It’s not everyday that AfterEllen.com covers the goings on in the world of children’s television but when we were contacted recently by the folks at Disney/ABC Television to cover a new animated series on their new 24-hour cable channel, Disney Junior, our curiosity got the best of us.
The series is called Doc McStuffins and focuses on a young girl named Doc (voiced by Kiara Muhammad) who runs her own office where stuffed animals and other toys can come for her expert diagnosis. While the normally inanimate objects come to life in Doc’s eyes, the series, which is geared to ages two to seven, promotes good health, hygiene and compassion as well as helping kids get over their natural fears of going to see the doctor.
Other voices in the series include Loretta Devine (Grey’s Anatomy), Lara Jill Miller (Gimme A Break) and Robbie Rist (best known as Cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch). Modern Family’s Ty Burrell also appears as a guest voice of Big Jack in the premiere episode on March 23.
Besides the positive message (and a song or two) in every episode, the other part of the show that caught our attention was the creator and Executive Producer of the series, Chris Nee. Nee has worked regularly in children’s television for years, has won both Humanitas and Emmy Awards and also just happens to be an out and proud lesbian. In fact, when Nee spoke recently to us, she expressed that she was as surprised as we were that Disney was reaching out to the gay press to promote her show but the messages in the series are ones that are more familiar to us than we may first imagine.
photo credit: ABC/BOB D’AMICO
AfterEllen.com: How did the concept for Doc McStuffins come to you, especially the name, which I love?
Chris Nee: Usually names are the long process [but] one of the things I love is that Doc McStuffins came to me in a flash in my head way back in the beginning and it’s still the name of the show. I love that that stuck through the whole thing. Basically the show came about because I’d been writing for kids the last fifteen years so this has always been my business but this show really happened because I became a mom.
Kids can end up in the hospital or the doctor’s office even when they’re healthy but my son had asthma so he spent a lot of time at the doctor’s office. Somewhere in that process I just looked at him and I thought, “I wish I could make the fact that he spends time in the doctor’s office — I wish all of that could be made a little less scary for him.” I realized I had the power to do that and I’m going to try to make a TV show for him because that’s what I do. That’s where it came from. It was a very personal moment that I then had the skills to make happen.
AE: Even though this is a kid’s show and we’re not going to see gay storylines but how do you instill subtle messages about acceptance and how people are different? Is that always in the back of your head when doing these shows?
CN: Definitely. My son [Theo] has two moms and it’s a huge part of my life as a human being and it’s been an incredible part of the way that I see the world and the way I see characters and the way I want to create characters who are incredibly accepting of each other and whatever is happening in their life. I think that I work very hard on creating the family of friends. I like to create a world that’s a world of friends who are just extraordinary at supporting each other in whatever they’ve doing — my own biological family is an amazing family but I think that classic story of gay kids is that you end up creating that family of friends and that’s always reflected in my work.
AE: In Doc’s workplace, I noticed that the stuffed animals and toys are all very different and distinct.
CN: But they love each other anyway! In my original pitch, I said I wanted to do a show that was like Cheers for pre-school kids. [Doc’s] own family is incredibly important but ultimately this group of characters that are so incredibly different have created their own family in the clinic and that is reflective of so much of what we all go through as we’re first coming out as young kids and whatever the process is with our own families. I came out a long time ago but back in those days there was the period after you came out where your family was truly struggling and you had to create another group of people who would step in during that period of time.
AE: We do see the parents on the show but is there an opportunity to see some same sex parents like you might see two Mommys or two Daddys?
CN: For the most part in this show, we don’t spend a lot of time with human characters because it’s part of the construct of the show that nobody else sees her stuffed animals alive. Her mother is actually a pediatrician and we spend a lot of time at the beginnings and ends of the episodes with her family but the meat of the episodes, because the toys are alive, we can’t see [the family]. It’s hard to know exactly where the boundaries are because they’re always changing in kids’ TV.
I will say I have been incredibly surprised by how supportive Disney has been in the process of looking for press for this show. That’s a change. I’ve never been anything but accepted in the world of writing kids’ TV but I was surprised that Disney has been so beyond willing and excited to sort of publicize this part of my life and this part of who I am. That’s progress!
AE: I didn’t know the show and your work until Disney reached out to AfterEllen.com to cover it.
CN: I have to be honest, I was surprised and very pleasantly surprised that Disney has been happy to celebrate who I am and who my family is and when we talk about how my son is the inspiration of this show we’re also talking about my family and my family is my partner Lisa, myself and Theo. Kudos to Disney for that and I think we all know that the world continues to change.
AE: Since you and Lisa are raising your son, how is it in your school since you’re two Moms.
CN: We live in Venice, California so I have to say it’s fantastic! We’re very lucky at how much of the world has changed. But we have family in Cleveland and, frankly, it’s great for us there. There, the world has very much changed. I walk through my life just not thinking about it that much. It’s a pretty good time to be a gay family, I must say.
AE: I know merchandising with these shows is a big part of it. Will we see a Doc McStuffins doll and I know I want a Big Book Of Boo-Boos!
CN: The toys are actually coming out this summer, which is really exciting and it’s earlier than usually happens. We’ll have some dolls out and some doctors kits that little kids love to play with and I don’t think the Big Book of Boo-Boos is out in that first round but I just want Loretta Devine [who voices Hallie] to say “It’s the Big Book Of Boo-Boos!” Every time she says it it’s a little bit different and a little bit more amazing.
AE: Because you have been in the children’s projects so long, did that prepare you to be a parent?
CN: I think of being a parent helping me be a kids writer but I actually did know how to teach him how to read from years of spending time on shows like Sesame Street so very early on I was putting that stuff together and I realized I was using things I knew from my shows. I don’t think I relate to [Theo] on a very easy level because I’ve spent so much in my career thinking about how kids his age think. More than anything, I’m influenced the other way around. For many years, I thought it didn’t matter that I didn’t have kids and I could write for kids without having that but it’s incredible to really see what makes him laugh and to hear a kid talk all the time and to constantly be amazed by how quirky and unique and different and not so middle-down-the-line kids think.
Doc McStuffins premieres tomorrow, March 23 on Disney Junior. For more details about the channel, visit the website.