A high quality children’s TV series that teaches children concepts such as economic freedom and personal responsibility didn’t exist a year ago. But now, “Tuttle Twins” is redefining pro-American entertainment for children.
The TV version of “Tuttle Twins” is inspired by the beloved book series of the same name by Connor Boyack. The TV series takes viewers on exciting adventures with siblings Ethan and Emily Tuttle and their freedom-loving grandma, who just happens to have a time-traveling wheelchair.
The vision for the crowdfunded series is “to mix the humor of shows like ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Phineas and Ferb’ with the family friendliness and educational value of something like ‘The Magic School Bus,’” says Daniel Harmon, the show’s creator.
In the first episode, Ethan and Emily travel back in time to learn from famous French economist Frederic Bastiat as well as “the French Revolution that was going on around that time, and how rights are so needed to be protected by the government,” Harmon says.
“Tuttle Twins” is also meant to be entertaining for parents. In the same way as “Pixar makes movies for kids, but that adults really enjoy as well,” he says, “that’s what we’re trying to do with this.”
Harmon joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to talk about the mission of his new children’s series, which will officially release in October, and how families can begin enjoying “Tuttle Twins.”
We also cover these stories:
- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announces his resignation a week after an investigation concluded that he sexually harassed 11 female state employees.
- The U.S. Senate passes a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill by a vote of 60-39.
- A viral Instagram video shows Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., dancing and taking photos maskless at an indoor wedding.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: I am joined by Daniel Harmon. Daniel is the chief creative officer and founder of the Harmon Brothers ad agency and the creator of “Tuttle Twins,” an animated TV show for kids that teaches them the value of freedom. Daniel, thanks so much for being here.
Daniel Harmon: Thanks for having me on, Virginia.
Allen: I’m so excited to talk with you about “Tuttle Twins.” Actually, I watched the pilot episode of the show last night, and I found myself laughing at many of the jokes. It’s a really funny and witty show; even though it’s for kids I feel like there’s a lot of great humor in it that adults can appreciate as well, and it really teaches kids concepts of limited government, of freedom, and it does so in a way that they can actually understand, which is awesome.
But I want to begin, Daniel, by just talking a little bit about your story, and how you and your brothers first began working in the media space and got involved in ads and now TV shows.
Harmon: Yeah, so, a lot of that starts with a company called Orabrush, it’s a tongue cleaner for bad breath—90% of bad breath comes from bacteria on your tongue. And my brothers were co-founders of a company, of Orabrush, and they were really having a hard time selling their tongue cleaners through traditional means, like through grocery stores and that kind of thing. So they went to YouTube with it and had a tremendous amount of success in being able to sell the Orabrush online through video.
I was involved in that process of consulting on the video content that they were creating, and I created the logo and stuff that they use for Orabrush, I think even to this day. And I joined the company a little bit later as an art director, and we did a ton of video content. Literally a video a week is what we were doing for the company, and it was this giant campaign and its efforts that we did that got Orabrush into places like Walmart and Walgreens, and into distributors all over the world, basically.
After a while a company approached us that was called Poo-Pourri, they make a toilet spray to get rid of the nasty smell when you go to the bathroom that you spray on the toilet first, and we actually left Orabrush to go do that campaign.
We hadn’t intended to start an ad agency, but we needed a company to put the campaign money into, and so we were just like, “Let’s call it ‘Harmon Brothers’ and then we’ll change it later if we need to.”
Essentially, when we made the Poo-Pourri campaign, the title on YouTube is “Girls Don’t Poop,” I think, it blew up. It was extremely successful. It was featured on the big advertising networks, like Adweek and Advertising Age, and Huffington Post picked it up, and it was very viral, and they sold out of their product.
But then people started approaching us from all over the place to do advertising for them, and we were getting cited in the news as “creative agency Harmon Brothers,” and we were like, “Are we an agency? I didn’t know we were an agency. I guess we’re an agency.”
But Poo-Pourri, the success of Poo-Pourri is how Squatty Potty found us, and then with Squatty Potty we did the pooping unicorn and the prince to teach people about colon health. And then from there it was Purple Mattress, we launched that brand with them, and Chatbooks, and Camp Chef, and the Lume, and so many others.
