At the Today Show

December 23, 2009

Some pics from just before our segment about Toys with Lasting Play Value…trying to keep the kids engaged and not too noisy while Ann, Al, Natalie, Lester and Jenna talk.  One of our toy testers Josie was about to take the stroller off the set–but came back after we strategically placed her mom right near Natalie ( just off camera).

During the segment…everyone is fully engaged with the toys!

Natalie Morales and Stephanie

Hooray!  Segment complete!


Thank you toy testers!

December 21, 2009's toy tester Jake after the Today Show

One of the pleasures of my job is getting to know families from all over the country.  When we first started the toyportfolio we started with friends and family…but that quickly grew to families that we didn’t know–from all spots on the map…Alaska, California, Florida.  Long before facebook, I feel like we developed a wonderful network of both moms and dads that I know only through emails.  Over the course of our conversations, I quickly learn which families love games, hate puzzles, feel strongly about complicated instructions and dread noisy toys!   I even went through the angst of the college admissions process with one mom as both of our oldest kids were applying to schools!

Really great testing families take the process seriously (while having fun of course).  Last year we had a family leave New Jersey for Hong Kong…another to London.  I miss these families and their wonderful feedback. When Joanne and I go through toy fair, we often will discuss the kids that have particular interests–knowing we found a product that will probably be perfect for them to take a look at.

Some of our testers also have joined me for segments on the Today Show.  The Denny family has been doing this for several years–and they’re always up for some fun on the set–and do a great job passing time in the green room waiting and waiting…for the time to go up the stairs to studio 1A and play.

So it was with very mixed emotions that I learned that they were leaving the city — opting for more space in the suburbs.  I totally get it–and now it means they will be able to help me with more outdoor toy testing,  But I will miss seeing them!

Below is a picture of Betsy and her kids Jake and  Josie…her older daughter Annie (a seasoned toyportfolio tester) insisted on going to school instead of being on the Today Show.  As Betsy and her husband tried to convince her to change her mind…they laughed, realizing that their daughter had her priorities in order.

Denny Family outside of the Today Show

So happy trails to the Denny family…and a big thank you to all of our testers that provide such valuable feedback – and make our process unique and ultimately really valuable to other consumers looking for objective information about children’s products before they buy.

Happy Holidays!

Getting Ready for Tomorrow

December 18, 2009

Today I ventured uptown…as much as I love all the Christmas lights, you really need to be ready to deal with the crowds that take over the city- especially in mid-town.  It’s fun and I enjoy watching the kids as they see the tree for the first time – or the amazing Christmas windows at Saks.  But having to get anywhere takes twice as long!

Mr. Robot is happy to see the Rockefeller Christmas Tree

Here’s Mr. Robot enjoying the tree at Rockefeller Center.  I miss my mom today–getting ready for a segment during the holidays is always special–the tree, the lights, the energy of all the people–hearing so many different languages.  It’s always a pinch-able moment.  (Mom’s fine–just didn’t need to be in the crowds.)

Set up is an amazing juggling act executed with such grace and good spirits.  April, the set art director, never seems pushed even though tonight for example she had eight production segments to get ready for…and everything always looks great in the morning when she and the amazing crew at the show work their magic.

Here’s the view of the tree after set up…it is so pretty.

Rockefeller Center during the Holidays 2009

Best Wishes to Byrant Gumbel

December 8, 2009

I was so sadden today when I heard the news that Bryant is being treated for lung cancer.  When I started doing segments at the Today Show Bryant was the co-host.  While he had a reputation for being tough, Bryant was nothing but warm and encouraging.  I often did segments with him about children’s books–and he was always so amazingly well-prepared.  If I dropped a message point that I had put in the notes for the segment, Bryant was always there to provide it.  I remember one of the first segments I did included an Eyewitness book about the history of Greece.  The lay out of the book was like a newspaper–he said something about “at least they had newspapers–I suppose there’s no videotape”…he was teasing me…but I was so  nervous, I didn’t get it until I was onto the next book.

He is such a wonderful interviewer–he knows how to allow his guests to share their information without taking over.   Our segments  felt like conversations.  I know it sounds silly, but after a segment when Bryant would say “nice job Steph” — it made my day!  I wish him well as he goes through his treatments.

ELMO…feeling a little left out

December 1, 2009

In seasons past, ELMO is the toy we get all the calls for -someone in desperate need for the latest version of the original Tickle Me Elmo Doll.  We have particular fondness for the original – Joanne brought Elmo on the TODAY Show – Bryant Gumbel loved it–and played with it for the entire show.

This season, ELMO is being completely ignored.  A smaller, perhaps cuter critter has grabbed the imagination of children and media outlets everywhere -even though ELMO  tells jokes this year as well as any Borscht Belt comedian. Oh and yes,  he’s  still throwing kisses…it could break your heart.  Watch our video.

Princess & the Frog: Princess Tiana Just One Kiss Doll

November 30, 2009

Disney's Princess Tiana

Last week I talked about this doll as one of the top five hottest toys in toyland on the TODAY Show.  But because I only had two minutes to discuss five toys, I didn’t have time to demonstrate why this particular Princess Doll is so much fun.  Watch our video and you’ll see the interactive/light up features of this talking doll.

Right after my segment, I got an email from Disney–reminding me that there were less expensive Princess Tiana dolls…so true.  You can get your Princess fix for under $16.  The Just One Kiss doll retails for $24.99–and I already see lots of price gauging. There are plainer Princess Dolls–but we have not personally seen or tested them–I do see some complaints on line about the quality of the least expensive version–but we can’t confirm. We’re thrilled that Disney is featuring the first African-American Princess.  If you’d also like a book, we’d recommend Princess and the Royal Ball by Natasha A. Tarpley/illustrated by James Finch)–a full review is on our site.


Stephanie Oppenheim on Today Show: Hot Toys 2009

November 24, 2009

Here’s the link for the video from this morning’s segment on the Hottest Toys in Toyland.