In Depth

PBS Sprouts First Original Characters

PBS Kids Sprout, which airs preschool favorites such as “Sesame Street” and “Bob the Builder,” will be adding its own original cuddly characters, courtesy of the Muppet makers at the Jim Henson Co.

The new characters, called “The Pajanimals” will be part of the network’s “Good Night Show” block, which airs when kids are winding down at the end of the day. “The Pajanimals’” musical segments, co-produced by Sprout and the Henson Co., are designed to be soothing and help kids and parents deal with sleep issues.

The short-form programs will begin to air in November, when the onset of daylight-saving time disrupts kids schedules.

Since its launch in 2005, PBS Sprout, owned by Comcast Corp., Hit Entertainment, PBS and Sesame Workshop, has been adding distribution (38 million homes), viewers and advertisers. It also has been developing more exclusive and original programming to go with the perennial favorites on its schedule.

The Pajanimals are the first characters commissioned by the channel, said Andrew Beecham, senior VP for programming at Sprout.

“Obviously we want to make a big deal about that, and I think they will bring in a new audience,” he said.

Sprout’s programming strategy offers programs to follow kids through their day, waking them up in the morning and putting them to sleep at night.

Since most kids programming is fairly high-energy, finding calming material for the “Good Night Show” hasn’t been easy.

During a meeting with executives at Henson about concepts that would help kids get to bed, Mr. Beecham discovered they were working on the germ of an idea for nighttime characters called Pajanimals from artist Jeff Muncie.

“It just seemed like a fantastic fit,” Mr. Beecham said.

The characters are being licensed by 4Kids Entertainment for stuffed animals and other consumer products, which should bring more attention to the programming on the network. They will be unveiled next week at the licensing show in New York next.

The four Pajanimals are Sweetpea Sue, a shy, smart pony; Squacky, an excitable duck who sometimes finds it hard to settle down at night; Cow Bella, a creative, well-mannered cow with an Italian accent; and Apollo, an optimistic puppy with a slight case of separation anxiety.
They have similar DNA to the Muppets and other characters created by Henson, according to Lisa Henson, the company’s co-CEO.

Besides being mostly good-natured and funny, “Most of our characters are a little bit fallible. Sometimes they’re defined by their weaknesses,” Ms. Henson said. “With the Pajanimals, they’re particularly defined by how they have difficulties going to bed at night.”

Sprout also will offer five 10-minute segments featuring professional sleep advice for parents and caregivers through video-on-demand.

Sprout and Henson worked with sleep consultants Jill Waldburger and Jennifer Spivak, who have helped some showbiz figures with their kids’ sleep issues.

They said the idea is not for kids to fall asleep while watching the show, but for “The Pajanimals” to help them and their parents address separation anxiety, fear of the dark and other nighttime issues during their getting-ready-for-bed routine.

The experts provided a list of issues for the songwriters to address and reviewed the compositions to make sure they were appropriate for creating the safe, secure environment that promotes sleep.

In one case, there was a song about bedtime fears in which the animals might have been too scary.

“We tried to come up with a more happy medium, because we’re dealing with fairly young children here,” Ms. Waldburger said.

A stuffed Pajanimal to snuggle with might be helpful in getting kids to recall the show’s lessons and help them get to bed. They might be good for grownups, too.

“I am a full-on Muppet groupie, as is Jennifer,” Ms Waldburger said. “The opportunity to work with Henson and Sprout was really something special for us, and we got real excited about being a part of the team.”