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Oobi (TV series) facts for kids

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Oobi
Oobi title card.png
Genre
Created by Josh Selig
Written by
  • Scott Cameron
  • Natascha Crandall
  • Christine Nee
  • Sascha Paladino
  • Adam Rudman
  • Craig Shemin
Directed by
  • Tim Lagasse
  • Josh Selig
  • Pam Arciero
  • Kevin Lombard
  • Scott Preston
Starring
Theme music composer Jared Faber
Composer(s)
  • Larry Hochman
  • Jeffrey Lesser
  • Christopher North
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 3
No. of episodes
  • Shorts: 48
  • Long-form episodes: 52
(list of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s) Josh Selig
Producer(s)
  • April Chadderdon
  • Lisa Simon
Production location(s)
Cinematography Randy Drummond
Editor(s)
  • Ken Reynolds
  • John Tierney
Camera setup Videotape; Multi-camera
Running time
  • 1–2 minutes (season 1)
  • 13 minutes (seasons 2–3)
Production company(s) Little Airplane Productions
Noggin LLC
Distributor MTV Networks
Release
Original network
Picture format NTSC (480i)
Audio format Stereo
Original release 2000 (2000) – February 11, 2005 (2005-02-11)
Chronology
Related shows Oobi: Dasdasi

Oobi is an American children's television series created by Josh Selig for Nickelodeon and its sister channel Noggin. The show's concept is based on a training method used by puppeteers, in which they use their hands and a pair of glass eyes instead of a full puppet. The main character is a bare hand puppet named Oobi. The show's first season was a series of two-minute shorts. For its second and third seasons, it became a long-form series, with episodes lasting 13 minutes each. The show premiered in 2000, and the last new episode aired on February 11, 2005.

Selig was a longtime writer and performer for Sesame Street, and he came up with the idea for Oobi while watching bare-handed puppeteers audition for Sesame Street. The show was filmed at Kaufman Astoria Studios, where Sesame Street is also taped. All of the show's puppeteers were veteran Muppet performers. The main characters were played by Tim Lagasse, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Noel MacNeal, and Tyler Bunch.

The puppets' designs include glass eyes and accessories such as hats and hairpieces. The puppeteers' thumbs are used to represent mouth movement, and their fingers flutter and clench to indicate emotions. The characters talk in simple sentences, using only two to three words at a time. The show's ending credits feature a montage of families making and playing with their own bare-hand Oobi puppets.

Oobi was a breakout success for Noggin. It received positive reviews from critics, with praise for the puppeteers' performances, the visual style, and the show's appeal toward multiple age groups. The Age reported that the show developed a strong cult following among older viewers, and Noel MacNeal has said that the show's fans range from amateur puppeteers to "college-age stoners." The show received a variety of awards, including from the Television Academy and Parents' Choice. Oobi had a Nielsen rating of 2.35 among Noggin viewers by 2004, becoming the highest-rated series ever to air on Noggin. It is the most widely distributed Noggin show, having aired in over 23 markets worldwide by 2005. A foreign adaptation titled Oobi: Dasdasi premiered in 2012 and ran for 78 episodes, airing in the Middle East and countries across Asia.

Plot

The show takes place in a quaint, old-fashioned neighborhood inhabited by hand puppets. It is shown from the perspective of a four-year-old named Oobi. The puppets often talk directly to the audience and encourage participatory viewing. The characters use basic vocabulary, and they speak in simplified sentences that resemble the speech structure of a child just beginning to talk. For example, "Uma, school, first day" is said in place of "It's my first day of school." Prepositions and conjunctions are rarely used. The show is intended to help develop social skills, early literacy, and logical thinking.

Oobi lives in a single-story house with his younger sister, Uma, and his grandfather, Grampu. Oobi's best friend, Kako, lives across the street and often comes over to visit Oobi. Most episodes center around Oobi learning more about a simple concept like a new sport, a new place, or a holiday. Uma and Kako are the comic relief, and they often misunderstand Oobi's discoveries or provide commentary on the episode's topic. The show is meant to mirror the stage of early childhood "when everything in [the] world is new and incredible" and "when each revelation helps build a sense of mastery and self-confidence."

