“If aliens came to Earth, what would they think of humans: the way we act, how our bodies work, what we rely on every day, how we choose to spend our time?”
These are questions probed by the new 9GO! series Earth science researchersproduced at QTQ9 studios in the small but cheerful Kid’s Unit band, under Queensland Production and Programming Director Geoff Cooper.
A commission of 50 episodes of Factual Comedy is but a modest achievement of this team that has previously produced approximately 700 episodes of Smashdown and 250 of Brain buzz. Created by producer Dominic Morris, the series blends comedy with STEM-based facts, theories and information for kids. Tackle questions like “Why do humans have pets?” Why do humans grow to different sizes? Why do humans take pictures of each other? Why do humans organize so many singing competitions?’
While Cooper recalls the film about the alien fish out of water, star manMorris says it blends science fiction and detective whodunnit.
“We took a lot of the dramatic storytelling elements of those genres and found ways to make them Factual. We still have things like a very intense interrogation scene, but instead of just doing it as drama, we get information through that as a medium,” she says.
“We used classic setups from the detective genre and thought, how can we do this factually? It’s kind of like sugar making medicine go down.
“There is a clear structure to how children learn. Part of the design of the show is that the two main characters are aliens who come to earth, they come on the same level as a child. So they are the eyes of children in a show and learning at the same pace as a child, which is what makes the show something very appealing for children to understand and learn from, in an entertaining way.
The small ensemble consists of Ashlee Lollback as Major Letdown, Arnijka Larcombe-Weate as Private GroupChat and Michael Balk as General Ignorance, all of whom have worked on QTQ Kids Unit titles. In this tight-knit team, the actors don’t worry about operating props off-camera, while their colleagues are busy acting. Morris also also serves as a writer, director, producer, creator.
Cooper is proud of the small team that has the backing of Nine Sydney to continue making children’s TV at a time when other networks are winding down or have already ceased altogether.
Experienced producer for 20 years in children’s TV, has already produced Totally Wild, Cheez TV, Toast TV and created Scope AND Inland 8. When Nine’s then CEO Hugh Marks learned that he had been hired by QTQ Production, the call was put out to start making in-house television for children.
Cooper noticed Morris’s talent during his tenure as a 10-year-old, after watching a pitch in which he tipped a two-litre bottle of milk over his head.
“I’m like, ‘Yeah, we need him!’” recalls Cooper. “So we brought him in Toasted tv at 10 o’clock.”
“I didn’t even have a car at that point,” laughs Morris. “I remember my parents leaving me there (the first day). It’s weird to think about it now.
Cooper continues: “I called Dom probably a week after I found out we were doing some kids content at Nine, and got Dom from Channel 10. He had been involved in another show I had created called Scope and the rest is history.”
Every episode of Earth science researchers begins with two detectives sending a diary-style video message to the galaxy as part of their detective log. What follows is a research montage, Hitting the Streets for vox pop and expert questioning.
With the versatile talents of Lollback, Larcombe-Weate and Balk, Morris is aware that other projects may soon be knocking.
“The two actresses are incredibly good. Our chart is amazing. Our cameraman is good. We have a lot of people on the verge of becoming something else,” she explains.
“They are so good at understanding (each other). You don’t have to give them too much. Give them a little joke and let them play.
Typically, you just say, “Can you give me an alternate version of something?”
“I love doing what we do here and I want to do it for as long as possible. But it’s starting to get harder and harder because the high turnover takes a long time. We are very lucky right now to have this whole great team together.
“You feel like you’re just playing with your friends, and you happen to get paid. So it’s been an incredibly lucky experience.”
Earth science researchers it also has international sales hopes, with its mix of STEM and Comedy an ideal mix of entertainment and information for other broadcasters.
“The audience in Australia is just one piece of the puzzle for us. In general, when it comes to this type of content, we really have to look at it from an international point of view,” says Morris.
“We are incredibly proud of a show that we think stands up to the American, British and Canadian productions that are out there.”
For Cooper, the Kids’ Unit is also an important training facility for those in front of and behind the camera, including two graduate editors and a graphic designer, all mentored by Nine’s experienced staff.
“Albin (John), the cameraman, has been hired as an intern Smashdown. He had done a stint in the regional news, but he loved the production. So, the first chance we had to catch him, he resigned his position, walked across the aisle, and joined us.
“The Factual unit now has some very experienced documentarians and production cameramen. The decision to hire Albin was not taken lightly. He needed the right work ethic, attitude and energy like when recruiting someone. But Scott, our Senior camo would do anything for Albin, he is simply a great talent. He has a long way to go. We will try to involve him in everything we can.
“Part of the reason it’s so exciting to be able to make content for kids is that unlike any other comedy genre, you can get weird!” Morris says. “You have fun, you can go somewhere much further than you would in a comical and absurd situation.”
Despite changes to children’s TV viewing in recent years, Cooper has his eye on new opportunities for his prolific Queensland side.
“The industry has just transformed so much. We had 500,000 spectators for Totally wild at 4 o’clock. We know viewing patterns are different now and I think that changes with Nine too, I’d like to think we’ll have more opportunities to create a genre space, whether it’s 9Now or, dare we dream, Stan, to create some content for a of these two platforms.
Earth Science Investigators Debuts Monday, July 3 at 7:00am on 9GO!