If youre looking for a family friendly show, ABCs new reality competition series The Toy Box is a good choice. Its basically a kind and less demanding Shark Tank for toy inventors with a wise cracking 7-year-old named Noah as a pint sized version of Mr. Wonderful. If the contestants make it through a round with three adult judges, they put their hopes and dreams into the hands of four kid judges who decide which toy goes to the finals.
The kids are well chosen, none feel like they are acting too much for the camera, and Noah has enough personality for all of them. Host Eric Stonestreet of Modern Family gets some adult laughs as he deals with Noahs exuberant outbursts, which may or may not make sense. Noah is there to inject humor into the show and hes controlled enough (or edited enough) that listening to him doesnt grow too tiring. The other kids, Sophia Grace, Aalyrah and Toby are older and more disciplined. Sophia Grace, being 13 and from Essex, England, claims to be the serious judge, and she is but still enough of a kid to get excited about a cannon that shoots candy. And really, who wouldnt get excited about that?
Before the contestants try to win over the kids, they briefly present to the expert adult judges. This is not a Shark Tank style interrogation because the toys are merely ideas brought to life rather than products in the marketplace. So the judges give their first impressions, which have a lot to do with the safety of the toy and its potential to be played with repeatedly. They dont offer much but their participation isnt really the point. This series is about toys and toys are about kids. The adults are there as gatekeepers more than mentors, and they lend some credibility to the process.
The winning inventor gets a contract with Mattel and distribution through Toys R Us. Conveniently, Toys R Us will be selling the winning product at the end of the shows run. Its television meets commerce meets instant gratification, a setup that benefits a toy industry worth $8 billion a year. Theres even a commercial featuring Noah talking to a girl who represents Toys R Us. Corporate America is hoping you and your kids will watch and purchase.
And if you do, you will help one person realize a dream. There is a serious side to inventing things of course -- the money spent, the years invested -- and the show spends some time telling that story as well. A woman on the first episode has worked on a line of dolls that represent different races and ethnicities for over 30 years. To be rejected by a child judge hitting a red buzzer that lights up magic eight ball phrases, including Dont count on it, is understandably disappointing. But thats life in the business of toys and reality TV.
The Toy Box is on Fridays at 8 p.m. EDT on ABC.
-- Melissa Crawley is the author of Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Televisions The West Wing and the recently released The American Television Critic. She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.