Saving the World with Erica Branch-Ridley

For the second writers workshop of the new year we sat down with Erica Branch-Ridley, the Assistant Vice President for Platform Innovations at Sesame Workshop.  Sound fancy?  Is fancy.  Erica got her start as a musical theatre major. She worked on 48 Hours (the news show not the Murphy/Nolte powerhouse movie) as Dan Rather’s assistant, worked on a kids show with Maya Angelou at BET and even found time to teach preschool!

Freeze, Rather!

She went back to school herself and took some multimedia classes and eventually wound up at Nick Jr. online where she worked on the notion of convergence, how to make the things online jive with the TV portion.  Erica started writing promos encouraging kids to go online.  This was at a time when networks were afraid that if you drove your viewers online they wouldn’t come back and watch the shows on TV.  Needless to say, the online folks still like some good quality TV time (I know I do).  From Nick Jr. Erica went to TV Land to start a broadband channel and then she found her home at Sesame Workshop.

And that’s how you get to the street

A typical day for Erica includes studying shows and scripts and working with vendors to come up with games and new levels of interactivity.  Her goal is to have the online compliment the on-air and deepen the storytelling for the kids.  Cue the Transmedium!

Meh-heh-heh

Erica then walked us through one of the coolest things I’ve seen online (and I’ve even seen that Honeybadger video):  the Electric Company’s Prankster Planet.

Don’t get me wrong. I want you to read the blog. I really do. But people, seriously, stop reading and go to ww.pbskids.org/electriccompany/pranksterplanet/

They need your help to stop the funniest thing I have ever heard in my life (and as you know I’m a regular laugh riot).  Wait for it.  It’s coming.  They need your help to stop the Word Suckinupanator!  Let me re-write that with hyphens:  The suck-in-up-an-ator.  It’s a problem.  Huge problem. It’s stealing all the words from the planet Earth!  Awesome.

Prankster Planet is a two-minute animation seen at the end of episodes of the Electric Company.  At the end of the animation there is always a cliffhanger and a call to go online and save the day!  The plot of Prankster Planet ping pongs back and forth between on-air and online.  Online you make an avatar of yourself then go through training, learning how to move on the planet’s surface.  You can even watch the 2-minute mission clip again and then it’s off to save the day!  So what happened to Erica and our heroes at the Electric Company when Prankster Planet went up?  Will they succeed in bridging the gap between on-air and online? Tune in next time…

…Pretend it’s next time.  TV ratings went up, online traffic went up.  Prankster Planet was good all around!  In fact, Erica and the team just got a grant to do eight more levels!  So look for more Prankster Planet on a TV and PC near you!

Main takeaway:  On-air folks need not worry that online is going to be the death of television.  A good website enhances the storytelling that’s seen on TV and lets kids go even deeper into the world that they love.  Good storytelling is good storytelling no matter the medium.

Don’t do it television! There’s so much to live for!

Personal takeaway:  “Production is production.”  It’s easy to get freaked out by all these technological innovations (especially considering I can barely post a picture on this WordPress site) but it all comes down to a great, engaging idea.  The technology is there to serve the wonderful creative, creativeness that is in our heads.

Inappropriate takeaway:   Word Suckinupinator has sent me into a Beavis and Butt-head-esq fit of giggling.  You can make the girl grow up but you can’t turn her into a grown-up.  Thank goodness.

Hee hee! Suckinupanator!  Hee hee!