The call from Australia came at 5 p.m. on a Friday in May.
Andrew Beecham was still in his office on the 30th floor of the Comcast Building. It started as a casual chat between two old friends: How’s the wife? The kids? But Beecham, like a four-year-old struck with the awesomest idea on the planet, couldn’t contain himself. He spouted off a proposition: What if the two of them started working together? What if he gave the musical group his friend manages a TV show … a three-hour TV show … a three-hour daily TV show … with puppets! (Beecham loves puppets.)
“We need to talk about this more,” the friend said.
“We should,” said Beecham.
“How about Monday morning in your office? At nine?” said the friend.
“I’m getting on a plane.”
And he did. The man arrived on Monday morning and met his friend Andrew, 46, who was sporting that easy smile of his, those funky glasses, that brown hair combed perfectly to the side. The two talked all day, and by six were popping open champagne at Tangerine in Old City. The deal was sealed. Andrew Beecham had scored the biggest coup of his career.
He’d landed the Wiggles.
Yes, those Wiggles. The four Australian guys in primary colors with a pirate friend named Captain Feathersword. The ones who drive around in a big red car and sing songs to kids about fruit salad. The group that’s sold more than 23 million DVDs and seven million CDs, and whose sold-out concerts at Madison Square Garden beat a record set by the Rolling Stones. The highest-earning entertainers in Australia. Those Wiggles.
And at 6 a.m. on August 24th, The Wiggly Waffle Show, starring the Wiggles (who, incidentally, left Disney for this gig), became the newest addition to the lineup at Sprout, the preschool television channel created in 2005 by Andrew Beecham. Officially, he’s Sprout’s senior vice president of programming. Unofficially, he’s the Brit who, right here in Philly, launched the craziest, riskiest venture in preschool TV since the debut of a big yellow talking bird.
The first 24-hour channel for two-to-five-year olds? (Aren’t they supposed to watch less TV?)
Airing only reruns of programs like Sesame Street and Thomas and Friends, which have been on TV for, like, ever? (What? No Super WHY!? No WordGirl?)
Encouraging parents to watch with their kids? (Isn’t TV what parents use to babysit while they do other things?)
Barely six minutes of advertising each hour, each weekday? (Doesn’t the FCC allow up to 12?) No ads targeted to kids? (Then … um … what’s the point?)
It’s all so backward. So anti-mass media. So un-American.
And it’s working.