The success started with figuring out some things at Orabrush, and then we eventually formed our own company and started with Poo-Pourri, and it took off since. And yeah, I’m the chief creative officer and oversee the creative ad work that comes out of the agency, so it’s been a fun ride.
Allen: I love it. Your creative style is just amazing. I feel like you-all have taken such a unique approach to ads, and you are bringing that creativity to the “Tuttle Twins” TV show. So what was the process of going from ads to then discovering, “OK, I want to pursue a new project, called the ‘Tuttle Twins’ TV show”? And yeah, just walk us through that transition.
Harmon: Yeah, you bet. So, so much of the success that we’ve experienced is in the formula we have at Harmon Brothers where we’ve mixed the worlds of branding.
When you think of really great branding, you think of brands like Nike, Ford, Red Bull, Apple, all these giant brands that make you feel something in their advertising. We mix that element with what in the marketing world is known as direct response, where it’s like, “Buy now, call this 1-800 number,” like infomercials, we mix those two worlds together to where there’s a high amount of branding and storytelling, and humor, and then there’s a high amount of education for the products we’re doing.
Because no one had ever heard of Purple, no one had ever, I shouldn’t say no one had heard, very few had heard of Poo-Pourri, compared to what they do now, or the Squatty Potty. We had to educate the customer on those kinds of things.
And so when “Tuttle Twins” came along, meeting Connor Boyack, the author of the books, when he wrote the first book—I’m a friend of his—and he released it, I bought it immediately, read it with my kids, really enjoyed it, and then I bought every book since. And I’m like, “Man, he’s really onto something.” In fact, he has been, he’s sold over 2 million copies of these books now of this book series. It’s been tremendously successful for him, to the point where he started entertaining the idea of, like me, maybe we should turn this into a TV show. And then I reached out to him and I said, “No, I want to turn it into a TV show.”
I had a vision in my head for the way it could play out, because he had done such a good job of breaking down these complex concepts of things like individual freedom, and limited government, and free markets, all these things in a way that kids could understand them, and adults were learning them in a way that they never had.
And I was like, “Oh, if we could really bring that to a TV show, but with elements of storytelling and comedy and stuff that I had developed, I had learned at my time as chief creative officer at Harmon Brothers, then I think we’d have something really great that kids would really enjoy and understand, and that adults would as well.”
I mean, that’s the Pixar model. Pixar makes movies for kids, but that adults really enjoy as well. And that’s what we’re trying to do with this is make it so kids really enjoy it and love it, and then adults really appreciate the humor, and things like that.
“VeggieTales” is a good example of that as well, where it’s like, when you actually sit down and listen to the writing and stuff, and see the lines of the story, you’re like, “Oh, this is really witty, this is really clever.” And that’s the vision for the show.
So we partnered up with Connor to do the TV show. And then, in order to fund the production for season one, we did it through crowdfunding. Our distribution partner is Angel Studios, they’re very known for the series “The Chosen,” which has been a huge success. They have, I think, over 150 million views on the series now, and they’re in their second season.
And we went out to the crowd—I mean, Connor has a really good base of people that have bought the books, like I mentioned, over 2 million copies sold. And it’s clear that there is a real need in the market for these kinds of materials, because parents are really craving tools to teach their kids about these values of freedom, because they’re not really being taught as much in culture, in society, or even in the school systems. And so they’re really craving this … and it’s clear from the way that they got behind this project. We raised over, what’s the total? We raised over $3.7 million from the crowd.
It’s the single largest crowdfunded kids show in world history.
Allen: That’s amazing.
Harmon: Yeah, so it’s been a huge success.
Allen: Well, and Sen. Mike Lee, he had some very generous and kind words to say of the project that you-all have on your website, but he wrote, “It’s imperative that parents teach the time-tested values of freedom and free markets to their kids, and the ‘Tuttle Twins’ project is an amazing way to help do that.” So explain how you take a concept like free market economics and explain it to kids in the ‘Tuttle Twins’ TV show.
