For me it was clearly a combo of hating practicing asbestos litigation and my mother having a really great time writing about toys and play. I left her after a segment she did at the Today Show to go back to my office and thought–that just seems like a better way to spend the day. I’m always curious how other people find their way to the toy industry. It is a business — and not all warm and fuzzy as you might think–but still it is different.
So I started a series called Meet the Toymakers. This gave me an opportunity to find out how other people joined the ranks of toy industry insiders. And since most people seem to have a desire to also be in toys, I thought it would be interesting to hear how other people fulfilled their dreams.
This week- we have an interview with Robert Pasin of Radio Flyer. Unlike most of the people I’ve interviewed, Robert is third generation in his family’s toy business. That’s hard core and brings it’s own set of challenges even when you are in charge of an established and iconic American brand.
I also interview Chris and Will Haughey of TEGU. These brothers both left their Wall Street jobs to start TEGU. Besides making a lovely product (wooden blocks with built in magnets) they are also finding a way for their business to give back to the people of Honduras by creating jobs.
This morning Joanne and I were in the upstairs green room. Usually we have so many kids with us that we are in the larger downstairs green room. As much as upstairs is very dignified, there’s usually a lot more action downstairs. I was down there for hair and make up. Rascal Flatts was getting ready. I got to see Peter Krause out of the corner of one eye while getting mascara put on. Love his show Parenthood!
The set seemed strange without my usual ten or twelve kids milling about but since I had a lot of high tech toys we decided to go without kids in the studio. We turned on all the bugs and many of the Hexbug Nanos jumped from their Battle Bridge and ended up on the floor. We had a fun collection of games, bugs, spiders, a motion activated snake, Crayola Color Studio, and an assortment of video cameras include Barbie Video Girl that seemed to really disturb Al! I see his point about the placement of Barbie’s camera (on a necklace–on her chest) but our kid testers really liked using this high tech version of Barbie.
Al taking a look at Barbie Video Camera
At the end we did a demo of the hot new KINECT for XBOX 360 from Microsoft. I was planning on wearing a dress but I was told last night that the sensors might not read my legs in a dress. There’s nothing like having to pick out an outfit where you know the camera is going to shoot you from behind (every woman’s dream). So I decided to go Matrix-y – all in black with the highest heeled boots I own! For the live tease Whitney (from Microsoft PR team) did a demo with me–she did great! And thankfully Tim (my tech hero this morning) was making sure that the KINECT game was up and running. Hard to play a game and talk about it as you’re playing I’ve discovered.
Al Roker and Stephanie Oppenheim playing KINECT
Usually after I do one of these segments I remember all the things I didn’t say. This morning the list includes: I didn’t mention that you need alot of space to play KINECT so it’s not great for really tiny apartments or dorm rooms. You need to be about 8 feet back and you also need room to move side to side (or run the risk of really hitting your opponent!). Als0 – most of the games that have come out for the holiday season are family and action oriented. So if you’re more of a point/shoot XBOX 360 fan, there aren’t titles for you yet…but suspect they’ll be on their way. I love playing Rallyball – it’s like Dodgeball but no one gets hurt! While it’s true that you don’t need to use a controller to play KINECT you will need to know how to use one to set it up initially…(in otherwords, if you’re not comfortable with controllers…you’ll want to get someone who know what they’re doing). The last thing I forgot to mention is that KINECT has facial recognition so that if you make your own Avatar and you turn it on–it will recognize you. How cool is that? Also there is voice recognition as well (also pretty Jetson like if you ask me!). That said…there is a learning curve for selecting games that can seem slow which seems kind of odd since the whole concept is so cutting edge. Ok…now I’ve said it all!
I got there at 7:30 even though our segment isn’t until 9:38. There are a few teases that happen before the actual segment, but I like to be there so there’s plenty of time for hair and make-up! This morning was a great day to be in the Green Room. I assumed that George Clooney and Hillary Swank would be in the upstairs Green Room–but much to the delight of the entire room they were both downstairs. When you hear George speak about humanitarian issues, you just get that he’s more than a great actor. He’s smart and uses his platform and celebrity in a way that should inspire all celebrities. It’s just real. Ok, so that’s my take on the thoughts and works of George Clooney …and now I can also say that the man is just incredibly handsome. To top off the George Clooney experience–he was then hugged by Hillary Swank. Stunning! I don’t know either of these people, but they are polite and friendly to everyone that comes through the green room and the hallway. Sam Rockwell was there as well to promote Conviction (Swank also stars). For trailer, click here. (I’m sure he was nice too–just didn’t get to see him but for a second). It was a busy Green Room!
