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The Big Big World of Mitchell Kriegman

Originally Posted: August 15, 2007

R. B. Stuart

Many parents aren't aware but Mitchell Kriegman has been part of the family since their child was a toddler. He's a triple threat: creator, writer, and director who's been captivating kids with thoughtful learning, while watching his PBS television Emmy nominated preschool series, "It's a Big Big World."

Mitchell Kriegman with Snook of "It's a Big Big World".

As Executive Producer and Director, Kriegman debuted "It's a Big Big World" on PBS KIDS in January 2006 and it has attracted acclaim from parents and industry insiders alike. The production, for the ages of 3 - 6, features a diverse group of animal characters, exciting stories and world music rhythms, while a multi-level age-appropriate science and geography curriculum taps into children's natural fascination with a world much bigger than their immediate surroundings. This wonderful Land of Oz is produced in the Hamptons by Kriegman's production company, Big Big Productions, in Wainscott at Wainscott Studios.

Kriegman, the grand wizard of children's entertainment for over twenty years, has received a Directors Guild Award and three Emmy Awards - two for the hit Disney show, "Bear in the Big Blue House," the other for Disney's "Book of Pooh."

Unsuspectingly, in the early 1980s he began his career in comedy, joining the team of "Saturday Night Live" as a performer, writer, and filmmaker. Shortly after he began creating, developing, and producing series for "Comedy Central," "Nick at Nite," Disney Channel, and other cable networks.

His segue from adult comedy to children's shows happened in 1991 when he created the Parents Choice Award winning, "Clarissa Explains It All" and discovered Melissa Joan Hart who played Clarissa. "It was always the same comedy for adults in those days, which was rigid. "Ren and Stimpy" was and is much more surreal and cutting edge than SNL ever was," Kriegman said of his 1991 Nickelodeon children's series.

Snook and the gang of "It's a Big Big World".

"When it comes to entertainment and tickling the funny bone, adults are more difficult because they're 'too serious.' Kids are more fun to hang out with and are more playful, because they like weird things," he commented.

As a youngster Kriegman found great enjoyment in the cartoon classics, "Bugs Bunny" and "Popeye." "I liked anything that was weird, offbeat, surprising, and different. Like the 1962 British television Sci-Fi series "Fireball XL5" which the South Park guys spoofed last year in the film, "Team America." But, these cartoons would provide much more than immediate entertainment, as Kriegman was influenced by their sense of humor, playfulness, and physically funny visuals. "It's really all Marx Brothers," he said.

Reading South American literature in college played an important role in shaping who he would become. He derives his inspiration from what kids like, "Thinking about how they see the world and their point of view."

The characters, born out of Kriegman's imagination, have been what set him apart. Like "Snook" a giant sloth in "It's a Big Big World" and his rain forest friends - a tree frog, two marmosets, a map turtle, an anteater, a bird, a fish, and a monkey. Each episode is crafted with the use of real puppets and a pioneering patented animation process called Shadowmation that allows the characters to interact in a high-definition computer generated rain forest.

When creating characters for children's programming, he finds the only difference between what adults like and what children prefer is language and action. "Kids like a good character as much as adults do. Although, adults willingly accept a character on the way they talk. With kids it's for the way they act. Talk to kids is just a bunch of talk. Better characters are built by the way they act," he informs of the creation process.

Kriegman's created other innovative, colorful children's favorites, "Bear in the Big Blue House," "Book of Pooh," and "Peter and the Wolf." He was executive head writer and developer of numerous television series including, "Rugrats," "Doug," and the feature film "Elmo in Grouchland."

Bear of "Bear in the Big Blue House".

Kriegman, who has written for such publications as, The New Yorker, National Lampoon, Glamour and Harper's Bazaar, says there is no formula when writing a children's show with likeable characters. "As long as it's something I relate to. Kids are the underdog, so either trying to grow up and be something or a character that cares is always a good thing," he said.

When Kriegman creates a new show he usually sits down with educators and builds the show around the curriculum. "Like "It's a Big Big World" has the environment as the curriculum." Kriegman enjoys directing the most, but creating the visuals is what he's most 'jazzed about.' His favorite production is, "Bear in the Big Blue House." "Because the day I created it my daughter was born in 1997." And the character that's managed to burrow his way into his heart is Tutter the Mouse, "because he's crazy and fun."

Kriegman has three children ages 10, 13, and 15, and even though they're older, he admits that he develops shows with their taste in mind. Currently, he's writing a teen movie.

Since his days at SNL Kriegman, who wanted to be a writer, never thought he'd be an Emmy winning director 26 years down the road. "It was fun winning them, and I'm going to keep doing what I do," he ended.

For more information visit www.wainscottstudios.com or watch "It's a Big Big World" on PBS channel 13 at 10 a.m. even if you don't have kids.

All images courtesy of Wainscott Studios.

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