“We were flying by the seat of our pants,” Beecham says. And that never could have happened at Disney, he adds, because Disney’s a machine, with countless policies and people who must sign off on every detail. (In fact, years ago, when Beecham tried to sell his Playhouse Disney concept to the U.S. channel, a bigwig there told him, “That’s great, Andy, but it will never work here. Preschoolers’ attention span isn’t the same over here.”) With Sprout, it was just Beecham and Lisa O’Brien, a creative director from Playhouse Disney he’d recruited, in a Philly hotel bar, writing the first script of what would become the channel’s signature — The Good Night Show.
Beecham knew (or at least had heard from his wife) that winding down preschoolers for bed was the hardest part of a parent’s day. He also knew that at 6 p.m., other channels with preschool content switched to more grown-up programming. On his Good Night Show every night at 6 p.m., a host and a pillow-y star-shaped puppet would sit on a dreamy blue-and-purple set. In between introducing shows, Star (like a typical four-year-old) would beg the host to let him stay up just a little longer, while the host would keep reminding him that it was almost bedtime. At 9 p.m., when the show ended, Star would finally fall asleep.
On September 26, 2005, Sprout went on-air, anchored by The Good Night Show. Beecham had had big plans — eventually there’d be a live morning block with a chicken puppet named Chica; an afternoon block involving finger-puppet hosts who play in a jazz band; the Birthday Card segment, for which parents could send in homemade birthday cards that might show up on-air. (“We used to whoop for joy when we got one card in the mail,” Beecham says. “Now we get 10,000 a week.”) But there hadn’t been time to get it all up and running. By now, his family was set up in a lovely million-dollar home in Wayne. Ollie and Hannah were enrolled in school. And Beecham was still waiting for a sign that he was right (and the Disney bigwig wrong): that this crazy, interactive 24-hour channel for two-to-five-year-olds would work.
As Beecham sat feverishly eating M&Ms at the focus group that day in Baltimore, he knew that no matter how much he believed in Sprout, no matter how much energy and lost family time he’d dedicated to it, only one thing mattered: the moms.
And then he heard one mom weigh in:
“The Good Night Show saved my life.”
OF COURSE, NOT all parents love Sprout.
Mike, a Center City dad of a two-year-old, compares its Sesame Street reruns to Chinese torture: “I seem to be constantly watching the singing episode, the farm episode, the exercising episode … ” Kristy, mother of two in Wallingford, thinks Sprout’s shows are “pretty sleepy.” And Danna, Haddon Township mother of a four-year-old, has some thoughts on the Sprout show Caillou, which stars a four-year-old cartoon boy: “Caillou is a little asshole. You know, in one episode, he threw a fit because he wanted to get his Christmas tree today, and his pansy of a father, instead of putting him in a time-out for being a little shit, took him outside to decorate a living tree. What a douche.”