Harmon: Yeah, the way that we do it is we start with the principles. We say to ourselves, “What has to be taught in this particular episode?” And in Episode One—that’s available on TuttleTwins.tv, you can watch it in its entirety in an animatic form, meaning it’s a collection of storyboards that are edited together with voices and things like that. It’s not the finished animation, but you can get a sense of the story. …
We start with what needs to be taught. In that first one we wanted to teach about the law; about rights; that people have a right to life, to liberty, and property; and that when government goes beyond the protection of those rights for people, and starts actually taking or infringing upon those rights, then that’s where people get upset.
And we have an example in that episode of where you have the Tuttle Twins, they’re selling some lemonade, and in comes the kids club president of their cul-de-sac kids club, and because she’s the president, she gets to take lemonade, as much as she wants, whenever she wants, and that’s written in their kids club laws. And they’re like, “Well, that’s a stupid law.” Then they go on a discovery process of figuring out, “Well, what is a good law?” And they have a grandma with a time-traveling wheelchair that takes them on these journeys.
I mean, the vision for the show is very much to mix the humor of shows like “The Simpsons” and “Phineas and Ferb” with the family friendliness and educational value of something like “The Magic School Bus.” And that’s kind of what we’re doing, is they go back in time to learn from the famous economist Frédéric Bastiat from France, and the French Revolution that was going on around that time, and how rights are so needed to be protected by the government.
And then they go and learn about the practical application of that in an Old West setting where we have a rancher named Carla [whose] cows, they’re taken away from her by the government because it was written into the law. She’s like, “Well, this isn’t really just.” And then they’re able to go back and apply that to their lemonade stand and get the law changed.
So it all starts with what we need to teach in each individual episode, and then the story revolves around that. Very similar to what we’ve done with our advertising campaigns, it always starts with, what’s the message we need to communicate? What’s the main thing we need the customer to understand when they walk away from this ad? And then all the character, and the story, and all the comedy needs to support that.
Allen: I love it, so creative. All right, well, let’s take a quick listen to a clip from that first episode of “Tuttle Twins.”
… All right, welcome back. Well, Daniel, would you just tell us a little bit about the process and the time that goes into creating a show like this, developing the characters, deciding what you want it to look like?
Harmon: You bet. So the process has been going on a long time now. One, from getting a deal together with Connor, the author of the books. So we started on this process now, I’d say almost two years ago that we started meeting with him and talking to him about it.
And then for the writing process, I brought together some great writers that have helped us at Harmon Brothers, really proven comedy writers, like Kellen Erskine, who has been on “Conan,” on, I think, “Jimmy Kimmel,” he has a show where he’s featured on Amazon Prime, and on Dry Bar Comedy; and then Kelly Vrooman, and she’s got a show on Netflix, and she’s been a very successful writer for us at Harmon Brothers on ad campaigns; and Johnny Vance, the same thing where he’s contributed to shows like “Studio C,” that’s known for their sketch comedy.
So all of our writers have really strong comedic writing backgrounds, and then they have really good backgrounds in writing advertising as well. And so they’re really good storytellers.
The process is we first off needed to come up with a great concept for the show, because our main thing is we’re teaching the same principles in the books, we’re not necessarily doing it with the exact same stories that are in the books.
It’s all the same principles and teaching about limited government and about principles of freedom, but the characters are a little bit different. There’s the “Tuttle Twins” TV show universe and then the “Tuttle Twins” book universe, and they’re quite a bit different in that way, but what they’re teaching is actually extremely similar.
And Connor is a co-executive producer on our project, and so he actually helps us maintain the integrity of that as he goes through. He helps us in that writing process to make sure we’re being very clear on that, and he’s very good in that way.
But the writing process is intensive, because we go through an outline of the episode—well, we start with a concept, and then we do a day where we tackle the outline of what we think it’s going to go like, and then we get feedback on that. And then we go through a first draft and we get feedback on that. And then we go through a second draft and we give feedback on that. And then we go through a fourth draft and get feedback on that. And then we just continue to go through that process.
