Traci Paige Johnson revolutionized children's television programming when she co-created the hit show Blue's Clues. Now, she's teamed up with her husband and fellow South Bend native, festival filmmaker and director Bob Mowen, to do the same thing with touch-screen media.
Johnson, a 1987 graduate of St. Joseph's High School, and Mowen, a 1985 Clay High School graduate, were both cast members of WNDU-TV's Beyond Our Control; a television show produced by local high school students that ran from 1967 to 1986. They were on the program together in 1984 and 1985.
Inspired by the difficulty as parents to get their own kids to eat healthy, Johnson and Mowen founded their own children's media company called Yummico. The company recently released their first app, Yummiloo Rainbow Power, which is available for purchase at the Apple App Store.
In Yummiloo Rainbow Power, users help the main character, Rooty Yum, designed in the light of a carrot, fill the rainbow machine with healthy foods of different colors to power the carnival rides. The message is reinforced by the narrator upon completion, "just like it takes all the colored foods to power the rainbow machine, it takes all the colored foods to power you."
Along with Rooty Yum, are his friends Beany Yum, who's suspect to 'snack attacks!', Plum Yum, Yogi Yum, and Bun Yum. Together, they are the Yum Yums and they teach kids about healthy food, harvesting, and composting.
Johnson, who graduated from Northwestern University majoring in Radio, Television, and Film and minoring in Childhood Development, was recognized in an article by Hannah Rosin of The Atlantic for the groundbreaking achievements of Blue's Clues which aired on Nick Jr. from 1996 to 2006.
Recently on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Sunday speaking about her article, Rosin cited the innovation of Blue's Clues in their use of the "pause". The featured character would ask a question and pause, giving the viewer time to respond. A technique since adopted by Dora the Explorer and other kids programs, it invites children to actively participate and engage.
Rosin's article, "The Touch-Screen Generation", is about the rising benefits of children's media, primarily touch-screen applications and games.
Citing Blue's Clues as a precursor to interactive children's media, Rosin recognizes the ability of Johnson's approach to positively impact childhood development; "A longitudinal study of children older than 2 and a half (sic) showed that the ones who watched Blue's Clues made measurably larger gains in flexible thinking and problem solving over two years of watching the show."
Johnson is excited about making similar strides in interactive media through her new company, "I have the privilege of being a 'creator'…I design the look, the world, and the characters - and develop the storylines. For most of my career, I've worked in broadcast and cable television.
Now, with Yummico, I'm jumping into the digital space. Yummico's overarching goal is to connect with children across multiple platforms, by creating entertaining characters and stories with meaningful content."
Recruiting the help of her husband, commercial and broadcast design specialist Bob Mowen, Yummico has two advantageous perspectives which he comments on, "Our skills are complementary. She has incredible instincts about what works in children's programming - and a powerful vision. I have the technical skills - computer graphics, design and animation - necessary to bring her vision to life."
Mowen's contribution goes beyond his technical skills with insights from his profession and role as a father, "Existing food-related characters and shows (and there aren't many) are overtly educational, preachy, and seemed to miss the obvious approach: rather than preach to kids, model proper eating habits; make good, real food as appealing to kids as fake food; take the tools of visual media (like those employed in advertising) and use them to get kids to want to eat right by making foods like broccoli and apples the focus rather than soft drinks and chips."
Johnson and Mowen work well together. Fans of Johnson's Blue's Clues need not worry about any marital compromises with co-owner Mowen, who like any good husband, knows who's in charge, "Traci has always worked in children's media, so even though we occasionally disagree, I think it's important she has the final say."
Yummiloo Rainbow Power is available for purchase at the Apple App Store for iPads and iPhones for $1.99. It's only the first of many apps to come out of Yummico. Soon to come are The Adventures of Ash & Ollie, Edison the Invention Detective, and App Police.
Yummico is a new kind of children's media company made up of media veterans and parents. They make entertaining media for kids that's safe and value added. Yummico makes products you can trust and your kids will love. Delicious media that's good and good for you.