Halle Stanford on the Henson Way


Halle Stanford, the president of television at The Jim Henson Company, talked about how the outfit places “humor, heart and hope” at the center of every show it produces at the TV Kids Festival today.

Stanford oversees a slate that targets multiple age demographics across numerous genres and storytelling techniques. She took part in a keynote conversation with TV Kids’ Kristin Brzoznowski, which you can see here.

“The Henson way is from Jim Henson’s legacy, but also how we at Henson right now are trying to build on what that means,” Stanford said. “It comes down to three words: humor, heart and hope.”

Stanford continued: “We’re a performer-driven company. We create characters, from the inside out. We’re always creating the essence and heart of characters. That makes us unique in the types of characters we create at Henson, and I think it’s why they resonate strongly and emotionally with audiences in prime time and kids.”

Stanford then talked about the new show All-of-a-Kind Family, a live-action drama series. “We ask ourselves, what kinds of families are we representing right now on television? What kinds aren’t being represented? We’ve been putting a huge emphasis at Henson on diverse and underrepresented families. I realized my heritage was being underrepresented as families. I’m very proud of my Jewish identity and committed to telling positive Jewish stories on television, particularly with the 400 percent rise in anti-Semitism across the world. It felt more than ever that it would be wonderful to see this type of family.” Set in Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century, the series is based on the book of the same name by Sydney Taylor.

Also in the works at Henson is Gizmo Girls, an animated preschool show created by Anne-Marie Asner. “Right now in the preschool space, we’re trying to focus on climate action projects. Gizmo Girls is a STEAM series that features hands-on heroes and helpers who, in superhero fashion, are helping to solve community challenges. And they’re doing it by imagining and building sustainable worlds. The underlying philosophy of it is DIT: do it together. There will be lots of green skills in the show and much hands-on learning. We’re working with GoldieBlox—their slogan is ‘Empower Girls. Change the World.’”

Stanford also highlighted Wowsabout, which she created with writer and puppeteer Dorien Davies as a vehicle for Davies and puppeteer John Tartaglia. “The show is about inspiring awe of the natural world in kids.”

Innovation continues to guide the ethos of the studio, Stanford said. “If you can imagine it, we can build it. If you can dream it, we can make it. It’s always been the philosophy, whether it’s in storytelling, technology or creature making.”

Stanford then talked about the Henson Digital Puppetry Studio and how it’s been a leader in performance capture animation. “The puppeteers themselves are puppeteering the facial expressions. They are controlling the emotions of the characters, and they’re also doing the voices. They are controlling the performance versus animators controlling the performance of the characters. They’re performed in real-time. So you’re going to get that intimacy that you get with puppetry, the comedy that you get, and the ability to take two. It’s a beautiful way to create incredible characters that resonate with audiences.”

Stanford’s keynote wrapped with a screening of Henson’s acclaimed Netflix show Word Party.