Curling, like everything else, came to an abrupt halt in the spring due to COVID-19. Clubs were closed, events were cancelled, and curlers and fans were left with little to do and nothing to watch.
For Charlottetown’s Robbie Doherty, a four-time Tim Hortons Brier participant and Canadian Mixed champion, the shutdown was a blessing in disguise, as it gave him time to take on a new project — a kids TV show called Silly Robbie’s World.
(Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)
Doherty, who would normally be spending his spring working at Grand Slam of Curling events, instead turned his attention to writing scripts and songs for his new show, which is now airing on EastlinkTV in Atlantic Canada.
“Everything just kind of fell into place. It’s a really positive show, with a good message,” said the 32-year-old Doherty. “We try to deal with real issues that kids face, and to find the right message to send to kids.”
Doherty, along with his Grand Slam of Curling colleague Jesse Wachter, produced 13 episodes featuring stories, songs, crafts, and above all, a positive and inspiring message.
“We all have different talents, and you are who you are for a reason,” said Doherty. “Some people are tall, some are short. Either way, you should feel good about yourself. I learned that from Mr. Rogers when I was a kid. I just read his biography, and his messaging really connected with me, and what we’re trying to do.”
As a life-long entertainer, Doherty spent several years working at Avonlea Village as a cast member in the Anne of Green Gables story. He went on to perform as a singer, guitarist, and accordion player in various musical endeavours. After a few years in the pub and bar scene, he knew it was time for a change.
“I was tired of that scene. I didn’t want to play the same songs at a bar again and again,” he said. “I go to bed early. Those 2 a.m. nights at the pubs weren’t doing it for me anymore. So I approached my friend, and bandmate Rob (Reid), and told him I wanted to do a kids’ album and I wanted him to produce it.”
Reid helped Doherty record several songs that were released in October 2019. He started performing at concerts and festivals for children. Wachter then helped shoot some music videos, and a short web-series.
“I had some gigs lined up to perform over the summer, but with COVID, they were all cancelled,” said Doherty. “So I said to Jesse, we can’t just sit here and do nothing all summer. Let’s get to work on this.”
“We knew that the music was fine on its own,” added Wachter. “But without something else… a visual representation, or a show. It wasn’t going to go too far.”
While the average curling fan may not have heard of Wachter, most would have seen his work. As the video guru for Grand Slam events, he was responsible for shooting team introductions, special interviews on Rogers Sportsnet, and the Far From Home series on Curlingzone.com. Last year, he completed a documentary on Team John Shuster and its gold-medal run for the U.S. at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
“I knew Jesse from when I was curling more competitively,” said Doherty. “But then we started working together. He basically told me some things in his life were changing, so I suggested maybe he move to Charlottetown and take a run at this kids show. I’m lucky he did, because he’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever met.”
Said Wachter: “I was pretty nomadic at that point. I had left where I lived in Turks and Caicos following a hurricane, and was touring around the country on a motorcycle. Robbie suggested P.E.I., so I rode out there between Grand Slam events. We’ve been working on this ever since.”
Doherty and Wachter, along with a small crew of family and friends, including Doherty’s wife Jill and Reid, shot the series in Wachter’s apartment, complete with puppets (Lucky and Eddie) and costumes. Wachter’s girlfriend Jessica Gould worked as a digital artist, designing sets and animation.
“We didn’t get any grants or government money, so basically everything was all volunteer,” said Doherty. “It was a challenge to manage them all. One of them was my wife, who is a pharmacist with no arts or performing experience at all. So I just kinda said, ‘Surprise! We need you to do this.’ ”
Doherty and Wachter wrapped shooting on October 28 after three months of work. Each episode features two stories, which meant the pair had to come up with 26 different ideas to write and produce.
“Robbie is a bit younger than me, so we grew up watching a slightly different generation of kids shows,” said Wachter. “So we put our heads together about the themes we liked from my shows, and from his shows, and went from there.”
“Jesse is amazing. I’d call him up and throw crazy things at him. I’d say ‘Hey, can we go to the moon?’ and he’d always just say, ‘We can do anything.’ And then he’d make it happen.”
Some stories from Season one include Lucky getting glasses and another about Eddie being indecisive about his Halloween costume. The pair say there’s already been positive feedback from parents whose children were dealing with those exact issues.
“In sports media, we’re used to being at the mercy of what happens on the ice, or on the field of play, said Wachter. “With this project, we had such a great group of people who really committed to the project from the beginning, so we could control the message. Every episode, we wanted to teach kids good values and important lessons.”
“With COVID, we were given lemons. So we tried to make lemonade,” said Doherty. “If we make 10 cents, or $10 billion… it doesn’t matter. We just wanted to make something that we were proud of, and would be a positive influence on kids.”