In the second season, the episodes were extended and followed a format made up of three parts. The first part is a linear story featuring the puppets going on an adventure or making a new discovery. The second part is a set of brief interviews between the puppets and human families, centering on the main story's topic. The last part is an interactive game (usually involving rhyming, guessing, or memory) where the viewers are encouraged to play along with the characters. When Oobi was renewed for a third season in 2004, game segments were dropped in favor of longer stories. Interviews remained an important part of the show, but instead of being shown after the story, these segments were shortened and played as transitions between scenes.

Characters

Main

Nick-Jr-Oobi-show-cast
The main cast, from left to right: Tim Lagasse, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Tyler Bunch, and Noel MacNeal.
  • Oobi (Tim Lagasse) is a 4-year-old boy. He is curious and always willing to learn something new. Unlike the other characters, he is a completely bare puppet aside from his eyes and wears no accessories or clothes. His eyes are brown in the short episodes and hazel in the long-form episodes. Oobi dreams of becoming a piano player and takes piano lessons from an elderly woman named Inka. He is very protective of his favorite toy, a red model car. He acts as a role model to his little sister, Uma, who often looks to him for guidance.
  • Uma (Stephanie D'Abruzzo) is Oobi's 3-year-old sister. She is shorter than Oobi and usually wears a barrette on her pinky finger. She loves singing, dancing, and pretending. Chickens are her favorite animal, and she will often talk about and imitate them, much to Grampu's annoyance. She has a tendency to comically overreact to minor changes or inconveniences. Her catchphrases are "Nice!" and "Pretty." Because she is so young, she has trouble pronouncing long words.
  • Kako (Noel MacNeal) is Oobi's excitable, confident, and slightly arrogant best friend. Kako generally has a playful attitude and often cracks jokes, but he can prove to be insightful and sincere whenever Oobi needs advice. He has green eyes and wears a red knit hat. His catchphrase is "Perfecto," the Spanish word for "perfect." Unlike Oobi and Uma, Kako comes from a nuclear family: he lives with his parents, Mamu and Papu.
  • Grampu (Tyler Bunch) is Oobi and Uma's wise and sometimes rather unlucky grandfather, who acts as their caregiver and mentor. His appearance is different from that of the kids; four of his fingers are curled instead of being extended, making him look taller. His favorite pastimes are cooking and gardening. He develops a romantic relationship with Oobi's piano teacher, Inka, throughout the series. His catchphrase is "Lovely!"

Recurring

  • Inka (Stephanie D'Abruzzo) is Oobi's piano teacher and Grampu's girlfriend. She often takes Grampu on dates and flirts with him when she visits Oobi's house. She has visited Paris, likes to try foreign foods, and has an ambiguous Eastern European accent.
  • Angus (Matt Vogel) is a high-strung friend of Oobi's whose eyes are below his fingers rather than on top. He speaks in a nasal voice and tends to worry about how he looks in front of others. Ironically, he is a gifted actor and has a talent for singing but gets stage fright whenever he has to perform in front of an audience.
  • Mrs. Johnson (Jennifer Barnhart) is Oobi's elderly neighbor and one of the few left-handed characters on the show. She wears a white wig, glasses with circular lenses, and a sleeve-like brown dress. She has a pet cat named Kitty who tends to climb up trees.
  • Mamu and Papu (Frankie Cordero) are Kako's parents, who appear whenever Oobi visits Kako's house. Papu is a homemaker and works from his house. Mamu works at an office and is frequently away from home, but she still finds time to spend with her family.
  • Maestru (James Godwin) is Oobi and Kako's singing teacher, who works at the local community center. He is also in charge of the town events. He wears a bow tie and a gray wig made to look like Ludwig van Beethoven's hairstyle. His index finger is always extended and he uses it as a conducting baton.
  • Frieda the Foot (Cheryl Blaylock) is a five-year-old girl portrayed as a talking foot puppet. She has blue eyes and wears a flower-shaped pin on one of her toes. Oobi and Frieda often play with each other at the park and teach each other how to play different games. She represents a person of a different race or culture from the hand puppets, and episodes featuring her involve themes of social integration and diversity.
  • Moppie (Heather Asch) is Uma's best friend from preschool. She has curly red hair, and her fingers are curled up in a fist. She is high-spirited and energetic, but also afraid to try new things. Her favorite activity is drawing portraits of her classmates.
  • Bella (Lisa Buckley) is a greengrocer and one of Grampu's close friends. She owns the local grocery store and talks with an exaggerated Italian accent. She brings fruit wherever she goes, regardless of the time or situation.

