Sometimes, producers find stories. And other times, the stories find producers.
“This story was, quite frankly, hard not to find,” said ESPN Features Unit producer Sharon Matthews. “It was originally posted to Jeanean Thomas’s Twitter account. It got picked up by EVERYbody.”
What started as a Twitter post titled, “Dear teenage boy at the skate park. . .,” turned into a feel good tale that will air throughout this Christmas week.
“It was a simple story about something that kind of put things in perspective,” said Matthews, who is coincidentally from a nearby town close to Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, where the story took place. “It seemed really appropriate for the holidays.”
However, with the story already having been shared internationally, Matthews and her teammates in the Features Unit looked for a way to tell the story differently. With the real Santa a bit busy this time of year, Matthews settled on having an animated version of the red-clad, rotund one “introduce” the piece and offer narration.
“[Santa] tells the story in a magical way that I think touches you and evokes the feeling you get when you read Jeanean’s tweet,” Matthews said. “It’s an eye-opening and touching moment that took place unexpectedly that changes the perspective in how you look at someone and how you give. I think that’s what makes this story unique – the act of giving and the act of kindness.”
In addition to interviewing Jeanean for the piece, Matthews also spoke with the young man from the skate park, Ryan Carey, and of course, Thomas’s (slightly fidgety) daughter, Peyton.
“It’s pretty challenging interviewing children, but Peyton is cute as a button,” Matthews said. “She’s adorable – everything that a six-year-old is – inquisitive and very curious. We kind of had a little game going on how long she could sit still and there may have been candy involved.”
The feature also includes a bit of a treat for long-time fans of ESPN: As Santa is preparing for his “live hit” with SportsCenter, he pays homage to the late and legendary, Beano Cook. (Discover the reference at 2:05 of this Cook tribute video.)
Editor’s Note: If the video does not play on your device, click here.