Q & A: PBS’ Director of Children’s Programming, Linda Simensky, talks Amination
April 17, 2010, 11:47 pm
Filed under: History, Interviews, TV | Tags: , , , ,

Simensky making a cameo on the PBS show, WordGirl. Courtesy of

Last week I posted a list of Linda Simensky’s favorite indie animated shorts. Because I miss old school Nickelodeon so much, here’s a little bit more detail on her time at Nick, her love of Bugs Bunny and some of her future plans. (See the post below for more background on Simensky).

How did you first get interested in animation?

My interest in animation started when I was little. I was a big fan of Bugs Bunny cartoons. Not so much of Disney, but I really loved Bugs Bunny, and I wasn’t necessarily paying attention to how the cartoons where made, or even that they were cartoons, I just knew they were really funny and I thought that was great.

What was the animation industry like when you were growing up?

It was always sort of a throw-away kind of business and nobody ever took it seriously and if you look at the entire history of animation, probably up until the 90’s it was not big business. Even the Disney films, as beautiful as they were and as much as people loved them, they were still seen as being for kids and people were not necessarily willing to give them importance.

What changed from then to now?

The 70’s happened and animation just basically became to sell toys, and the 80’s was more of the same. But then, Roger Rabbit came along, and then the Simpsons came along—and those were probably two of the biggest things that happened. The other thing that was important was the emergence of cable television. And not just that cable existed, but it existed and was doing pretty well. By the late 80’s, places like Nickelodeon had made enough money to afford making animation. And animation used to be more expensive than it is now.

Can you describe what kind of animation you were trying to make at Nickelodeon in the 90’s?

At Nick we were trying to, as best we could for television, recreate the way the theatricals were made back in the 30’s and 40’s. Put the directors in more charge under the creator, and have the writers work with the directors to really get the stories right and to be funny. There was a lot of emphasis on being funny, not just writing the stories. Really developing likable characters that people would really care about–and making them funny. It takes a lot of tries to get that right. But the stuff that we did right off the bat, it got a lot attention, simply for being so different from what was out there.

Courtesy of Nickelodeon

What were some of your favorite shows to work on?

Out of all of them I enjoyed working on ‘Doug’ because I worked on that the closest. That was done in New York and I was living in New York at the time. And I think I was the most involved with that one. I also liked working on ‘Rocco’s Modern Life’ and ‘Hey Arnold,’ and then I left and went to Cartoon Network, where I really liked working on ‘Powerpuff Girls,’ ‘Samurai Jack’ and ‘Dexter[‘s Laboratory].’ What I liked about those was that they had really strong creators and really strong teams all around. I felt I was really getting to learn a lot.

You’ve been at PBS since 2003, where you’ve been catering to a younger demographic with shows like ‘Sid the Science Kid’ and ‘WordGirl.’ What are the biggest differences in making cartoons for younger kids?

I think there are more interesting creative shows being done for the younger kids. I feel like a lot of what I’ve done for PBS has been funnier than what I was ever able to do at Cartoon Network, for a variety of reasons. One is that when you target older kids you tend to force yourself to put a lot of attitude into it, and attitude’s not always funny. I feel like there hasn’t been as much funny stuff out there as there used to be. We need sort of a new wave of animation and we haven’t gotten it yet.

You mentioned wanting to bring more diversity into animation in the future. What were some of your goals when you were starting out?

My first goal when I went into TV was to bring good animation back to TV. Second goal was to reinvent educational TV completely. That’s why I think it’s been interesting because I took a big role in reinventing it. I think I had a lot to do with making preschool animation a lot funnier than it had been and that was something that was important to me. You know, I’ve always set out with sort of large, undoable goals and I like it that way because the more undoable they are, the harder you try to do them.

How do you plan on realizing some of your future goals?

I think what I’m eventually going to do is start figuring out a way to have a mentoring program through PBS where we can find people, get them working on shows for a year so they can get an introduction to the industry. Because I feel like the industry’s so small it’s hard to break in.


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