Production

Concept and creation

Josh Selig was inspired to create the show after watching puppeteers perform with their bare hands on the set of Ulica Sezamkowa, the Polish adaptation of Sesame Street. Each puppeteer used their hand and a pair of ping pong balls in place of a puppet. This is a common technique among puppeteers in training, as it helps them learn the basics of lip-syncing and focusing the eyes of a puppet. Selig noted the amount of expression conveyed by the more skilled actors' hands, and it gave him the idea for a series that showcased the "raw emotion" of bare-handed puppetry.

In 1999, Nickelodeon and Sesame Workshop created a cable channel called Noggin. At its launch, the channel mainly aired reruns from Sesame Workshop's library, so both companies started to seek pitches for original shows. Selig had recently left Sesame Street when he was given the opportunity to propose his own show to Noggin. He pitched Oobi to them under the working title Pipo, which he wanted to name the main character. He decided to rename the show Oobi after he found out that "Pipo" was already trademarked by an Italian brand of jeans. The new name was meant to mirror the characters' eyeballs with two O's.

Selig's pitch was successful, and Oobi entered production with funding from Nickelodeon. For the first season, Noggin ordered a collection of about 50 interstitials, which lasted 1 to 2 minutes each and would play during commercial breaks. The season was made as an experiment to see whether or not Selig wanted to continue his own production studio, Little Airplane Productions. Of the season, he said, "I set up a shop to produce that series. So we just signed a one-year lease, it was really an experiment for us... and after the first year we found that we loved having a company." The first season of shorts was filmed in 1999 and started airing in mid-2000 on both Noggin and Nickelodeon.

Assembling the crew

Tim Lagasse was chosen to play Oobi because of his previous bare-handed puppetry in A Show of Hands, a series of short films he created in the early 1990s. Many of the techniques he used to convey expressions through hand motions in the films were carried over to Oobi. The rest of the show's cast consisted exclusively of Sesame Workshop alumni. Kevin Clash, best known for being the original performer of Elmo in many Muppet projects, was an ensemble puppeteer on Oobi and guest-starred as Randy in the "Babysitter!" episode. Matt Vogel, the current puppeteer for Kermit the Frog and Big Bird, played the recurring role of Angus. Martin P. Robinson – who performs Mr. Snuffleupagus and Telly Monster on Sesame Street – created and built the puppets' costumes and accessories on Oobi. Ken Reynolds and John Tierney, editors on Sesame Street, were hired to edit the show. Both Josh Selig and the show's educational consultant, Natascha Crandall, worked together on the Palestinian and Arabic adaptations of Sesame Street. Lisa Simon, who won 20 Daytime Emmys for her work as a director of Sesame Street, acted as the supervising producer.

Sacred Noise, a music production company in New York, provided the show's background music. A staff of New York-based composers wrote original songs sung by the characters. Christopher North Renquist, who had been a songwriter for Disney Channel before working on the show, wrote most of the songs. Jeffrey Lesser, who stayed at Little Airplane as the music producer of Wonder Pets, joined the music crew to write the song "Oobi and Grampu" for the "Fishing!" episode. Mike Barrett, who worked as the sound editor on the Wonder Pets pilot, was the series' sound mixer.

Filming

Oobi was filmed at Kaufman Astoria Studios in New York. The show's set pieces were built on tall wooden poles, positioned to be level with the puppeteers' hands when they raised their arms. This kept the actors' heads out of the camera frame and allowed them to walk normally while performing, making their puppets' movements as smooth as possible. Television monitors were placed below the sets so that the puppeteers could watch their motions and position their characters according to each scene. The actors wore hands-free headsets that recorded their dialogue, making them able to perform and voice their characters at the same time. They sometimes dubbed over their lines in post-production, specifically for the song sequences in episodes like "Theater!", which required them to record different takes to match their voices to the music tracks.

