Jack McBrayer's new children's program, "Hello, Jack!," debuts on Friday. Photo courtesy of Apple TV+
NEW YORK, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- 30 Rock and Wreck-It Ralph actor Jack McBrayer says he hopes his new children's program, Hello, Jack! The Kindness Show, offers viewers a break from the negativity and division to which they are exposed so frequently these days.
"It's not completely selfless," McBrayer told UPI in a recent phone interview.
"Just being able to put my brain space in the creation of it and producing it over the past couple of years has helped ME," he added. "We all need to give our brains and our spirits a little rest."
McBrayer stars in the series, which mixes live-action with animation and premieres Friday on Apple TV+. He co-created The Kindness Show with Angela C. Santomero, whose credits include Blue's Clues and Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood.
Co-starring Markita Prescott, Albert Kong, Paul Scheer and Sam Richardson, the program is aimed at a young audience, but McBrayer said he would love it if parents absorbed the message while watching with their kids.
"We are trying to get some co-viewership," he said. "I understand that some children's programming can be painful for parents to watch.
"But I'm hoping that some of the parents will know me from previous work and maybe want to tune in to see what I'm doing."
McBrayer, who also is a Second City comedy troupe alumnus and a stand-up comedian, emphasized that his latest project is a "sincere and earnest" effort to teach social and emotional lessons appropriate for preschoolers.
"I would hate for people to tune in thinking it is going to be some kind of ironic or cynical take on a children's show," McBrayer said.
"It was a conscious decision between Apple and the producing company, 9 Story Media. It came from a very personal place for me and it felt, not to sound hyperbolic, important to do."
McBrayer noted that children often pattern their behavior on what they see modeled, so logic dictates that most will show kindness if they are taught about it and experience it themselves.
"I hope that it eventually becomes a little more second-nature, a little more baked in. I want it to be an accessible and easy and fun thing for kids to latch on to," he said.
"It doesn't take a whole lot of effort to be kind to someone. I want them, also, to recognize the feeling when someone does or says something kind towards them."
McBrayer went to Apple with a vision for the show he wanted to make and the streaming service paired him with Santomero, who had the impressive background to help bring his dream to fruition.
"It takes a village," he said.
"There's curriculum, research, education, psychology. Also, it's 2021. What kind of language can we use? It was a real learning curve for me, but I was not afraid to take the deep dive. I went to early childhood conventions. I'm walking the walk, not just talking the talk."
McBrayer, who is 48, credits the children's shows with which he grew up helping him be the man and artist he is today.
"Electric Company was one of my favorites because of the fun, the songs. I loved seeing grown-ups playing all these different characters. I think that was an introduction to sketch comedy, which led into my years in Second City," he said.
McBrayer said he also was deeply inspired by Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
"It was a show unlike any other with a grown man speaking directly through the television with the most gentle messages of understanding and caring. It was very meaningful," he said.
"Sometimes you don't realize the impact that is making until years down the line."
And cartoons taught him characters and worlds can be created "where anything can happen."
McBrayer had been mulling the idea of The Kindness Show for years, but finally had the time to focus on it in 2020-21, when many people in the United States were quarantining and social distancing because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"It was just me taking the temperature and realizing: 'Wow! People are behaving with a lack of compassion and civility and kindness? What's going on? What's going on, y'all?" he recalled. "It made me think about when we learn those lessons."
Scripts were written for The Kindness Show and actors were cast over Zoom calls. When the world opened up again, the cast and crew took all necessary precautions to keep people safe.
Recording voice performances for animated projects such as Bob's Burgers and Amphibia also helped McBrayer stay busy and creative during the pandemic. He didn't get sucked into the bread-backing craze, but reorganized his home with the extra time he had and participated in a few virtual cocktail parties.
McBrayer doesn't think his wit or signature sunny outlook made him more sought-after than anyone else during the pandemic.
"There was kind of a universal need for connection, so I was always happy to be that guy, but I needed connection, as well," he said.
"I am so grateful to the neighbors I have and the friends I have, who were willing to sit in my back yard. It took effort for people to stay connected and check in on each other, and I got lucky."