Then you go to an animatic, which is where you put together the storyboards. And the storyboards, like, you’ll see if you go to TuttleTwins.tv, that’s where we put together the entire episode with drawings that are, they’re not finished animation, but it gives you an idea of how the character expresses themselves and moves, and it brings all that together.
And once we’ve got a good animatic, that is what we pass off to the animation company, who then takes all the character designs that we’ve put together, and background designs and prop designs, and they place that in and put the movement to it. They have voices that they follow, so we’ve prerecorded all those voices so that they know what they’re timing all the animation to.
It’s really extensive, I mean, it takes a while from beginning to end. We haven’t finished an episode yet. … We’ve got one, two, three, we’ve got four of them in production and two of them that are in writing right now, and we’re about to start on the next six in writing.
And so yeah, it’s a pretty big process.
Allen: That is a very big process, wow. Yeah, fascinating to hear all that goes into even just one episode, that’s wild. So as you’re thinking right now about both the short-term vision and the long-term vision of the show, where do you want this to go?
Harmon: We feel like the principles of freedom are timeless, and that they are also international. They’re not exclusive just to the United States, anybody that follows these principles of limited government and free markets can find tremendous peace and prosperity when applied to their own culture and their own country. And so the big vision is that it goes way beyond the United States, that it’s able to go internationally, much like “The Chosen” has with Angel Studios.
“The Chosen,” which is the first multiseason TV show about the life of Christ, it’s now been, I think, seen in every country in the world, except for North Korea, which obviously, they have their restrictions there. But the idea is that it will get translated to multiple languages, and that we think it can go season after season after season, literally for seasons on end. That’s one of the reasons why we’re doing this as a cartoon, is so it can have that longevity.
The Tuttle Twins in our universe of the TV show are 11 years old, and so they won’t necessarily have to age, because they’re cartoons, and we’re casting adult voices for them, so those don’t have to age as well, so that they’re able to continue to go back and play the character, much like, I mean, the Simpsons is on season 30, we think this has the potential to do that kind of a thing, that it could just go on and on and really teach about all different aspects of these principles of freedom.
This is my personal belief, when I talked to friends and neighbors on all sides of the aisle—left, right, Republican, Democrat, progressive, conservative—whatever you want to call them, there is a tremendous love that almost everyone has, a love for freedom.
Everyone loves the idea of freedom, they like their freedoms. You can’t sit there and say to someone, “Oh, isn’t slavery much better?” No one thinks in those terms, everyone loves the concept of freedom, but very, very few really understand what that means in principle and in practice.
And that’s the gap that this show really tries to close, is we’re not really approaching it from any kind of a political party standpoint at all, we’re very much approaching it in terms of principles, so that people can break it down and understand it, and then apply it to their own life in the way that they vote, in the initiatives that they support, and at the politicians that they maybe get behind.
Allen: Yeah. Oh, I think that’s so critical. You’re so right, we all want freedom, that’s such a basic human desire, but for some reason it seems like there can be a disconnect, sometimes, between actually that desire and then really knowing what that looks like in practice, and in the government, or in our daily lives. That’s so powerful to start thinking about, “OK, how do we actually teach that to kids from a young age so that they can grasp that concept?” Have you showed, or done watching with the kids, and kind of seeing how kids react to the show and their responses to it?
Harmon: Yep, everything starts with the kids. So when we first write the outline for a script, we turn it into a storybook form … And I have a really good focus group at home because I have seven kids.
Allen: That is a good focus group.
Harmon: And so I have daughters that are ages 12, 10, and 8, and they’re my primary focus group. And then I have some more cynical teenage sons that are 14 and 16, and they have good insights too, because they’re very much into what’s cool and that kind of stuff right now. And so if they like it, then I know I’m really onto something.
But I read it with the story outline with my kids as a storybook kind of format and pay attention to where they’re getting bored and where they’re laughing and what’s really resonated. And I ask them afterward, “What was your favorite part?” Or, “What was the part that confused you?” And we get feedback early on from kids. We do that, and then once we have a finished script and put it into the animatic, we show that to them as well.
