Tom Rogers, executive producer and showrunner of Disney Junior’s The Chicken Squad, talks to TV Kids about how he came to the project, bringing Doreen Cronin’s books to life on screen and the vital role kids’ TV can play in young one’s lives.
Inspired by Doreen Cronin’s popular children’s books, Disney Junior’s new animated series The Chicken Squad follows a trio of young chicken siblings, who are led by mentor Captain Tully on problem-solving adventures, instilling in them—and the show’s young viewers—the value of helping one’s community and the joy to be found therein. Produced by Wild Canary in association with Disney Junior, The Chicken Squad is executive produced by first-time showrunner and Emmy Award-winning screenwriter Tom Rogers.
Rogers has been a writer for Disney for more than 20 years, and was working on Elena of Avalor while also workshopping ideas with the Disney Junior team when the possibility of a Chicken Squad series came up. “They had the Chicken Squad books and hadn’t been able to crack it,” says Rogers. “I took a look at them and fell in love with them immediately. They took me back to my childhood; like the mystery books that I used to read and love that were all about kids who had a secret hideout and a club and were solving mysteries and helping their friends and neighbors. I connected to it right away—and then we were off to the races.”
While Rogers was familiar with Cronin’s Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Typebook from reading to his nieces and nephews, working on the series was the first time he encountered the Chicken Squad books. An author himself, Rogers was keen to involve Cronin in the adaptation. “I loved [the books], and then I also saw the things that would need to change or shift a bit in order to adapt this book into a successful animated series,” says Rogers. “Probably the most important thing that we did as a team was to work with Doreen from the beginning and let her know what we were thinking and show that we were going to be respectful of the core ideas, the core messaging about kids solving their own problems, using their own ingenuity and smarts and skills, and being community helpers. Those things weren’t going to change.
“Once [Cronin] felt comfortable that we understood what the heart of the series was about, she was really onboard and rooting for all of the things we were doing to bring it to the screen,” adds Rogers.
With the spirit of Cronin’s books in mind, the first takeaway that Rogers wants viewers of the show to have is fun. “We sometimes don’t put enough value on being silly, and I think that’s great,” he explains. “The second thing is just to take joy in helping others. It’s a really rewarding and delightful thing to do—finding a way to be inspired by the Chicken Squad, to be a community helper.” As for takeaway number three, Rogers hopes The Chicken Squad and its music inspires kids to get up and dance.
Kids’ TV has long played a significant role in their development, a truth that’s been underscored over the last year in which a global pandemic has kept many children around the world at home, away from both the classroom and the playground. “When kids are deprived of the chance to be with their friends at school, they have their friends on TV,” says Rogers. “I hope they’ll come to see Sweetie and Coop and Little Boo and Captain Tully as their friends, and want to meet with them every week and see what they’re up to and play along with them, sing along with the songs. I do think that’s really important.”
Rogers concedes that getting to work on The Chicken Squad amid the pandemic was a challenging curveball—but one he and his team capably handled. “We are very fortunate in the animation business to do almost all of our work fairly successfully working from home,” he notes. “We were able to manage that transition pretty smoothly and, knock wood, everything has gone great.”
As a first-time showrunner who has been in the animated business for some time and taken on managerial roles within it, having the chance to guide the whole operation for The Chicken Squad was a welcome shift for Rogers. “I was really looking forward to having my own show where I could set the tone, both on-screen—so that it’s super funny and with good messaging and heart, great songs—but also, behind the camera. I want to make sure we have a crew that embraces diversity, embraces respect, embraces the values behind the camera that we’re espousing on the screen.”
Helping to deliver The Chicken Squad’s positive messages and values is the voice cast, which includes Yvette Nicole Brown as Captain Tully, Ramone Hamilton as Coop, Gabriella Graves as Sweetie and Maxwell Simkins as Little Boo. The recurring guest voice cast features Tony Hale, Jane Lynch, Melissa Rauch, Sean Giambrone, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Melissa Villaseñor and Zack Pearlman.
Rogers, who calls the casting “really great fortune on our part,” had previously worked with Yvette Nicole Brown on Elena of Avalor. “She is an amazing voice actress and an incredible singer too,” says Rogers. “She’s warm and funny, which is exactly what we wanted for this mentor character [of Captain Tully]. She signed on right away. Our fantastic casting director, Allyson Bosch, helped us find the other voice actors.”
“We have a strong writing team and writing good scripts gives you good actors,” adds Rogers. “It’s just been great to get this incredible group of actors to help us bring the show to life.”
As for getting the band back together for season two of The Chicken Squad,
“I certainly hope so,” says Rogers. “Everybody seems really excited about the show—the network and all the people I work with at Disney seemed very excited about it—so, fingers crossed!”