Many of the show's sets were made to evoke the look of old-fashioned home environments. To simulate natural window light in the studio, the crew of Oobi placed shades with foliage patterns over their studio lights; this gave the appearance of sunlight passing through trees. Green screens were used for the sky of the outdoor sets and for the windows of Oobi's house.

Every week during production, the puppeteers visited a local manicurist to get their fingernails touched up. Most of the male puppeteers, such as Tim Lagasse, also had to shave their arms regularly if they played younger characters; Josh Selig said in a 2004 interview that Lagasse had to shave often so that Oobi would not "look like a hairy kid." Tyler Bunch was told specifically not to shave because his natural arm hair gave Grampu the appearance of an elderly, hairy grandfather.

When Cheryl Blaylock was offered the role of Frieda the Foot, she had to revisit puppeteer training techniques to learn to use her foot as a puppet. She recounted in a 2012 interview: "I had to actually go back to Puppetry 101 to train my foot to lip sync. Oh yes, I was determined to do some kind of toe wiggle that could be convincing." For episodes featuring Frieda, the crew had to construct a new set that allowed Blaylock to raise her foot alongside the hand puppets. To do this, they assembled a ramp-like stage with a chair connected to it, resting on its side. Blaylock was able to lie down in the chair and rest her leg on the ramp, making her foot appear to be standing at the same height as Oobi.

Iranian adaptation

In May 2012, the Iranian cable channel IRIB TV2 produced its own adaptation of the show, called Oobi: Dasdasi. None of the original crew members were involved. Amir Soltan Ahmadi and Negar Estakhr, two of Iran's foremost puppeteers, directed and starred in the program. In an interview with the newspaper Jaam-e Jam, Estakhr said that their company had screened episodes of Oobi in English and wanted to make their own tailored version for a new audience. The puppet costumes were mostly identical to the props from the original show. Like the original show, it features brother and sister hand puppets who live with their grandfather, but the cast was expanded to include two parents. The three adult characters wore Arab garments.

78 eight-minute episodes were made. They aired from September 22 to December 20, 2012. In July 2013, Oobi: Dasdasi was sold to broadcasters in five countries: Kuwait, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. IRIB TV2 aired the show in Iran and NHK aired a subtitled version in Japan. IRIB's Art News Agency hosts full episodes of Oobi: Dasdasi on its website.

Broadcast

Episodes

48 shorts and 52 long-form episodes were made. Each short is 1–2 minutes long, while the long-form episodes are 13 minutes each. The long-form segments were usually aired in pairs to fill half-hour timeslots. The shorts were shown during commercial breaks on Noggin and Nickelodeon. From 2000 to 2003, Noggin aired the shorts during every commercial break from 6:00 AM until 6:00 PM. Nickelodeon aired them more sporadically during its Nick Jr. block.

List of Oobi episodes

Ratings

Oobi was instrumental in growing the Noggin channel's viewership. In 2004, Noggin reported that three shows—Oobi, Miffy and Friends, and Connie the Cow—increased the channel's average daily viewership by 55 percent over the year before. The average number of viewers watching Oobi increased by 43 percent during the same time. Noggin also reported that Oobi had grown in ratings in each quarter of 2004: +8% from first to second, +22% from second to third, and +10% from third to fourth. The steady increase in ratings was reported by Multichannel News author Mike Reynolds, who attributed Noggin's popularity to its "breakout original series Oobi." The show's growing audience was what led Noggin to order the third season. The premiere of the "Uma Preschool!" episode on September 6, 2004, posted a 2.35 Nielsen rating among the preschool age group, becoming the highest-rated premiere of a Noggin series to that date. In December 2004, Noggin published a press release with the subtitle: "Noggin's Oobi Delivers Highest Rated Original Premiere In Network's History."

Awards and nominations

In spring 2001, Oobi won a Parents' Choice Gold Award. Later in the same year, the show won a Kids First Endorsement Award from the Coalition for Quality Children's Media. It was also nominated for the company's Best Children's Film or Video Awards. In 2004, the show received a second Parents' Choice Award, and a nomination in the "Up to 6 Fiction" category at the Prix Jeunesse International Festival. In 2007, Common Sense Media named the series on its annual list of "Best Bets for Young Kids 2-4." In June 2009, Josh Selig was presented with an Innovation Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation for his work on the show. In 2014, Prix Jeunesse recognized Oobi in its category "The Greatest Impact Programmes of the Last 50 Years."

