The un-Baby Einstein
By Chen May Yee
StarTribune.com

Do we really need another line of baby videos?

I’m sitting at the Local over lunch hour with two guys from New York who are trying to convince me that yes, we really, really do. I’d like to tell you they flew to Minneapolis to court Cribsheet. But no, they’re here for a much bigger target. Uhm, yes, Target.

Stephen Gass is the creative one, a child psychologist who’s worked for the Sesame Street theme park, CBS and Viacom, among others. The one in the open-necked shirt. Don Burton is the business guy, with the Harvard MBA and Goldman Sachs and McKinsey on his resume. The one in the suit. They were friends in college and now they’re the proud daddies of eebee’s adventures, a DVD set for babies aged 8 to 24 months.

Some of you may already have stumbled upon the orange-faced baby puppet with puppy-dog eyes and what looks like purple multi-color-tipped dreadlocks on pay-per-view. Pretty soon, it may be tough to escape eebee – Barnes and Noble is going to start selling the DVD’s and dolls sometimes this year and a whole line of toys are in development. I’ve seen the black duffel bag full of samples so I can vouch for this.

So. The question must be asked. Just how is eebee different from Baby Einstein?

“The world view of a six-month-old is not filled with wild creatures, undersea creatures…or seasons. A baby doesn’t understand voice-over!” Gass says. “A baby’s world is filled with lights and shadows and water and balls. They are interacting with the physical world.” Or as Burton puts it, “We want to be the Elmo for infants.”

Accordingly, eebee stays in his playroom, exploring balls and ramps and a “pillow mountain” and even a flashlight.

You know of course, I tell them, that parents have a love-hate relationship with DVD’s. We hate the idea of tv as babysitter, but without it, we’d never get the clothes folded, dinner ready or any e-mail sent. Isn’t a DVD of a dreadlocked puppet playing with everyday objects just a sorry substitute for parents actually playing with their babies?

“This one is different,” says Gass. ”It’s about doing. It’s not about my child knowing every animal in the kingdom. The younger they are, the more reality. That’s why they love your purse, and your necklace.” Plus, he adds, “it gets you your 10 minutes.”

I liked these guys, I really did. What they said made sense. I especially liked some of the prototypes of books they fished out of the duffel bag, with their moveable, slideable parts and – oops! that’s all I’m allowed to say. I liked that they needed help figuring out how to find a cab in downtown Minneapolis. And who among us hasn’t dreamt of chucking their day job and creating the next big baby product, the next, dare I say it, Baby Einstein.

But I don’t know. It’s been a month since they overnighted the DVD’s to me and I have yet to test-market them on the 19-month-old. She’s been too busy playing outside. With a real ball in a real yard. On real grass.

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