Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

Lisa Henson

We recently had the chance to chat with the fabulous Lisa Henson. Lisa is Co-Chief Executive Officer of The Jim Henson Company where she, along with her brother Brian, is responsible for the Company’s strategic and creative direction. She is the genius behind the fabulous new show Sid The Science Kid [1] and oversees all television and feature film production for the Company from early development through post-production.


Prior to her current position, Lisa was President of Columbia Pictures, in charge of all creative business affairs, administrative and production-related matters for the company. Under Ms. Henson’s leadership, Columbia Pictures produced a string of critical and commercial successes including Bad Boys, Men in Black, and Fly Away Home. She was also responsible for the critically acclaimed, Academy Award-winning Sense and Sensibility. Prior to joining Columbia Pictures, Lisa served 10 years as a Production Executive at Warner Bros., working on such blockbusters as Lethal Weapon, Batman, and Batman Returns.


Ms. Henson graduated in 1983 with a degree in folklore and mythology from Harvard University, where she was the first female President of The Harvard Lampoon. In the past, she has served on the Board of Directors for Harvard University, the Tibet House and The Jim Henson Foundation for Puppetry. She is the mother of two children, ages 10 and 8.


Mommy Tracked: Who's your favorite Muppet?

Lisa Henson:
My favorite Muppet character has always been piano-playing Rowlf the dog. He is a quieter character — not quite as well known as Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog and others — but my father always performed Rowlf himself and so he was special to me. He was one of the early puppets that debuted on another program. Rowlf came into his own later — on The Muppet Show.



Growing up with Jim Henson as your dad had to be a unique experience. How much did his work impact his parenting style?

When we were children, we went to the Muppet workshop in New York City all the time. That's where the puppets were built. It was a fantasy land for a child. It felt like going to Santa's workshop. It was an incredibly creative place to be. Working on creative projects was part of the fabric of our upbringing. We always had a really big art project going on at home. We would mosaic bathroom tiles together as a family, work on animated films. The projects weren't 45 minute afternoon activities — they would take weeks. There was always something going on at our house.

You used to be an Executive Producer for Warner Brothers and then you were President of Columbia Pictures. Was that just training for the inevitable job of running The Jim Henson Company?

My father did always hope that his kids would take over the family business. He encouraged each of us to pursue different sides of the business. It was almost as if he was purposefully grooming a team. One of us was led toward learning to build the puppets, one to perform. I was always the producer. But it wasn't always my plan to step into my dad's shoes. There just came a time when there were business challenges at Henson and I felt it was time. I also had a child by then and so joining the Company took on a new significance to me.


Have your experiences as a parent informed your approach to producing children's programming?

I'm sure that is true — you end up watching so much TV with your kids. As a parent you start to form your opinions about the entertainment in a way you might not if you didn't have kids. If not a parent — hard to have the same personal connection to the programming. So many of us at The Jim Henson Company are parents — I think that is why we are all so committed to Sid The Science Kid [2]. We are all looking for truly entertaining and educational programming for our kids. The curriculum for Sid is all based on pre-school science. Our head writer volunteered in his kid's class and did every single experiment on Sid The Science Kid [3] in the classroom. Talk about a focus group.


We did our own focus group and showed Sid the Science Kid [4] to a bunch of kids between the ages of 5 and 8. They loved the show, even insisted on watching it three times in a row. They thought Sid's sidekick Gabriela was fantastic. Was it important to you to have a girl character interested in science?

Yes. We created Gabriela to show that girls can be cool and still be in the bug club and know the answers to all the questions. She doesn't walk into a room, she makes an entrance. With her hand dramatically gesturing into the air, she'll happily announce her arrival, "Gabriela is here!" And don't let the puffy pink tutu she wears over jeans fool you . . . she's no girlie girl. In fact, she's an athletic, rough and tumble aspiring "rock star scientist."


How consuming is your work schedule?

I work long hours. For me, my personal goal is always to be sitting at dinner with the kids at 6:45 or 7. See everyone at the table every day. Skip that — slippery slope. Everyone has their own level that works for them — so personal — non judgmental. Someone could feel they can only work part time. Someone else is the breadwinner. I truly think that everyone has to do what works best for them.


Do you bring your kids to the office a lot?

I do — especially in the summer. As I mentioned before, I was raised at my dad's office. When I had babies, I would bring them to the office all the time. Now that the kids are older, they do come in and hang out on the main production floor. I think they are getting a great education about what a creative and collaborative work environment looks like. I haven't had a chance to truly teach them any of the nuts and bolts of puppeteering or the business in general. NOTE TO SELF - DO THAT IN MY FREE TIME. I have made sure to teach them not to disturb everyone. I don't want any of the assistants to feel as though they are being asked to double as my nanny.


Speaking of free time, do you have any time for guilty pleasures? If so, what are they?

I am divorced and remarried. When my ex-husband has the kids, I do get a little time to indulge. Though sadly, I spend a great deal of that time cleaning house, organizing and catching up on my life.




If you liked our interview with children's programming executive and working mother Lisa Henson, don't forget to check out our Working Mom interview with Baby Einstein Vice President Susan McLain [4]. 

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