PBS Kids has a new show out called Odd Squad, and it’s already a big hit. The series was created by Adam Peltzman and Tim McKeon and produced by The Fred Rogers Company and Sinking Ship Entertainment.
Odd Squad is a live-action show for 5-8 year-olds about an agency that deals with weird happenings and is run entirely by kids. It’s funny and wacky with crazy characters and zany special effects. Co-creator Tim McKeon explains it as: “a show about an organization run by kids that investigates anything strange, weird and odd. Blobs being loose, unicorns coming out of books and people turning into potatoes. Everyone in the world knows about Odd Squad. If there’s a robber you call the police, if there’s a fire you call the fire department but if your spouse is shrunk or your dog is doubled you call the Odd Squad.”
The show has been a big hit since premiering last November. In January, PBS aired a one-hour special “Odd Squad Saves the World” that got an impressive 3.7 million viewers. And the website got over 70 million video streams during January!
The show is part Men in Black and part office comedy. And oh yeah, it teaches math skills. There is a plethora of educational shows for preschoolers. But once kids hit elementary school and learning becomes labeled for them, they tend to lose interest in educational programs. With a few exceptions, PBS’s target demographic is preschoolers and older adults. It’s hard to get older kids to watch shows with an educational curriculum.
In fact, Odd Squad doesn’t really look like a typical PBS Kids show. It’s wacky attitude seems more like something you’d see on Nickelodeon. Kids are watching the show because it is so funny and entertaining, and in the process end up learning math concepts.
It’s also notable and somewhat unusual that the show is live-action. Animation is very appealing, plus it translates better in an international market and ages better. However, animation can be perceived as “a little baby-ish,” and presumably the live-action helps to age up the show and increase its cool factor. Co-creator Adam Peltzman adds that: “the live action really, really helps because it grounds it in a place, and it grounds it in real kids, and I think it helps further the wish fulfillment angle.”
So basically, Odd Squad is an educational show aimed at kids who aren’t all that interested in watching educational shows. Its popularity highlights the importance of understanding and defining your target audience. This example reminds me of a parallel show from my childhood, Beakman’s World. (#BestShowEver)
Beakman’s World is a science show that aired on Saturday mornings on CBS in the 90s. The show features extremely enthusiastic scientist Beakman answering kids’ science questions with the help of his assistant and Lester the lab rat. Each episode is fast-paced, colorful, wacky, and includes a lot of running around and screaming. I LOVED this show! I used to watch it every week and laughed hysterically the whole time. The thing is, I wasn’t the kind of kid who would watch a science show or read a science book for fun. But this show was so funny that I couldn’t get enough of it.
I still remember my all time favorite episode. A kid wrote in asking about snot, and Beakman responded by building a giant “nasal cavity” with goo in it (that he entered while wearing a hazmat suit) to demonstrate the scientific function of snot. Hilarious! You can watch the whole episode here. It’s pretty 90s-tastic, but it is just as magical as I remembered it. From a kid’s perspective, this show seems so edgy. (Teehee, am I allowed to learn about snot? Look at his hair!) But of course from a parent’s perspective, it’s an age-appropriate show that’s getting kids interested in science, even if it may encourage some snot jokes.
A lot of people don’t remember Beakman’s World. The show that everybody remembers from the same time is Bill Nye the Science Guy on PBS. I didn’t like that show at all. I don’t even think I ever sat through an episode. I just thought Bill Nye looked boring and I didn’t want anything to do with it. My best friend loved Bill Nye and thought Beakman was way too weird. The issue isn’t who was right (uh, me, of course), but that these two seemingly very similar shows appealed to two different types of kids. And they got both types to spend their free time learning about science.
The beauty of shows like Odd Squad and Beakman’s World is that by understanding their target audience — kids who normally wouldn’t be interested in watching educational television — they are able to use humor and wackiness to connect and get viewers to learn. In other words, some people are only going to read an Abraham Lincoln biography if it includes vampires, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t actually learn a lot about his life.
And I still remember what snot does.