(Photo: Enthusiastic Productions)
Joel Tanis, the creator of the children's TV series "Come on Over," believes the Bible couldn't have started any better.
The image of God drafting history by designing heaven and earth is one that's always stuck with Tanis. The beauty of it, the Holland, Michigan-TV actor and producer said, is seeing God's imagination interact with existence firsthand. It's a message of creativity Tanis hopes rings loud and clear in "Come on Over" to kids of all ages.
"We know right from the start that God is creating and relational," Tanis said of Genesis. "Part of being made in God's image is that we're creative. I think people are inherently creative and inherently made to be creative with others. We should start developing those things early."
Tanis said he first took stock of that truth working as a painter, artist and children's books illustrator. Often visiting elementary schools to share the art process with students, he soon realized they lacked an outlet for the same inspiration he was describing. This revelation inspired "Come on Over," and in 2006 he launched the children's variety show to provide a remedy.
"When you're creatively playing with the arts or just flat-out imaginative play, it lets kids explore the world," Tanis said. "They learn how to collaborate and cooperate. They also learn how to observe. There's a good case for getting a bunch of kids in a room together and letting them work together."
Six years later, "Come on Over" is a roaring success among children ages four to eight. Its mix of musical sing-alongs, puppets and art projects has also won over adults, earning the show 13 regional Emmy awards for children's television programming. As Tanis sees it, taking the middle road between the silly and the serious is what's made the program so popular.
"Family is incredibly important," he said. "If I could put a ton of exclamation points after that, that's how important I think it is. One of our goals for this show is making it good for the whole family. We want parents to sit down with their children and laugh along with it."
Tanis said adults will have plenty worth analyzing if they dive into "Come on Over" with their kids. The show's situational style makes it ideal for cameos, he said, and it often features actors and musicians in unexpected roles. Back in September, for example, "Come on Over" brought in the Christian rock band Jars of Clay for a skit on the Old Testament. The group gave their first hit single "Flood" a makeover, he said, and turned it into a hilarious recounting of the story of Noah's Ark.
"Jars' music tends towards the introspective and the serious," Tanis said. "At heart, they're pretty playful as people. It was great to see these guys essentially spoofing the song that made them who they are and just embrace it. It was a totally riotous day shooting that song."
Hilarity aside, Tanis said that his faith in God's message is no joke. He said he hoped "Come on Over" inspired viewers of all ages to take flights of fancy and see where it takes them. It's this freedom, Tanis said, which makes Christianity such an appealing creed.
"The lesson that I have to keep relearning as a Christian is that it all starts with God," he said. "We're born people and we enter having our own little personalities and quirks. If we can give children a perspective from an early age that it all starts with God and following what he wants us to do in the world, it's all important."