Angela Santomero wanted to be a teacher. Then she had a thought: “Wouldn’t it be awesome to use the influential nature of media to educate kids?” And, off she embarked on a journey into creating children’s media.
She forever left her mark on children’s TV with the launch of the iconic Nickelodeon animated show Blue’s Clues, where she was co-creator, executive producer and head writer. She then continued to light up the minds of kids everywhere with her hit TV show, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood on PBS Kids.
Angela is a Peabody award-winner and 25-time Emmy nominee. She’s also chief creative officer of 9 Story media group. Now she’s out to leave a different kind of print on the world with her new book out this month, Radical Kindness: The Life-Changing Power of Giving and Receiving. It’s based off of her approach to living a healthier, more peaceful life.
“Kindness is at the foundation of every show I write. It’s how I approach my life, and it’s a world I want to live in,” Angela says. Kindness is an unsung hero and an invisible super power. It’s backed in science and research. It lowers stress levels and therefore helps cardiac health.”
Read on to hear Angela talk about the benefits of radical kindness, her honesty about feeling she has imposter syndrome and the inspiration for her hit TV shows. Then pick up a copy of her book to see why Deepak Chopra says (in the foreword), “Radical kindness is an important antidote to the poisonous times we are living in, and we can’t look to others to remedy things for us. Radical kindness begins with you. Realizing this has enough energy to revolutionize the way you live. Let Angela’s book help you to see how.”
What is your approach to creativity?
Creative first, and if there is a debate, then kids win. We know kids; we know what they love and what they need and then we play. Creativity is play at its best!
What is a day in the life of Angela like? How do you divide your time?
This is such a hard question! When I write and create I need to dedicate at least a whole day, sans meetings. It’s how I can recharge and think bigger about things.
Meetings are great for collaboration, but I believe in a creative-vision-first approach when it comes to content. So, the writing and big picture thinking needs time to percolate before and after discussions.
I also like to be home for dinner and spend time with the family. My girls are already 18 and 15 so time seems so fleeting!
How did you develop/co-create Blue’s Clues? What inspired you to develop a show so imaginary and exciting for children?
Blue’s Clues was a game show! It was an “experiment” to see if we could have kids learn by interacting with our characters. That’s why we ask kids at home so many questions — they are a main character in our show. Our goal was to create characters that kids will LOVE and to teach everything a preschooler needs to learn before they get to kindergarten.
Then, after Blue’s Clues, how did you come up with the idea for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood?
I was the hugest Mister Rogers fan, so I was honored and thrilled (and terrified!) to promote Fred’s legacy and create a new show. I got to know Fred because we both studied child development and we both got into media to make it better. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is exactly how I played the show as a preschooler — all of the friends from the Neighborhood of Make Believe grew up and had preschoolers of their own. Of course, a preschool Daniel Tiger had to be the star! He was Fred’s first puppet, and my favorite!
What gave you the idea to do a different kind of writing, this time with your just-released book, Radical Kindness?
If we look at the world with kindness, we find the good in people and the world. We can also listen better, collaborate more and have better relationships. We can also focus on passion and intrinsic motivation vs. perfection and anxiety. I believe we need to shout about kindness from the rooftops and all pivot toward kindness if we want to see the change we want to make.
How would you describe the concept “radical kindness”?
It’s seeing with your heart vs. simply seeing with our eyes. It’s leading with compassion, empathy and love vs. hate, anger and scare tactics. It’s finding a peaceful resolution where people are heard and accepted for who they are and what they bring to the world. It’s being vulnerable and real and always learning vs. searching for perfection. When kindness is at the root of all we do, we can make radical change.
What lesson do you hope a reader walks away with after finishing your book?
I hope readers and viewers of my PBS Pledge Show, The Power of Radical Kindness (check local listings) adopt radical kindness as a practice and incorporate it into their everyday lives. Just a little bit can go a long way. Think about how a tiny tack can take down a whole car. On the positive side, a tiny bit of kindness can change you and the world for the better.
As a mom of two, what tips do you have for fellow working moms?
Ask for help! It’s actually also a tenet of Radical Kindness. Asking for help doesn’t show weakness, it is imperative to our self-care. We can’t do it all. It’s a myth! I ask for help from other parents, my husband, my kids and outside help, as needed.
What is something about the work you do that might surprise us?
I still feel like an “imposter” – even after creating eight shows. Every new idea I have, every new show or script I write, I bite my fingernails waiting for feedback on it.
What is an area of your business that is particularly exciting at the moment?
I love finding new writers, new voices and new stories that need to be told. I am also inspired by the truly interactive nature that media is taking that is innovative and breakthrough. I also love being part of the international market with our company. As CCO of 9 Story media group, I’m quite proud of the work we do, every day.
What advice do you have for others who want to work in children’s TV?
Find your passion, do the work, get into media, do any job and scope it out. Be there, observe, understand kids and understand the media landscape.
What is something you want to learn more about?
Everything! I always have a pile of books I am reading.
Any other parting advice?
Be creative, innovative and lead. Don’t follow. I’m so proud that in a world where everything in media is getting a re-boot, I’m part of an original show that is now re-booted with Blue’s Clues.
Being a follower is never as much fun and doesn’t yield as many rewards!
I’d love to have coffee with:
Oprah. Michele Obama. Luke Perry.
The books on my nightstand are:
The Artist’s Way (by Julia Cameron); Dare to Lead (by Brené Brown); Becoming (by Michelle Obama)
My current favorite saying, or mantra, is:
The Dali Lama said “Be kind whenever possible. It’s always possible.”
My favorite way to spend my day off is:
Low key day with my girls and Greg.
One lesson I’ve learned lately is:
If you fall down, get up again!
I can’t live without:
My AirPods. Music and mediation makes my travel so much better!
I feel my best when:
I get a good night’s sleep!
I still feel like an 'imposter' – even after creating eight shows. Every new idea I have, every new show or script I write, I bite my fingernails waiting for feedback on it.