Behind the Scenes at TODAY Show

Tree at Rockefeller Center 2010

Headed to the studio for set up today. It was brutally cold and yet everyone around Rockefeller Center seemed cheery. The tree is absolutely beautiful this year!  Last year’s tree seemed like a true recession  tree- a little skimpy and  a dose of sad. This tree is robust and just looks happy and hopeful. A good sign. Even though I’ve lived here for so long–it never fails to make me feel like I’m a little kid again.

My usual routine is walk around Saks and then get a cup of coffee.  Saks is all decked out and it was so crowded today–it’s hard to believe that the economy is not humming. You wouldn’t know it from the volume of people not only looking but walking out with shopping bags. Coffee was replaced today by hot chocolate (hey, it was really cold outside).

The studio was overflowing with products for all of the different holiday segments planned for the morning. I ran into Robyn Spizman who is doing a fun gift segment. Robyn was one of the first journalists to cover the toyportfolio when we started so it was particularly fun to see her and meet her daughter.

I have so many toys tomorrow– the idea is to show how many great choices there are without breaking the bank. We are scheduled to have lots of kids there to play.

The plaza on a cold day!

It really is amazing to watch the staff there transform a bunch of boxes, and products into the segments that are aired every morning.  Everyone works with good humor and it’s as if sugar plum fairies come in and make it all look so perfect when we go on.

After set up...the Rockefeller Christmas Tree!

What’s IN and What’s OUT in toyland 2010

Our list of What’s In and What’s Out in Toyland for 2010.  Every year there are trends that emerge in toyland. Last year there were dinosaurs everywhere…this year they have been replaced by bugs. Elmo is no where to be found (he’ll be relaunched next holiday season by Hasbro), and like everything else in our world these days, toys have also gone 3-D. We’re not sorry to see some the OUT toys go bye-bye and the same is true of many of the IN toys. This is more our observation from a year of testing rather than an thumbs up to either list.

Toys that Are Out for 2o1o                   Toys that Are IN for 2010

Cute Hamsters                                                 Hamster Ready for Battle

Barbie al natural                                             Barbie with an (video) implant

Hannah Montana Doll                                  Justin Bieber Doll

Wireless Controllers                                      No Controllers

Elmo                                                                 Dance Star Mickey

Scrabble                                                           Scrabble Flash

Avatar Toys                                                     Anything Iron Man

Hand Held Electronic Toys                         Your Smartphone

Remote Controlled Dinosaurs                    Remote Controlled Bugs

Friendship Bracelets                                     Toy Handcuffs

Dolls that Wet                                                Dolls with simulate

Rococo Plastic Toys                                      Wooden Toys

Bubbles and Chalk                                         3-D Bubbles and Chalk

Polly Pockets                                                    Zoobles

Zhu Zhu Pets

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For a list of the toys we do recommend–visit where you’ll find all of our Platinum, Gold, SNAP (special needs adaptable products) and Blue Chip Award winners.

Celebrity Toys 2010

For the celebrity that has everything, I started thinking about what toys would be appropriate. Now for some they already have their own dolls. Like the Justin Bieber Singing Doll or the Taylor Swift Performance Doll.

Product Details

But for the less fortunate celeb there are certainly fun choices.

For Courtney Cox,  the Webkinz Endangered Signature Cougar

For Denzel Washington, the Zip, Zoom and Logging Adventure from the Thomas & Friends Collection.

Mandy Moore (the voice of Rapunzel in the new movie Tangled) The Barbie Cut and Style Rapunzel

and in case Robert Downey Jr. misses his Iron Man role, there’s always the portable Iron Man Arc Chest Light.

Wharton School to Teddy Bears!

As someone who walked away from a legal career to play with toys (and not regretted it for a moment) – I’m always curious about how other people land in the toy industry.  Of course the toy business is a business–but there is something special about it.  The continued connection to the magic of childhood–sounds sappy but it’s true for anyone really committed to making quality playthings for kids.