And one of the big indicators for me is when my kids ask to rewatch it, when they’re like, “Oh, can I watch that again?” And even though it’s not finished animation, it’s actually just a bunch of storyboards put together and edited with some temporary voices and stuff, but they are enjoying it and loving it, and watching it. They’re choosing it even as entertainment right now before it’s finished, even over some of their options on Disney+ and YouTube and Netflix, and all that stuff.
So that’s the goal, that’s the vision for the show, is that it’s entertaining enough and it works well enough as a story and as characters that kids want to watch it as entertainment, but then they also get the education along with it. They’re not thinking that they’re going to school as they’re sitting down, they’re just like, “Oh, this is a fun thing for me to follow.” So that’s the vision for it.
Allen: Love it, so creative. Now, you mentioned that the show is crowdfunded, but your model of crowdfunding is actually really unique. Could you just explain that model, how you-all did it?
Harmon: Yeah, you bet. So, when people think of crowdfunding, they often think of Kickstarter or Indiegogo, and those are usually based on funding some sort of a product that’s going to go out into the market—someone’s invented a cool backpack, or whatever it is, and you’re donating, you’re crowdfunding through donations. So people that are just so into it, they support it, and they just back the project, or they want to buy the thing, whatever it is.
This is very different in that the crowdfunding through Angel Studios is an investment in the “Tuttle Twins” show. Meaning, when we succeed, you succeed. And so for everyone that invested, and it’s now some 9,000 people that invested that $3.7 million, for everyone that invested, before we take a dollar of profit from the show, we have to pay back those investors 120% of what they invested. Meaning, if they invested a dollar, they get $1.20 back before we ever take profits of our own.
So as the show succeeds, they’ll succeed. It is actually an investment in the business entity of it.
And there’s going to be—with kids shows most of the revenue, in fact, 70% of revenue from kids shows comes from merchandising. If you look at something like “Cars” or “Toy Story,” the box office revenue is literally 10% of the total of the billions of dollars that they’ve earned on those things, literally those films become just almost ads for the merchandising itself.
So we have big plans to very much merchandise the “Tuttle Twins” with things like T-shirts and hoodies, and coffee mugs and school supplies, and all that stuff, as well as just toys, stuffed animals, and little figurines, and that stuff that the kids love. So that’s the road we’re headed down right now.
Allen: So if someone still wants to support “Tuttle Twins” TV financially, can they do that?
Harmon: Currently, no. I mean, for sure you can support us by following us on Facebook, it’s Tuttle Twins TV Show, or on Instagram or on YouTube. If you look us up on those places, you can subscribe, or follow, or like, that’s all beneficial and it’s a good way to stay in the loop of when we’re going to release and all those things.
But the investment period has now ended. We fully funded our first season, we have 12 episodes that are going to be produced, and we’re super excited about that. There will be a time in the future to be able to invest in the show, not so much in the way of necessarily investing in the show itself, but we have a model where people will be able to pay it forward so their neighbor can watch it.
Allen: OK, cool.
Harmon: The “Tuttle Twins” will be available to watch for free. We’ll have an app that you can download for free and you can watch all the episodes for free, and then you can pay it forward for other people to watch it as well. That’s what “The Chosen’s” doing, and so millions of millions of people around the world have watched that show for free, and this’ll be the same way, where you can watch it for free, and then you can pay it forward for other people to watch it as well if you’d like.
Allen: Excellent. We’ll put all those links in the show notes, people can follow you on social media. We’ll also put the link for the book, so if anyone wants to buy the books. But when should we expect to see these episodes coming out and coming online?
Harmon: It’s fall that we’re releasing the first four episodes, that’ll be available through the app. I don’t have an exact date on it, but it’ll be this fall. And then we’re still crossing our fingers that the first episode will be available even before then, but I don’t have an exact date for you.
Quite frankly, we’ve had some different things with COVID and stuff that have happened, as far as production goes. We have a production company in India that’s had some struggles, maybe you know the situation over there with COVID, and there’s been some different things going on. So we’re still trying to figure out all those timelines, but it will be this fall that we’ll release the first four episodes.
Allen: Excellent. Well, we look forward to that. And Daniel, thank you so much for your time today, we so appreciate it.
Harmon: Thank you.
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