One of Tara Sorensen’s favorite places to be is among books, children’s books in particular. “The Giving Tree” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” are a couple of her favorites. The L.A. mom of two and head of kids programming at Amazon Studios has always loved a good story with characters that leap off the page and into the imagination. It was her love of storytelling that led her into children’s television programming.
Before joining Amazon, she was at National Geographic, where she was vice president of kids programming for the Emmy Award-winning “Toot & Puddle” on Nick Jr. and “Mama Mirabelle’s Home Movies” on PBS. Prior to that, Sorensen was vice president of kids programming for Sony and headed the development of “Dragon Tales” for PBS, “Jackie Chan Adventures” and “Men in Black” for Kids’ WB and “Stuart Little” and the Daytime Emmy Award-winning “Harold and the Purple Crayon” for HBO Family. I recently chatted with Sorensen about her work and family life.
You were an English major at USC. Tell us how you ended up in television.
I love books, especially children’s books. I have such fond memories of my own parents reading and singing to me. Even as an adult, I gravitate towards children’s books. It takes me to a happy place. At first, everyone assumed as an English major, I would be a teacher. As I got closer to graduation, however, I thought I could have a bigger, broader impact through children’s programming. I have always worked on shows focused on creating habits that kids can carry throughout life.
How has becoming a mom affected how you see children’s programming?
I see how a child and a parent react to a story from a very personal space. I’m so excited for our “The Stinky & Dirty Show,” which is based on the books by Jim and Kate McMullan. When my son was 3, he was obsessed with trash trucks. He would wait for the trash truck to come every Thursday morning. We would read McMullan’s “I Stink!” “I’m Dirty” book set over and over. I can still recite the words. The books and now the Amazon original show are about a day in the life of a garbage truck, but at their core they’re about resiliency and resourcefulness. With every show, my goal is to give our viewers the same message I want to give my own kids: It’s OK to make mistakes, be independent thinkers and problem solvers.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It starts early. I usually read a script or watch a cut of an episode before the kids wake up. Then we have breakfast, I walk the kids to school and then I head to the office. I’m typically back home around 7 and I read with my kids every night before bed. Our weekends are all about family. We usually have a birthday party or two and club soccer games. We love to go biking, surfing, snowboarding or just hang out at the beach. It’s definitely a juggling act. I try to carve out concentrated time with my kids so I can give them 100 percent of me. I talk to them about my work and what we’re trying to create for families. I want them to see and understand what I do.
What’s the best part of your job?
I love hearing from parents about how much they enjoyed watching a show with their kids and how it brings them together around the screen and out into the world. That’s the best part of my job – how our programs provide a tool kit for everyday life and how kids can extrapolate lessons out into the real world or daily life.