Creatives Speaking: Chris Gifford on Dora the Explorer and the kids TV business

Chris Gifford is the co-creator of hit preschool series Dora the Explorer and spin-off series Go, Diego, Go! He also composed music for the Dora the Explorer stage show.

When did you realise Dora was a hit?
It didn’t get massive until after two years on air. Ratings were strong but it wasn’t seen as a hit until the toys came out, the success of the consumer products. People were paying over $300 for a Dora doll online – I got a feeling then that this could be big. And then again when I saw the live show with thousands of kids jumping up and down.

Which is the most creatively satisfying: TV or the theatre?
I have spent more time on the TV show and there are so many fewer constraints on animation – we can do anything. But I couldn’t choose one over the other. The live show is more of a director’s medium.

Had you always planned a spin-off series?
Diego was not created as a spin-off, but with the idea of filling the void for characters that boys can play along with. The male characters on Dora are animals and we wanted to create characters that boys could pretend to be. It wasn’t about ratings, they were always even between boys and girls.

Are you planning other Dora-related shows?
I think about it all the time. The Pirate Piggies [which feature in Dora] would be a great series. We have tried some stories with Diego’s sister but didn’t define her as strongly as we could.

What do you make of the kids TV business nowadays?
There are so many kids shows out there. I don’t have the numbers but imagine there are five, six or seven times as many shows on as ten years ago. There’s only so much space in toy stores and only so many shows that kids can watch. The competition is so strong. But I see no lack of imagination or innovation in kids programming.

Has the popularity of the internet impacted the way you work?
Dora was premiered online first. Nick – and a lot of kids nets – are looking at the internet, trying to extend what we do on TV to the web. We do talk in-house about what from a given episode will work online.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m fully involved in Dora’s fifth season. We do see every year what we can do to give ourselves a creative jolt and a challenge. This year we have gone back to more simple stories. And in response to requests we’ll increase the amount of Spanish; we’re aging up the Spanish and the maths. We’re also adding some new human characters, there will be a kid friend from a different culture in each episode.

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