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The creator of 'Bluey' writes for both kids and grown-ups

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

At this point, it seems fair to call Bluey an international superstar.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLUEY")

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing) Bluey.

SUMMERS: In case you are unfamiliar, she is a 6-year-old blue heeler puppy living in Australia with her little sister Bingo, mom Chilli and dad Bandit, who loves to play.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLUEY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Bluey) Hey, Daddy Robot.

DAVID MCCORMACK: (As Bandit) Yes, Master?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Bluey) We need you to do something. Come with us to the play room.

MCCORMACK: (As Bandit) Yes, Master.

SUMMERS: And now fans of the Emmy-winning TV show can see Bluey and her family live on stage in "Bluey's Big Play." After more than 400 performances in Australia, the "Big Play" is now touring the States. And Bluey's creator, Joe Brumm, joins me now. Welcome.

JOE BRUMM: Good day, Juana. Thank you.

SUMMERS: OK. I've got to ask you to take us a bit behind the scenes here. Just how did you come up with "Bluey"?

BRUMM: Well, there's not a great deal to the idea of "Bluey." It's talking dogs. I'm not the first to do talking dogs, and I'm sure I won't be the last. But I guess it's more in the execution and what the stories ended up being about and how it really focused on play. I think that was fairly unique. Beyond dogs and stuff like that, I really just wanted to show that parents would enjoy watching with their kids rather than you just sort of tolerate it. Because I thought that that must be a really great experience for a young kid, you know, a 4-year-old, a 5-year-old, to be sitting on a couch laughing together with their parents at their favorite show.

SUMMERS: One of the things that I think many people love about watching "Bluey," particularly in the American audience, is the fact that you do pick up those little bits of Australian culture throughout the show. But as I understand it, there are some things about these episodes that do change for the U.S. audience. For example, a scene of a unicorn pooping at a market was pulled. Do you have any say in that process? Why do some things not make it to air in the U.S.?

BRUMM: Yeah, that's been one of the big learning experiences of this show. It's a tricky one - right? - because that particular pony who defecates very publicly in the episode, like, I've sort of read comments where parents had to run into the room to figure out why that kid was laughing so hard.

SUMMERS: (Laughter).

BRUMM: And it was at that scene. And sometimes that's how, in the early days, we would get parents to watch the show because they were just - they thought there was something wrong with their kid, they were laughing so hard. But they were just sort of watching a pony take a dump.

So from what I can tell, some of them are starting to get wound back because the audience, and particularly the U.S. audience, are very vocal. And they're realizing now that they're getting a different version to what I made here in Australia, and they're not particularly happy about that. There is one episode which I don't think at this point will be screened called "Dad Baby," but fingers crossed. You never know.

SUMMERS: What's the deal with that episode?

BRUMM: Well, it was kind of my - I was just quite amazed at my wife's journey through being pregnant and then the birth. And so it was my episode of trying to pay a bit of homage to her, really. But it's Bandit finds the old baby carrier, and Bingo jumps in it and pretends to be his baby. And so Bandit has to carry this baby to term, basically. And he ends up in a kiddie pool in the backyard with his neighbor sort of simulating a home birth. So look, when I made it, I sort of was like, I don't think anyone should show this episode, really, but the ABC were very good with it. And they showed it. And I know I'm in trouble when I'm actually laughing while I'm writing the script. And with that episode, it was the only script where I was just laughing through the whole time I was writing it.

SUMMERS: I want to talk to you now about Bandit, who is this absolutely phenomenal dad who seems to have this limitless well of patience for the creative games his daughters want to play. Do you ever hear from parents who are sitting at home and watching Bandit and feel like they cannot possibly ever measure up to the example that's shown?

BRUMM: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That's quite a quite a common thing in my life now, people mentioning that they don't have the energy or patience of Bandit. And I think that's fair enough. I think he rarely is fully into the idea of playing with the kids. It's usually with a groan and, oh, man, not this game again. But the thing with Bandit is he still does it. And that's what I found I was doing. It's the most of my parenting life. It was like, wow, you know, there's a lot of work to this, but, you know, I'm up for it. I'm going to do it. But I think what I usually answer to that is they are dogs. And if - dogs, probably more so than any other animal, they just love to play. And so if they ever did start walking upright and talking, I think it's a pretty accurate representation of how much they would play with their kids.

SUMMERS: I had never thought about it that way. That's a great point. Since, as we've discussed, both kids and adults really enjoy the show, I mean, you have to know that those kids are going to try to rope the adults in their lives into playing some of the games that Bluey and her family are playing. I know that Keepy Uppy is a big hit in my editor's house. And that game, where you have to keep a balloon off the ground at all costs, is very simple. But that is not the case for all of the games in your show. Some of them are incredibly elaborate. Where do these games come from? Are these games that are played in your house?

BRUMM: Yeah, look, my kids are a bit older now, but most of the games - Magic Xylophone and the endless games of Cafe and...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLUEY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Bluey) Let's take the customers' orders.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Winnie) What customers?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As Bluey and Winnie) Dad, can you be our customer?

BRUMM: You know, freezing and magic statues, they were all - yeah, they were all games that we played with my kids. And, you know, some of them took place at 4 in the morning when my kids were pretty early risers and my wife would still be asleep and you just needed to keep them occupied. And so that's when the more sort of bizarre games come out. But, you know, Keepy Uppy and all those physical games - they were one thing. But the real fascinating types of games they played were what I labeled the sociodramatic games, which, you know, where they're recreating the world that they just experienced that day or the previous day, where they're recreating a cafe or a - or the doctor's office or a bus and things like that.

And they're the ones where I really found fascinating to be involved with. You just see it's the kids trying to practice, you know, the real world, in a sense. And they would get it a little bit wrong, and that was quite funny. And, you know, you ended up in a bit of a Monty Python-style cafe. So that's where I guess the academic sort of side of this comes in is that playing these games are really good for the kids because they have to cooperate, and they have to work with each other and allow different roles and take different roles they might not have wanted; otherwise, the game stops. And kids hate it when games stop. So if there's any serious side to "Bluey," that's about it. It's just trying to show that side of play and that it's really good for those 4- to 6-year-old kids especially.

SUMMERS: Are there any games that have not made the cut for the show because you've sat down and thought, OK, I am just not going to put parents through that?

BRUMM: Well, there's an episode called "Ticklecrabs," where the kids play these little crabs who go and tickle the parents.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLUEY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As Bluey and Bingo) Tickle.

MCCORMACK: (As Bandit) What was that?

BRUMM: Now, that game was originally called Pinchy, because the game I used to play with the kids was - there was this crab that, you know, would sneak home from the beach with me. And they would pinch you. And I said to them, you're allowed to play this game for one minute once a month. And I would have to steel myself up...

SUMMERS: (Laughter).

BRUMM: ...So that when it came time to actually make it, I just thought, look, I'm sorry, I have my limits. I cannot inflict this on the wider population. So we changed it to Ticklecrabs. The episode suffered a little, but I think parents are probably kind of thankful for it in the end.

SUMMERS: Joe Brumm is the creator of the children's TV show "Bluey," as well as "Bluey's Big Play" on stages across the U.S. well into next year. Joe, thank you so much for your time.

BRUMM: No worries, Juana. Thanks for talking to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOFF BUSH'S "BLUEY THEME TUNE (INSTRUMENT PARADE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Sarah Handel
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.