Cosmo's Bachelors getting ready to go on
Oh and I almost forget the Cosmo Bachelors!My niece (and assistant extraordinaire) Ali pointed out that they were there last year when we launched our list. They all look so young to me!
We had so many kids this morning!
Two of my favorite testers (sister Kena & Dehlina) with their Dollie & Me dolls
Matthew and his mom Jessica
Lots of little boys running around the lower concourse before it was time to go up to the studio. Some of our kids have been on the show before “when they were truly babies” as opposed to just active three and four year olds.
Harper, who did a good part of the my last segment with me, was joined by her little brother Hannes today! Alex (pictured with Al and me) was a pro on all things technical and did a great job demonstrating the Tron Zero Gravity RC. A special thank you to Victor (Matthew’s Dad) for taking all the pictures during the segment!) and to James from Spinmaster –for expertly flying the Air Hogs RC Video Camera Helicopter (something that I would never try in a studio full of high-wattage lighting!). All in all a good day!
Afterwards: Al Roker, Stephanie Oppenheim and toy tester Alex!
Hannes enjoying the Radio Flyer after we were done
Just got back from set up. We’re going to have lots of kids on the set–many under three so we’ll see how the segment goes. My little friend Harper, who ran the segment last time is making a return appearance – this time along with her little brother. I’m the opposite of W.C. Fields–I love having kids on the set–it gives new meaning to the concept of “anything goes.”
I’m really happy with the collection of toys we’re showing tomorrow but I always feel terrible about all the other amazing toys on our list that aren’t getting their moment on air. As usual we’ve packed in as many as we can for four minutes! Happily this year we have tons of streaming video on almost all of our award winners.
Got uptown this afternoon just in time to catch the last float from the Columbus Day Parade. I’ve lived in NYC for over twenty years and I don’t think I’ve ever really attended this parade so it was fun to see it.
End of the Columbus Day Parade
I know they keep saying the economy is in rough shape–but you’d never know it from the crowds around Rockefeller Center! The city is full of tourists. The holidays can’t be too far away when they open the ice skating rink (see below).
Toy testers Henry and Harper playing with the Water Table
This morning at the Today Show was great fun. You can watch the segment by clicking here. I was worried that I only had two kids coming on the show with me. I usually have between eight and ten kids demonstrating our picks on the set. I always like the energy of having kids there–their reactions say volumes more than my talking about the details! So this morning I had 3 year old Henry and 3 year old Harper. Both were enjoying the water table on the set–sharing well and doing what kids do at water tables–they explored all the buckets (many with holes) and they got a little wet while they spilled and filled the center post of the toy.
Harper with me, being very quiet while Ann did the news on the otherside of the wall!
Right as the segment started, Harper wanted to see the bug things I was showing to Ann. And from that moment on — it was really Harper’s segment. I loved it. She was really into seeing the bugs and I’m not sure it came through but she wanted everyone to know about a grasshopper she had seen recently. She then decided to play a little bit with the water table–and then she needed to visit her Dad, the wonderful Art/Set Director for the show…she got a hug and then came back to the set. Henry continued to play at the water table with his Dad even when Ann crashed the big Titan Airplane right into the table! No tears–he just kept on playing!
Harper checking out the bugs and magnifiers
While we didn’t get to all of the products I had brought, it was a fun segment thanks to Ann and two really cute three year olds!
I headed up to the studio this morning with my intern Daniel — after putting toys together for us all semester, I thought it would be fun for him to see the studio and the end result of so many packages, emails and testing. I tried doing my hair this morning–and emerged from the building looking like a bad 1970s “before” picture. Happily, the hair and make-up people at the show are so terrific, that I knew it was going to be ok. I think they were even a little shocked by the sheer volume of hair. Thanks to high def tv, I also think make up takes longer (not to mention that I’m a little older!) than it used to. It really is amazing what professionals can do. Everyone emerges from the hair and makeup area a better, more polished version of themselves.
