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Screen Time

Screen Time

Emily Hart, 99, vice president of original programming for Disney Junior, knew from a young age that she wanted a career entertaining children.

Fall 2015

Growing up in Orlando, doodling her own cartoons and visiting the theme parks lit a creative fire that led Hart to a UCF theater degree and a leap-of-faith relocation to Los Angeles. Thirteen years later she’s developing the TV shows kids watch while managing the screen time of her own two young daughters.

Where It All Started

“I always wanted to develop kids’ shows; that’s why I was a theater major. It kept me connected to storytelling because we were always putting on a show. After leaving UCF, I did everything I could to stay involved in kids’ entertainment, which meant being a jack-of-all-trades in Orlando. I decided to move to Los Angeles because for kids’ TV programming that was the place to be. So I packed my Saturn and drove out west.”

How I Got My Big Break

“I applied for a hundred jobs, anything that could get my foot in the door. My first call was to work as a temp as the assistant to the head of media relations for Disney Channel. That was 13 years ago. Through various mentors, I was able to work my way into Disney Junior where I hit the ground running, bringing in projects and developing shows. My first long-form series was “Jake and the Never Land Pirates.” That idea was triggered when I was at Disneyland and I looked around at all the girls dressed up like princesses. The boys didn’t have a character to identify with. “Pirates of the Caribbean” was out, but that wasn’t geared toward young kids. So I thought, ‘What if we could do a pirate show that was for Disney Junior?’ I found great writers who came in with solid pitches, and the series came together step by step over a period of three years. It became the flagship show that launched our rebrand from Playhouse Disney into Disney Junior. Now when you go to the Disney parks, you see boys dressed up as Jake. It’s really rewarding to see kids engage with these characters.”

“Now when you go to the Disney parks, you see boys dressed up as Jake. It’s really rewarding to see kids engage with these characters.”

How I Make it Work

“I have the ultimate creative multitasking job. I jump from a script read-over to a sound-mixing session and then into taking a pitch for something completely new. There are little creative fires [I’m] constantly tending. I have quick turnarounds on everything that comes across my desk, so there’s also not a lot of time to overthink anything. [I] have to make quick decisions and really trust [my] creative instinct.”

Where I’ve Struck Gold

“You have to love what you’re doing, and be passionate about it. It’s funny, when someone is pitching a [TV show] because they think it’s something I will buy, it generally doesn’t work. The things that work are about their personal experience, something emotional. It’s a story they have to tell, a character that needs to become alive. It needs a vision when it comes in, and it needs someone that is really passionate to drive it. We feel that.”

How Much TV My Kids Watch

“I have two kids, and for me [the goal is] managing their screen time. They don’t always want to watch TV. They might want the iPad to play games. It’s maintaining a balance. Sometimes I just need them to watch a show so I can cook dinner. Of course, I paid attention to [the content of children’s TV programs] before I had kids, but now I realize how much they’re picking up from the shows. I think it’s fun for them to learn from these characters. But I also think it’s great for them to go outside and play —turn the TV off and do a puzzle or play together.”

Illustration by Sarah Tanat-Jones