The namesake character of "Albie's Elevator," a new kids show from WHYY. (WHYY)

Philly parents who tune into the newest public television kids show this month might notice some familiar items: they were sourced from Kensington’s Thunderbird Salvage.

Debuting June 12 on TV and YouTube, “Albie’s Elevator” is the first-ever children’s show created in house at WHYY, and it features a ton of Philadelphia artists. 

Albie, the show’s namesake character, is an elevator operator working in a magical lift that her family has stewarded for generations.

Throughout 15 episodes, she cavorts through the heirloom-decked elevator that doubles as a talking robot with her friends, the building’s inhabitants, and a mysterious plush companion named Huggy Pepper. 

Twenty-seven artists from the region appear as guests in the show, showcasing their skills while teaching Albie an important lesson. Even the soundtrack is Philly-fied, featuring eight original songs from local acts like Mr. John, Johnny Shortcake, The Bul Bey, Lizdelise, ILL DOOTS, and more.

The all-important elevator set was designed by Kensington-based art studio Big Howl.

“It’s like a kid friendly version of HG Wells’ ‘The Time Machine,’” said Paul Triggiani. He and Big Howl cofounder Kevin Kelly called Albie’s their “dream project.” To help create the look they were going for, they tapped Thunderbird Salvage for hard-to-find trinkets and setpieces, including a model sailboat, plastic crab, and more.

Albie interacts with many friends, including both puppets and live actors. (WHYY)

What kind of creature lives in such a place? The horn-tipped smiley star of the show has “some DNA of a koala,” said Triggiani. Kelly consulted with Montco film production studio Monkey Boys Productions to create the Jim Henson-inspired puppet. 

About those overalls: “The My Buddy [Doll] from the 80s was there as well,” Kelly said of the character’s fashion sense. 

The initial idea for Albie came from Caitlin Corkery, a production manager at WHYY, who worked with producer Tristan Horan and animator Dre Reed to write and build the series.

”The William Penn Foundation approached WHYY about creating original children’s content after they saw our response during the pandemic, to shifting to at-home learning,” Corkery said. 

In 2021, the foundation made a grant of $1.85 million to fund the first season of Albie’s Elevator — along with “The Infinite Art Hunt,” a new WHYY-produced program for students aged 6-8 — and the project was off and running. 

To come up with the concept, Corkery talked to educators and arts administrators, surveyed the current PBS Kids catalog, and jumped into “every Facebook mommy group ever,” asking “What do you need? What do you want to see? What is your kid going through?”

From this, she learned that STEM programming is huge right now, but that protagonists are more often male, and the series tend to be animated. To add some variety, Corkery cooked up an arts and culture show starring a puppet that visits real locations around the region.

“Albie’s Elevator” comes with connected lesson plans, for use at home or by professionals. (Jordan Levy/Billy Penn)

Albie’s Elevator comes with an associated online curriculum, to help adults work through some of the issues covered on the show with their little ones.

It aims to help spur conversations about art and self-expression while reflecting on the episodes, Corkery said, including recommendations for children’s books covering the various topics. The lesson plans and the show itself are also being translated into Spanish for national distribution. 

Beyond curriculum, Corkery hopes that Albie’s Elevator can lead to family field trips for viewers in the region, based on the real world snippets of the show. 

“My daughter was born in June of 2020, and they didn’t go anywhere,” said Corkery. “So it felt like there was this whole gap during that time where kids weren’t getting a chance to see the real world.” 

The team at Big Howl also hopes to leave a lasting impression.

Said cofounder Triggiani, who also has a young daughter: “If in three years, I’m in a playground or a restaurant, I hear some kid go, ‘I’m gonna do it with pizzazz!’” — one of Albie’s catchphrases — “it’d be the absolute pinnacle of my life.”

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Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...