It’s been a busy year for the producers of Molly of Denali, an all-new kids’ show which was greenlit by PBS last summer. Ahead of the July 15 premiere, WGBH launched its first-ever pre-broadcast podcast, where listeners can meet all of the show’s characters and hear its catchy theme song. Molly of Denali, the first animated children’s show to feature an Alaska Native lead, follows the 10-year-old Athabascan girl as she takes on adventures that foster literacy, relying on informational texts like maps, books, field guides, and indigenous knowledge from her elders to navigate daily life.
We sat down with Carol Greenwald, WGBH’s senior executive producer and director of children’s media; Nina Porzucki, managing producer for podcasts; and Princess Lucaj, creative producer for the show, to learn more.
Tell us about your thinking behind introducing a kids’ show with a podcast.
Carol: It allows us to put Molly on a new platform that goes beyond the television audience. Also, we know that kids and families tend to listen to podcasts together. We think it's a great way to bring the whole family in. It’s a prequel to the series, so it’s material that you wouldn't get if you just watched the show. It tells the back story of how Molly got her dog Suki, introduces her family and describes Interior Alaska.
What is it about podcasts that makes for an effective introduction to a show?
Nina: Since podcasts are solely audio, they strip away a layer—listeners aren’t distracted by images. Your mind has to do a lot. The kids and parents will be imagining, ‘what does the interior of Alaska look like?’ ‘What does the family’s trading post look like?’
How do you create podcasts that really draw listeners in?
Carol: The sound design makes a big difference. Because we don’t have visual supports, we create an immersive environment with sound: Airplanes, authentic Alaska Native voices, spoken Gwich’in language. That creates authenticity, and in children’s media, authenticity is key.
How did you ensure an authentic portrayal of Alaska Native culture?
Princess: Alaska Natives were worked into every avenue of the process, including a group of Alaska Native advisors, consultants and scriptwriters, voice actors, Indigenous fellows and interns. Molly is also aware of her connection to the land and animals. There’s a time when Molly thanks a plant, thanks the salmon. We don’t make a big deal of it—you can blink and not see it. But those Alaska Native values—I think kids will get that.
How are you getting the word out about the podcast?
Nina: We’re working with a firm that will provide a cohesive marketing plan and collaborate with our internal marketing team. One of the cool things is that we are going to do a campaign called Summer Listening—akin to the perennial summer reading programs. As part of the campaign, we’ve created an explainer video featuring tech-savvy children who explain the ins and outs of podcasting to their parents.
Subscribe here for a first listen of the Molly of Denali podcast and to receive notifications of new episodes. The full animated series premieres July 15 on PBS.