INTERVIEW: PBS KIDS' Tiny Time Travel creator discusses new short-form series

The PBS KIDS short-form series features two live-action characters as they time travel to solve everyday problems

Tiny Time Travel / Courtesy of PBS KIDS
Tiny Time Travel / Courtesy of PBS KIDS /
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Spring has sprung which means that PBS Kids is about to offer a plethora of new and returning programming for you and your loved ones to enjoy! Season 4 of the hit series Molly of Denali premieres Mar. 25; Wild Kratts: Our Blue and Green World is set to premieres on Apr. 1. New episodes of the family-favoriteWild Kratts series will debut on April 2; Nature Cat’s Nature Movie Special Extraordinaire premieres on Apr. 22, and a new series called Milo, premieres on May 13.

Right now, PBS Kids' has already released its latest series Tiny Time Travel, which is available to watch now on PBSKids.org! We spoke with the creator of the series, Tim McKeon (Odd Squad) to get an inside look on developing the short-form series, what the premise means to both parents and kids, and have you wonder if you had just a small amount of time to go back and fix the past, would you? Ponder on this questions and read on to find out more about Tiny Time Travel in the interview below!

The Parent Watch: I’m super excited to speak with you about this show. It sounds so exciting, but I want you to please introduce yourself [and] give us some background!

Tim McKeon: My name is Tim McKeon. I'm a writer and producer of kids’ TV. I got my start in animation, so I worked on some animated shows like Adventure Time, Gravity Falls and Foster’ Home for Imaginary Friends as a writer. I also co-created and was a showrunner for the PBS KIDS series Odd Squad, which, as I was just saying to the PBS team, will be ten next year, which is crazy. Then, I created a show for Sesame Workshop called Helpsters, and now I'm thrilled to be back with PBS KIDS. I created a new show called Tiny Time Travel. It's a series of shorts!

TPW: This isn't your first foray with PBS KIDS, because you created Odd Squad, which is a hugely impactful show about kids [who are] learning about mathematical skills. I wanted to know, as it ties into your creation of Tiny Time Travel, what did you learn from creating that show that you could take into this one?

TM: What a great question! Odd Squad was one of my first experiences writing for educational TV. My co-creator, Adam Peltzman, is a good friend of mine and had a little more experience with that, but I love writing. I'm always trying to write stories that have a lot of character and a lot of heart and keep everyone's attention. So if you can hit all those things and also teach, that’s amazing. We heard a lot of stories from kids just saying, “I was in math class, and I realized as the teacher was talking that I already knew this.” I think there was a huge learning curve in the beginning. What are we going to teach? What's the goal of this thing? That's where you start. 

TM (CONT'D): For Tiny Time Travel, it's this idea of social language: How to communicate with people better. That drove the whole thing. So if that's what I'm trying to teach, it’s important to create a TV show that fits those concepts in naturally, versus having an idea for a TV show and then just trying to cram the education in a little bit. The first spark for me was one way to show and talk about communication is when you do it poorly, when you do it wrong. What if kids could get a redo and could start and stop? That’s what led me to time travel. You can see the mistake, and you can go back in time to fix it and play with that back and forth. I also just love time travel in general, too. I think it's a really fun thing.

TPW: The premise is so interesting. The show features an inventor and his friend - Tyler and Tony - and they're using a time machine to go back [in time] only a small amount. I feel like it does teach kids about responsibility. They're going back in time to help solve things, and it really just showcases a lot of really positive messaging. So, this is a short form series. How did you develop the storylines for these shorts?

TM : Well, I put together a team of people, some of whom I've worked with before and some who are brand new to me. I mean, it all starts with a script, right? And I just started writing scripts and working with the PBS KIDS team. There's always this very humbling moment where you turn in the script. In some ways, that's the most joyful part. That's why I love TV, because it's such a big collaboration. You can get other points of view and you can talk about what’s working and what's not working. It is just a process with a brand-new series or a brand-new season - that you’re trying to figure out. Tiny Time Travel episodes are between five and seven minutes long. So the question is, “How much story can you pack into that short amount of time?” What we realized was we really want them to be simple stories because that way you can spend a lot of time with the characters and jokes and fun.

