Shhhhh! I want to shout and tell the world about an innovative new show. But we have to be quiet. It’s all about babies sleeping. The show is Lullaby League and it’s hosted by Jim O’Heir who played the lovable, eminently decent, mishap-prone Jerry Gergich on Parks and Recreation.
In Lullaby League, exhausted parents of babies get to be stars. Yesss! We all know they deserve the billing. But the show goes even further in fulfilling a worn-out parent’s dream. The show is a singing competition unlike any you’ve ever seen. In Lullaby League, a cappella groups compete to see who can get a baby to sleep in the least amount of time.
Jim, a Chicagoan and Second City alum, is the man for the job. The Emmy Award-winning actor’s humor, irreverence and genuine warmth create an atmosphere where parents feel comfortable expressing their misery, their joy and every emotion in between. After all, as Jerry Gergich he survived everything from heart attacks to fart attacks. As Jim O’Heir, he inspires the thought that if you could have any star visit your home during a crisis, he would be the one.
Lullaby League debuts on April 18 on Pop TV, and online at ScaryMommy.com. Each of the six episodes is six to eight minutes long. With millions of viewers, Scary Mommy is one of the biggest content developers for moms. The site is known for being unflinchingly honest and funny and for its mantra, “parenting doesn’t have to be perfect.”
In the final episode of Lullaby League, the winning singing group will win a recording contract. Participating parents will win a good night’s sleep and the restoration of some sanity. I can imagine Jim O’Heir being rewarded with millions of parents desperately requesting house calls. One can imagine the spin-offs. How about some classic hard rock groups competing to rouse teens in the morning?
But Jim may not have time in the near future for everyone who could use his help. When he kindly spoke to me by phone, it was during a rare stopover at his home in L.A. For some time, he’s been flying a triangle from home to New York to Vancouver and back to L.A. for roles in movies and television. He will be in Chicago next week. Back in his hometown, he’ll throw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field on April 29th when the Cubs meet the Brewers, and appear on ABC’s Windy City Live.
Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at how Lullaby League transformed the lives of babies and parents and for Jim’s personal insight on adult sleep challenges because babies aren’t the only ones who sometimes wake up screaming.
Teme: Please tell me about Lullaby League and how it came about!
Jim: I never had children of my own, but I have siblings who have kids. Peter Putka, a director I worked with many years ago, heard I was in New York and he said, "Can we have lunch?" and I said, Sure!” He presented the idea and none of it made sense to me at first. He said “Well, it's a competition show with a cappella groups. They're going to sing to put a baby to sleep.” So he gave me all the details and the more I heard about it, the more it sounded like fun.
What's different about this show is we didn’t go to a sound stage and bring in babies and singing groups. We showed up at people’s houses. We went to the babies’ natural habitat. Some people lived in big sprawling homes. Others had a small apartment. Until we began, I wasn’t one-hundred percent sure how this was going to play out, but the first day it all came together for me and I realized that this is really a fun premise. I remember sitting in the first home with this lovely couple. They were very excited and their baby was adorable, but a little cranky.
I’m a bit of a snarky host, but even the mothers with babies crying non-stop let me joke around with them, like “Please make this hell end!”
When I tell people about Lullaby League, they are so excited about it, especially if they have children who are not going to bed happily.
That music put these little kids out. Some fought hard. You can see their little eyes trying to stay open and they just can't. The a cappella groups had a lot on the line, too, because the winner gets a recording contract and a trip to Disney World.
When you ask how it came together, it was me working with an old friend who pitched an idea that I really wasn't 100% sure of, but I trusted him. Then I realized “day one” on the set that this is going to be something really special for parents.
Teme: Scary Mommy and [its parent] Some Spider Studios are so interesting and innovative. How was it different working with them than with a traditional television network?
Jim: The vibe was much looser. We were figuring it out as we went along and everybody had input. A lot of times with a big network show you don't get to have your input, so I really enjoyed that part, too. They let me riff. We're around children, so of course it's strictly G-rated, but I loved the freedom. We had a lot more freedom than we would with a big studio behind us.
We were walking into people's homes on their turf, so we couldn’t control everything. You can't control neighbors. You can't control noise. If you're on a sound stage you have control of all that, so that was different, too.
Teme: The show feels like it has a bigger goal than just entertainment. It sounds like by reflecting real life, it will really resonate with viewers.
Jim: That's a great thought because it's not just all traditional moms and dads. We’re showing a representation of America. That was one of my favorite things. I never knew what we were going to walk into. I was just picked up and dropped off at a different home. Meeting people and hearing their challenges gives you insight into what people are dealing with every day. A new baby can change everyone's world - for the better, of course – but it's also tough. We're dealing with tired, sometimes really tired, crabby parents. It's not "Leave It To Beaver" anymore.
Teme: What were the criteria for choosing the babies? How did you make it an even playing field since some babies are easier sleepers and some are crankier?
Jim: I asked that question, too. There was a certain age range that was required for the babies because a two-year-old might go to sleep easier than an infant who's losing it. We also wanted people who really wanted this to work. We didn't want anything fake. There was no “setting up.” They didn't have the kid stay awake for twenty hours before they tried to get them to sleep. And believe me, there's proof. Some of them fought it the whole time. The priority was for it to be real.
Teme: I’d love to hear about the singing groups, too!
Jim: Some made up songs about the baby with the baby’s name included, which was not expected. A couple of the songs really stuck in your head. We were like, "Those songs should be out in the world!" They were so good.