This morning we had about ten kids. One family has tested for us since their son was born five years ago. They moved to Hong Kong in between and as I traveled up to the studio I realized that we had never met–so that was fun! They now have two kids and I’m so happy they’re back from their adventure and can resume testing for us! Other kids were on with me about a year ago–so to see them now as full preschoolers was fun. A new group joined us – I have to say this was the most well-behaved group of kids in the green room. Their parents were really careful to hold off on the delicious donuts and cookies until after the segment. Smart move.
The challenge was to show toys and equipment for active play –indoors! The YBIKES were a hit and disappeared when we went to talk about them–but I think they got camera time later on. The Kazam Balance Bike – also great was on the pedestal–and may have been blocked a little by the fire truck. You really couldn’t see how amazingly high the Sky Balls bounce in the air–or the 3D bubbles…but trust me – there are fun choices this season.
A very polite "excuse me" in the middle of the segment
Half way through the segment one of our testers very politely asked if she could go play in the playhouse…one of those great real live moments…priceless.
Natalie, Finley and Stephanie...at the end of the segment
Segment over, chocolate donut enjoyed on the car ride home…a good day!
Taking a look at the indoor Hopscotch Rug from Alex
I’ll be on the Today Show Monday morning to discuss great toys and equipment to encourage active physical play. We have kids coming from all over the tri-state area to help me out. Looking forward to sharing some of our best picks of the season. The article is on our website at www.toyportfolio.com. We have some really fun new 3D bubbles, ride-ons, retro games…get ready to play!
Stephanie Oppenheim, Natalie Morales, Deidra Shores, Al Roker
Can you imagine winning a contest as the reporter for the Today Show? Flying to NYC to cover Toy Fair? Interviewing the head of Fisher-Price and Hasbro–and then appearing on the Today Show with Al and Natalie? That’s exactly what happened to Deidra Shore- a lovely 13 year old from Tennessee.
We meet in the green room this morning…talked about which toys she would demo. Which toys she really loved from toy fair–her favorite, the updated 50th anniversary edition of the Mega Play-Doh Fun Factory.
Stephanie Oppenheim and Deidra Shores before the segment
She did a great job with the remote control Millenium Falcon — which was a huge relief since my track record with flying things in the studio isn’t great. She handled not only the taped piece–but reading the teleprompter and the live interview like a pro! Congrats Deidra!!
After my hair was placed in big curlers, I stood up and saw the Gold Medal Winning Bobsledding Team. I was so engrossed by all things bobsledding from the Olympics I rushed over -curlers and all.
Olympic Gold Medalists Steve Mesler & Curt Tomasevicz with Stephanie Oppenheim
They were extremely friendly to everyone–even letting us hold their medals (they’re heavy in case you were wondering). I had my picture taken with two members, one was upstairs, and unfortunately I completely offended one of them by having my picture taken with them in curlers. Sorry…really. I’ve met lots of people in the green room over the years, but I was really excited to meet these guys. We live in such an age of false celebrity–that meeting people who work incredibly hard and achieve their dream- it’s hard to be jaded about such an accomplishment.
I had so many questions for them – questions no one seemed to answer during the Olympic coverage. Althought I do have to say that I had my eyes covered for most of the bobsledding, luge and skeleton events–so maybe I wasn’t listening very well either but here are a sampling of my questions.
For example–how do you decide the order in the bobsled. (I get the driver’s skill, but I was really curious about the two in the middle). They explained that it has to do with where you can push off the best and provide the most speed to the team. Did they feel the original track was too fast before it was adjusted? Yes…and they thought the adjustments were very good, allowing them to focus on the race rather than survival! Spandex…it makes them go faster. How do they train in the summer? They do other types of training to keep them in shape. My mother also asked about how many tracks there are around the world? 12. How did they get the bobsled around — usually in a crate in a truck.
These guys were incredibly gracious and while it may sound completely corny…it made me feel really happy as an American that we were so well represented.
Here’s my picture with two of the members of the team (my hair sans curlers!)….my mother insisted I take another one to post!