Pharrell Williams may best be known as a Grammy-winning musician, but the 45-year-old is singing a different tune these days as the executive producer of “Brainchild,” a new Netflix series that teaches kids about science, technology, and current events.
Co-created by Atomic Entertainment, the show is a spinoff of the New York-based production company’s “Brain Games,” which ran for seven seasons on National Geographic Channel and earned its team a Primetime Emmy nod for informational series or special in 2013.
For Williams, who shared his enthusiasm for the show in a post on Instagram last fall, “Brainchild” is a way to both educate and entertain young viewers, to spark an enthusiasm for learning. The show uses interactive games, experiments, and skits to push the core concepts and principles of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) to its viewers at home. “I got involved with ‘Brainchild’ because there is a desperate need to raise awareness about the importance of science with our youth,” Williams says. “We must edu-tain.”
Atomic’s founders, Jerry Kolber and Adam Davis, say a chance meeting at the WME offices in Los Angeles a few years ago got the ball rolling on the new show (WME represents both Williams and Atomic Entertainment). Williams had been riding a wave of success with his song “Happy,” off the soundtrack to “Despicable Me 2,” (and later included on his solo album, “G I R L”) and the singer suddenly found himself with a huge following of younger fans. As a father, he had also been actively seeking projects that he could share with his kids.
“Pharrell had gone to the TV department at WME and mentioned that he wanted to do a show that could leverage his new platform with kids,” Kolber recalls. “By chance, he also mentioned that he loved watching ‘Brain Games’ at home with his wife and kid, and that’s how it all started.”
While Kolber and Davis hadn’t intended on making a spinoff to “Brain Games,” they had been surprised through the years to see the show attracting a number of younger viewers, despite the fact that it was made for adults. According to Davis, “the average age of Nat Geo’s other shows was 67 and for our show it would plummet down to 38.”
On a more personal note, Davis says, “My own daughter loved the show. I would show her rough cuts and she was going bonkers over it as a 7-year-old; she couldn’t get enough,”
Armed with that knowledge — and a celebrity assist from Williams — they decided to launch “Brainchild.”
For Williams, it was important to use the show to reach an audience close to his heart. “It’s especially important to me to get STEAM-focused programming in front of minority communities,” he explains. “That’s because at the core of the plight of children of color in this country is a lack of access to actionable education.”
Williams, along with producing partner Mimi Valdes (who serves as chief creative officer of Williams’ “i am OTHER” company), also insisted on making the learning introduced on the show accessible to teachers and students offline as well. To that end, they worked with educators around the country to develop free-to-download curriculum that complements the topics introduced in the series. The curriculum is available without having to sign up or register for any account, and can be used at home or in the classroom to supplement existing tools.
A final push: introducing Indian-American actress and comedian Sahana Srinivasan as the host of “Brainchild,” making her one of the only female leads of color on an internationally distributed science or documentary series.
The team at Atomic says having Williams on board has helped take the show from a concept to a movement. “He’s such a uniquely creative person that when we went to him with the script or idea he would send it back to you and be like, ‘What if you tried this or that?’” Kolber says. “We had heard from people who worked with him in the music studio that he makes them better, and he definitely did the same with us.”
As for Williams, the new dad of triplets — in addition to a now 10-year-old son — says it’s been exciting to work on the show, especially after getting a very important seal of approval.
“My son is now old enough to watch ‘Brainchild,'” he says, “so we watch it together and he finds the show super entertaining.”