The big joke was that we realized the way to make sure the baby is going to fall asleep is if the baby had taken a big poop before they tried to put it down. It seems like if a baby's all wound up, it's got some business to do. So hopefully, there was always some diaper action before we shot the episode.
Teme: That’s a very good tip! What would you say was the most fun thing that happened on the show?
Jim: As a guy who has never been around a whole lot of babies, it's really sweet to go in to someone's home and see how a baby lights up a room. You stare at them and at every little move, everyone is like, “Oh, look!” You get older, no one cares anymore.
There were monitors on both the parents and on the babies. During one episode, one of the babies did something for the first time and the parents were like, "Oh, my god! She's never done that!"
I got a kick out of meeting the parents. It was such a mix of parents. You see who's out there in our world raising these kids. The people we met were really special.
It was also fun watching the winners react. The a cappella group that won was very surprised and very excited.
Teme: What was most challenging? Were there any babies who wouldn't go to sleep?
Jim: Oh, yes. So many. We said to the parents, “You have to tell us when that baby is asleep” because we would go, "Oh, the baby's asleep!" and then all a sudden he or she would open her eyes. So it was up to the parent to make the call.
There were times I thought it would never happen. This kid is not going down. We’d added new people into their world. There are cameras, although in their bedrooms there were hidden cameras and it was dark, so the filming didn’t stop the baby from sleeping. But there's a lot of excitement. It's not their normal way to go to bed. One baby was sleeping when we got there, so we didn’t end up using that baby.
Teme: What are the elements of a successful lullaby - is it pitch or pace? Or is it more random?
Jim: What worked for me was when a lullaby began fast and really sweet, and then as it went on, moved fast and then slowly, and then slower and slower. As I was listening to those groups, I could have been knocked out myself.
Teme: Did you notice a correlation between parents' personalities and a baby's ability to sleep? Do relaxed parents have more relaxed babies?
Jim: If a mom or dad is all worked up, then the baby gets all worked up. We are a product of our environment. Ultimately, those babies did go to sleep, but yes, I think that's a good question. The parents' energy was reflected in the kid's energy.
Teme: I'm a terrible sleeper myself, so I was wondering if you’ve cracked the sleep code as an adult? I'm always interested in what works or doesn't work for people. I'm just an awful sleeper. In fact, early this morning I had a nightmare that I was lost and couldn't get home and I missed our interview.
Jim: I know those dreams. I have the typical actor dream where you walk on stage and you don't know your lines. It hits you to the core. Nothing worse for an actor, so I know the feeling.
Reading a book on my Kindle can absolutely put me out. The problem is if I get so invested in the book I end up staying up way longer than I wanted. But if I think through my day as I'm lying there, next thing I know, I'm falling off to sleep. But I also deal with apnea, so ultimately I don't think I'm getting more than an hour of sleep a night anyways, but who knows.
Teme: Sleep should be natural, but it's not. It's so hard.
Jim: You know what they say. We're supposed to get eight or nine hours a night which seems impossible, especially with certain work schedules. Last week, I had a flight to take. They picked me up at 4:30 in the morning. And I'm the guy who can't go to sleep before midnight. I started out in theater, so I'm a night hawk. If I go to bed before midnight, my body is just like, "No, no, no. We need to do something else."
Teme: I'm the same way.
Jim: Yeah, I wish I had the miracle cure for you though, I really do.
Teme: Sleep is such an elusive thing.
Jim: And yet it's so vital.
Teme: Will there ever be a spin-off of Lullaby League where groups will come to adults' houses and sing stressed-out adults to sleep?
Jim: That's hysterical. There's certainly been no talk of that, but I think it's a funny concept.
Teme: I'd like to sign up!
Jim: They’ll love it when I pitch it at the meeting.
Teme: So if you could have a group come to your house, is there any song that you would want to hear as a lullaby?
Jim: One of my very favorite songs is "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen. That is just the most beautiful song. I would love to go to sleep with someone singing that to me.
Teme: That sounds perfect. For any bleary-eyed parents out there, what can you tell them to give them hope?
Jim: Know that the kid is going to grow up. They're going to get older and it's going to get easier. I'm not going to name any specific homes, but some of these [Lullaby League] parents have really been taken down as far as their normal lives. In their homes things are everywhere. They don't have the time or the energy to put things where they belong.
I don't have them, so it's easier for me to say, but I think the thought of babies is a lot easier than the realization of babies. We’ve got to have them. The world's got to go on. We need babies, but it's a lot of work. I give people a lot of credit.
Teme: I love that people are going to know they are not alone in their exhaustion or their messy homes or the chaos. They're going to see that everybody with a baby is dealing with this.
Jim: They will!
Teme: What else would you like to tell viewers?
Jim: This is a really sweet show. It's not Walking Dead. It's just sweet families with sweet, sometimes pains in the ass babies, and we come in and try to get that kid to sleep. I think parents who have dealt with this will get a huge kick out of it.
Teme: It sounds like a wonderful show. I'm really looking forward to it. Thank you! It’s always great to speak with you.
Jim: My pleasure, Teme, and I'm glad you didn't miss the interview.
Lullaby League premieres on Pop TV and scarymommy.com on Wednesday, April 18.
You can also watch Lullaby League on YouTube.
Scary Mommy will offer the Lullaby League soundtrack on iTunes. All iTunes proceeds benefit March for Our Lives.
You can read more about Jim’s start in Chicago comedy and his television and film career in our interview from last June.