of this is for students to watch the videos, play the games, and finally participate in the hands on activity. And all of this can be done from the classroom, at home, after school centers, and other locations.
While Ruff With Ruffman Show is targeted at children 4-8, the show is also designed for parents to watch with their kids. One way the show encourages parents watching with their kids is adding in pop culture references that adults would only get. “Somehow math just isn’t math anymore,” Conroy says. “It’s really like, exposed my education shortcomings.” He adds that a lot of the pop culture references that are made on the show are added later on when he sees that something needs improvement. But he also does it because he wants to give something to the adults too. “If you make something that both the children and the adults enjoy, then I think you’ve hit on something,” Conroy said. “So I throw little nuggets in there for the moms and dads.”
As Vice President of Children’s Programming for PBS, Linda Simensky is responsible for collaborating with various producers throughout the development and post production of PBS Kids shows. With the U.S. falling behind in science education, Simensky feels that it is important to have shows like Fetch! and fight to keep funding PBS. “I think that the real issue is and I say this mostly as a parent when you are sitting down in front of the television or whatever device with your kids and you are about to watch something, as a parent, you hope that your kids will get something out of it,” Simensky said. “if you are a kid, you are really just looking for good character, a good story. And so if you can have something that has a good character, a good story, and some substance, I think that’s really the best thing of all for kids.”
She says that is the ultimate goal for PBS, to offer great characters and great stories that have substance to them because they imagine kids watching the content and learning something from it. “It’s role modeling enthusiasm for topics,” Simensky said, while also emphasizing that it’s also fun to watch.
All 20 videos of The Ruff Ruffman Show will be available September 28 on PBS KIDS digital platforms, including the free PBS KIDS Video App and pbskids.org.