Year Presenter Award/Category Nominee Status Ref.
2001 Parents' Choice Foundation Television Gold Award Little Airplane Productions Won
Coalition for Quality Children's Media Kids First Endorsement Award Won
Best Children's Film or Video Nominated
2004 Parents' Choice Foundation Television Silver Honor Won
Prix Jeunesse International Up to 6 Fiction Nominated
2007 Common Sense Media Best Bet for Young Kids 2-4 Won
2009 Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Innovation Award Josh Selig Won
2014 Prix Jeunesse International Greatest Impact Programme of the Last 50 Years: 2004 Little Airplane Productions Won

Related media

Video releases and books

Clips from Oobi were included on many Nick Jr. DVDs released in 2003 and 2004, beginning with Blue's Clues: Shapes and Colors!, which featured the "Dance!" short. The final video to include a clip from the show was Oswald: On-the-Go Oswald, which featured a clip from the "Dance Class!" episode. Some of these videos have been repackaged and sold in DVD packs as recently as 2015.

Oobi has also been featured in many TV-related magazines. Nick Jr. Magazine often published information about the show, and the August 2004 edition included a craft section about how to make costumes for Oobi hand puppets. In August 2004 and April 2005, TV Guide published interviews with Stephanie D'Abruzzo and Josh Selig about the show. The series is mentioned in the September 2004 issue of Big Apple Parent among Little Airplane's other works. The October 2004 issue of Playthings includes another interview with Josh Selig, along with two photos from behind the scenes of Oobi. Kidscreen regularly included news about the series. In July 2005, it mentioned the show in a description of the Little Airplane Academy. The June 2007 issue included a story about how Little Airplane renamed the show from "Pipo" to Oobi.

Online content

Noggin's website featured Oobi games from 2001 to 2009. Kenny Miller of Viacom announced the addition of Oobi to the site in an interview with PR Newswire, describing the show's online webpage as a place "where kids can match shapes with bubbles, colors with snacks, compose music, and draw and dance with Oobi." Many interactive games were created to coincide with the shorts. From 2004 to 2006, printables featuring the characters were also released on the site. The games based on the show were mentioned by Time magazine when it named Noggin.com one of the 50 best sites of 2004, and by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences when the site won a Webby Award in 2005.

Most of the games received positive reviews from critics. In 2006, AACE listed the "Oobi's Letters" game as an online resource that helped players develop "critical components of children's development." Jean Armour Polly and Heidi Kotansky of Common Sense Media wrote positively of the more informative activities, but noted that some lacked a sufficient amount of educational content. They wrote, "in Oobi's Bubbles, kids drag a bubble wand next to Oobi's 'mouth' so he can blow bubbles. This just teaches tots to click and drag. Wouldn't it be more fun to do this with real wands and soapy water?"

Promotional events

Googly Eyes Oobi Hand Puppet
Plastic hand puppet eyes, like those shown here, were given to customers at Oobi-themed events.

The 2001 North American Trade Show Tour in Saint Paul, Minnesota, included a replica of the Oobi set. Noggin's other displays at the show were all related to Sesame Street; the Oobi display was included as part of the Sesame tour. The display was designed and constructed by Matthew Allar, a scenographer for Viacom Media Networks. Oobi was also a recurring theme of "Club Noggin", a monthly event taking place at malls across the United States. Episodes of the show were screened at these events, and visitors were supplied with Oobi puppet eyes and activities.

Fifteen minutes of Oobi shorts were played as part of the 2001 Kids First Film and Video Festival, presented by the Coalition for Quality Children's Media. The festival was a nationwide event; the first screening occurred in Santa Fe, New Mexico, followed by subsequent showings at fifty locations across the United States. From 2002 to 2004, Oobi shorts were also broadcast regularly at Jillian's restaurants as part of the chain's "Noggin Play Day" promotion. At these events, attendees could watch a live feed of Noggin with themed activities and meals.

"Oobi Arts and Crafts" sessions were held throughout November 2007 at Nickelodeon Suites Resort in Orlando, Florida. Sets of plastic Oobi puppet eyes, identical to those at Club Noggin, were distributed to hotel guests at these events.

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