A Retrospect of KANGA RODDY is a series of features exploring the making of the PBS children’s series, ADVENTURES WITH KANGA RODDY, in honor of its 20th anniversary.
Before ADVENTURES WITH KANGA RODDY, Doug Freeman already had a prolific resume as an art director and set decorator; with titles like AMERICAN GRAFFITI, STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME, and FAREWELL TO MANZANAR listed. He was originally summoned by a friend to join the show’s crew as its set designer.
“I designed the pilot to see where it would take off,” he said. “Then [co-creator] George Chung asked me if I wanted to direct and I said ‘sure.’”
Photo courtesy of Allison Langley
Freeman was not the only director of KANGA RODDY, but he did direct most of the episodes. Before then, he never had experience with directing, but that didn’t stop him from stepping into this new role. Having had experience with working in a position that focused so much on the appearance of a set, granted him the knowledge to already know what it would take to set up each shot.
He also didn’t have that much difficulty going from working for film to working on television. In fact, he preferred working in a unit.
“What I liked was the smaller crew,” he explained. “For major films, you have so many people. It would take so much to do one shot. It would drive me crazy.
“On the TV show, we all knew each other. We knew what was going on and it was fun working with the kids.”
That was his favorite memory from working on KANGA RODDY: Working with the kids. Freeman was often amazed at just how skilled they were as actors.
“They could be talking about whatever, just doing what they do,” he recalled. “Then I would say, ‘Stand by. Action!’ and they’d go right into their characters without missing a beat. They were right on target.”
In an episode that focused on the topic of death, the main actor for that episode, Katie Stuart, had asked Freeman what percent her emotions should be, and he told her 50 percent. A few minutes later, her eyes were glistening and a tear tracked down her face, and he was absolutely blown away. To him, her emotions were at 80 percent.
KANGA RODDY was Freeman’s first time directing kids, and when he had left the production two years later, he received letters from them, asking him to come back.
Photo courtesy of James Harris
There weren’t really any challenges for him on set, as far as he could tell. The experience was a pleasure more than anything else.
“It’s a challenge to show up at seven in the morning or six in the morning or whatever it was, and be on top of your game, no matter what is going on with you personally,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. You have to get the show done.”
What was a personal challenge for Freeman was being away from his infant daughter at the time. While she was up in Marin County, he was working at the former KTEH Studio in San Jose, and through Chung’s connections with the San Francisco 49ers, he would often stay at their training facility.
His directorial efforts paid off when KANGA RODDY won a Northern California Regional Emmy Award for Best Direction in 1999.
“That was fun, going there, going up onstage, thanking George and Anthony [Chan], because they’re the ones who created it,” he reflected.
However, his Emmy doesn’t exactly look the same as it did the day he received it, for the globe is now bent, no thanks to his Savannah cat.
In the present day, Freeman has since returned to his roots in set designing and art directing. He recently wrapped production for an independent film in New Mexico and just completed commercials for Evernote and Bowers & Wilkins.
The 20 years since KANGA RODDY first aired feels fast for Freeman, and he hopes that a show similar to it gets picked up by a major network someday.
“We were all together as a unit, and there was no squabbling or anything like that,” he reminisced. “There was no gossiping. There was none of that. It was just us together down in San Jose, creating a wonderful little show. That’s what we did.
“It’ll definitely make the final chapter in my life, remembering that. It was a fun experience.”
Photo courtesy of James Harris