Mary Beth Minton

I especially love start up stories and Mary Beth Minton, of Arete LLC, has all of my favorite ingredients…a strong business education (she went to Wharton), a strong business background (she worked at Bankers Trust) and a desire to fill a niche she saw in the toy industry by observing her own kids. The result, The Adventures of Zylie Bear and Shen the Panda…both Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award winners this season.  These high styled bears can travel the world in great fashion.  Read our interview.

Dolls that Wet (and Poop)

Over the years, this category has always been one that fascinates parents – often when they are in the throws of potty training.  We had one testing family that was our go- to potty doll testers.  Even dolls that I knew probably weren’t going to work out–they really wanted to test.  One of the early potty dolls involved food and water…that you guessed it, had to come out.  So the doll also came with disposable diapers.  The only problem was that the food often got stuck and it was super difficult to get the doll to poop. Thankfully no doll enema included.   Even Elmo got into the act with Potty Time Elmo…he was really polite about the whole experience and reinforced the idea that accidents happen.  He made sound effects to simulate the experience…no actual diapers to change here.  He made our Platinum List one year.  As the mother of two boys, I was also particularly fond of Corolle’s Paul doll, an anatomically correct boy  doll that pees (no pooping here).

So this is all to say that we are always interested in new dolls in this category.  Yesterday we received a huge box of toys that we hadn’t seen yet (amazing since it just feels like we’ve seen every toy)…but we hadn’t tested this particular bunch.  The one that caught our eye was Fisher-Price’s new Wipey Dipey from their Little Mommy line.

Fisher-Price's Little Mommy Wipey Dipey Doll

We usually like these novelty dolls and this one really made us curious.  The box reads:  “pee-pee and poo-poo disappear with a wipe!”  Ok, not that unusual…but here’s the new twist. The diaper lights up with a light indicating that your dolly has made one or two…and then you wipe it away.   No messy diapers (it comes with one plastic diaper that is not removable) and a wipe. You give Wipey Dipey her bottle and then she lets you know that she needs to be changed. She either tells you or makes an uncomfortable sound. In otherwords, this drink and wet doll…really doesn’t do either except in a high-tech manner.

Pros and Cons.

She’s a hard plastic doll…so she’s not soft and huggable. We also found some of her phrases difficult to understand. One could say she’s a mumbler…her supporters would also probably point out that she’s a baby doll.   The novelty aspect of this doll is pretty unique and will appeal to small children that love the “let’s see what she made now” aspect of the doll play.  My only real problem is that when you wipe the poo poo as they call it…you’re wiping in the wrong direction.  I’m really amazed that I just constructed that sentence…but it is really an issue especially when you’re trying to teach kids how to properly wipe at this stage. On the other hand, nothing gets stuck in this doll and there is no water to clean up either.  If you’re of the camp that likes to see the water come out of the doll, Wipey Dipey is probably going to disappoint you.  On the other hand, if you are not big on messy dolls/toys in general…this high-tech no mess approach to potty training may just be what you’ve been looking for.  Only if the real experience could be so mess free!

Watch our video.

Stephanie behind the scenes at the TODAY Show

Stephanie Oppenheim, Al Roker and Natalie Morales

This morning’s segment was about the’s BEST HIGH TECH TOYS for 2010, the complete list of products is on our site.   If you missed the segment from this morning you can watch it by clicking here.

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!

Today Show tomorrow morning

I’ll be on NBC’s TODAY SHOW tomorrow morning (in the 9 o’clock hour)  to talk about our BEST HIGH TECH TOYS for 2010.

This year the run away categories: video camera and bugs!  I’ve decided to throw in an animotion snake – but it won’t stop moving!

To get a sneak peek at our list, visit

Price Wars in Toyland

It seems every time I google “toys” there’s a new story about price slashing in the toy retail market. All good, but it doesn’t mean that all “reduced” or “discounted”  toys are worth  your money or your child’s time.  So for the next few weeks, as we approach the holidays we are going to highlight toys that are great to play with AND easy on the budget!  Today’s list features Five Great Toys for under $15.

Pick of the Day: Artisands Party in a Box

We’re totally  in when there’s a new sand art kit. So even though we are pretty “toy-ed” out by this time of year–when these kits arrived, we were game.  We thought the geometric patterns were fun to explore as well as the more typical scenes.  Our testers agreed!! Read our full review.