TM (CONT’D): When the stories get too complex, then your whole time is spent on explaining things. It's funny that these two kids have time travel and they're going back to help someone reorder in a restaurant. One of the things that happened early on was that no one in Tyler and Tony’s world is that impressed with their ability to time travel. Instead of government spies chasing them down, everyone [already] knows and is super into it. There's one line where Tony's mom says “Tyler, I heard you have a time machine. Oh, that's great. It's really nice to have hobbies.” They're ordinary kids. They just have this tiny time machine and are helping other kids in the neighborhood. 

TPW: [It’s nice that you are] creating this world, this little universe where it's normal to do that, like an escape from reality, but there's still this real messaging that can relate back to the viewers. Since we're The Parent Watch, I [want to ask] about what can parents take from this and expect to learn when they're watching with their kids?

TM: Sure! I think kids have a lot to learn from this series, but I also think adults do as well because we're talking about communicating and understanding someone else's point of view. For example, we have an episode called ‘Spoiler Alert’, in which these two best friends (not Tony and Tyler, but two other best friends) are having a fight. The reason is because one friend spoiled a movie for the other person and, understandably, the friend who got the movie spoiled is furious. What I thought was interesting was to dig into why they spoiled the movie. The reason is because they see movies in a completely different way. The character in the series, Samira, wants to know everything that's going to happen in the movie because it's the only way she can feel comfortable. She also sort of geeks out and loves reading about the movie beforehand. She wants to know everything. Then, there’s her friend Landon, who doesn't want to know anything. The joy for him is being completely surprised.

TM (CONT'D): So you have these two different points of view, and neither one is right. Each friend has to understand the other person's point of view to act kindly to them, [and] to communicate with them effectively. I mean, that helps kids, but, gosh, it helps adults, too. There were so many times where we were on set while filming live action scenes and all the adults behind the camera were saying things like, “Hey, I'm learning something from this. I need to treat you with more kindness or listen to you a little bit more,” or something like that. I think it's a show for kids. I think it's also a show for humans.

TPW: I can relate to that sentiment about the movies and spoiler alerts. I think it's something that, especially now with more and more movies and with social media, too, even though I don't want to hear about the end of the film, I'm going to [have to] cover my ears. It does resonate with both younger kids, older kids, and parents.

TM: One thing I'm really excited about is that the “bones” of this show are all about empathy. We have one episode where one of the characters is interrupting someone all the time. Which is objectively not a good thing to do. Our show digs into the question of, “Well, why are you interrupting someone all the time?” When you ask questions like that and you take a beat and you ask yourself why someone is behaving like this, you gain an understanding of their point of view from the other side. The reason in the case of our episode is, “I'm so excited to share my point of view.” The other character can understand. They can meet in the middle, find a better way to act towards each other and comprehend each other. I have to give a lot of credit to PBS KIDS. Another thing I'm really excited about with this show is the characters of Tony and Tyler themselves. They are these two boys who are 12 years old, and they just have a really solid relationship. They're kind, empathetic boys.

TM (CONT’D): It's the kind of kid I was. I have this one friend, and we've been friends since we were 12 years old. [Tony and Tyler’s relationship] is based on my friendship with him. We're really different people, but I feel like we just really listen to each other and have very different points of view. Even today, 30 years later, I love the conversations I have with him. So a real goal for me is to create two really kind, empathetic characters. Sometimes you just see depictions of boys that are not the best. There's lots of baggage. This was such a wonderful collaboration with PBS KIDS. What I heard from them was, “We don't have a relationship like this between two boys this age on our screen so can we do that with this show?” I was very excited to do it.

TPW: When it comes to a lot of current programming, you don't see that relationship portrayed in television and now in this medium, I think it's going to be really impactful to a lot of people.

TM: Yeah, one of my goals with every project I do is, as much as possible, let kids see themselves on screen.

Have you watched any of the episodes yet? Which one is your favorite? You can watch episodes of Tiny Time Travel on PBSKids.org. Keep up to date with The Parent Watch for more coverage and interviews just like this!