TORONTO — When the fluffy-haired humanoids of the Toronto-shot puppet series “Fraggle Rock” became a hit in the ’80s, their tiny co-stars also developed a fan following.
Lisa Henson, CEO of The Jim Henson Company, says the Doozers became so popular that her late puppet master dad and his collaborators discussed the idea of giving the chubby green engineers their own series.
It took several decades, but the idea has finally come to fruition with the new computer-generated animated preschool series “Jim Henson’s Doozers,” premiering Monday at 9 a.m. ET on TVO. It will air weekdays at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET and be available on the tvokids.com video player.
“The Doozers were a lot of people’s secret favourite thing about ’Fraggle Rock’ because they were always there, but we didn’t get to know very much about them from the show,” Henson said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.
“They piqued a lot of people’s curiosity. ... Everyone kind of wanted to peek into their world a little closer, get to know those characters: ’What are they building? What are they doing?”’
In “Doozers,” the stars are the Pod Squad of four young go-getters voiced by children: purple-clad Daisy Wheel, ginger-haired Spike, pink-loving Molly and yellow-wearing Flex.
Together they seek new adventures and challenges in Doozer Creek, getting problem-solving advice from elders as they invent, build and tinker with a variety of devices.
Henson said the show features science, technology, engineering, art and math. It also has a theme of “perseverance and failure” as it aims to show “the actual process of design thinking and engineering.”
“There has been so much recent discussion about the idea that kids should be encouraged to try things and fail and not be afraid to fail, so one of the kind of social/emotional threads that we pursued in the storytelling was that a lot of the things that they build don’t work — or they don’t work at first and with improvement and with additions or by collaborating on something they can get it to work,” said Henson.
“We didn’t just want to show them just finding instant success because in the real world success is rarely instant.”
The series is co-produced by The Jim Henson Company and DHX Media in Canada, where “Fraggle Rock” was particularly popular and taped with a Canuck crew, said Henson.
“The people who worked on the original ’Fraggle Rock,’ all of them say that it was the best working experience of their lives and that making ’Fraggle Rock’ was a kind of pinnacle of their personal creativity.
“One of the reasons it was such a wonderful experience for the creators of the original show was that Jim Henson was very busy in England doing other things and he let them have a lot of freedom up there, so the show became very collaborative with other show runners.
“It wasn’t Jim Henson being the show runner, so it allowed the other creators of the show to really thrive and make a show that they were all proud of.”
The Pod Squad characters are not from the original “Fraggle Rock” that aired on CBC-TV.
Henson said they invented the new characters to suit the preschool demographic, making sure to split them evenly between genders and “be very forward-thinking about how the women on the show are portrayed.”
The original Doozers were puppets operated by rod control. Henson said they were limited in their movement, so for the “Doozers” series they made them CG characters to bring the necessary amount of expression to them.
The Jim Henson Company has also taken an animated approach to its characters with the series “Sid the Science Kid” and “Dinosaur Train.”
But “we haven’t given up on puppets at all,” said Henson. “The medium should match the material.”
Henson said the Fraggles won’t be making cameos on “Doozers,” but there is a “Fraggle Rock” feature film in development at New Regency Enterprises. The producing partner on it is Ivan Reitman’s The Montecito Picture Company.
She said the company is also developing spinoffs of its 1982 fantasy film “The Dark Crystal.”
Revisiting and updating the company’s previously established characters isn’t unprecedented, but they haven’t done it for a while, said Henson.
“Many, many years ago there was the ’Muppet Babies’ television show, which was the animated Muppets. You could say this is an analogous situation.”