Finding Stuff Out
Kids programming is one television genre that Canadians are especially good at producing. From Mr. Dress Up to Popular Mechanics for Kids, there is something special about the way Canadians speak to younger generations. And Finding Stuff Out is no exception.
Starting its 4th Season in early 2017, the hit TVOKids show speaks the language of today’s 6-11 year olds. Tech savvy, often more so than their parents, Apartment 11 Productions tapped the idea of a kid’s webcast and formatted it for TV. Director Jean-Louis Coté, who previously worked on Popular Mechanics for Kids, brought his specialization in science shows for children to the team: “Anyone that knows kids knows that they ask a lot of questions – they want to understand how things work – as long as you aren’t preachy or teachy – kids love to learn AND laugh!” As an educational program, his goal is to answer kids’ science questions. Modeled after the phenomenon of thousands of YouTube channels with their youthful stars, Finding Stuff Out hits the mark.
Host Harrison Houde and Director Jean-Louis Coté
The first three seasons of the show starred Harrison Houde of Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, BC. Harrison was found from his own YouTube channel that answered viewers’ questions. With over 14,000 subscribers, the team knew they had found the right young man to speak to their young audience. Harrison’s musical skills also came into play. He composed music with the show’s composer and has gone on to do other musical work for YTV and elsewhere. Kids love Harrison’s wacky lyrics and fun upbeat jams. Now 20, Harrison is moving on and the team is turning to Zoey Siewert for a fresh take.
Currently one of the top kids shows on television, FSO airs in many countries around the world. As part of one of Canada’s top exports – kids programming – you can see Harrison and Zoey on Pop TV in the UK, Discovery Kids Asia, Mundo Fox in the U.S., Wananchi in Africa, Al Jazeera, Davinci Learning for Eastern Europe, NOGA in Israel, BEC in Thailand, TRT in Turkey and SIC in Portugal (distributed by 9Story Entertainment). It’s something about Canadian values, children and education that translates around the world.
“We do it better than anyone. We have a privileged place to make content that reflects our values.”
- Jean-Louis Coté, Director
Since FSO’s cast and creators are all Canadian, many of whom have a news and current affairs background, the show receives funding from the Shaw Rocket Fund, Canada Media Fund (CMF) and other tax credits.
Executive Producer Jonathan Finkelstein and Jean-Louis Coté at the 2016 Canadian Screen Awards
Popular at home, FSO won two 2016 Canadian Screen Awards – Best Children’s Non-Fiction Series and Best Host - Harrison Houde. One of the reasons for its popularity and what makes the show unique is the way it gets the audience involved. The Production team goes into schools and gets kids to ask questions that then become part of the show. They’ve gathered around 6,000 questions over all 4 seasons and consult the kids about what topics the show should cover. The writers go through the collected questions and then pick the best ones. Questions are answered in various ways - interviews, sketches, animation – whatever works best to explain the concepts. The episode that won them the CSA for Best Show came from this very process.
In addition, the show collaborates with older children. Through an organization called Let’s Talk Science, volunteers partner with students and teachers who go through the show scripts to fact-check and suggest ideas. Some participants will be on the show as experts. They are the perfect collaborators, says Jean-Louis: “It’s so nice to see people who care about promoting science to kids - the passion and drive to learn and invent.”
Apartment 11 has worked with TVO to target many education, science, parent blogs and websites to share information with them about the show. They have also done well selling the show to educational institutions, including those schools involved in the production of the show in Montreal.
Harrison Houde on the set of Finding Stuff Out
The show connects with viewers online as well, using Facebook and YouTube as their primary way of getting parents interested. But more often than not on Facebook, kids take over with their comments and fan mail for Harrison! On the TVOKids website, you can watch past episodes and play games that incorporate learning.
For Executive Producer and Co-Creator (with Edward Kay) Jonathan Finkelstein, what he’s most proud of is “being able to participate in a creative endeavour that somehow is a unique work, with a unique voice, with a unique point of view. It takes a lot of thought, a lot of time. It’s not as easy as it looks. When you achieve it and you feel like it’s something special and unique, that’s reason to be proud.” For Jean-Louis, it’s all about the kids: “It’s so colourful and full of life! Bubbly and funny and you learn so much. Very modern and down to earth. All very accessible, speaks the kids' language.” With such a winning show and reputation, Apartment 11 is busy producing more shows including Look Kool/C’est Wow, The Mystery Files and is in development on its first kids program emphasizing First-Nations.