It’s 8 a.m. on a Monday and Daniel Cook, the star of one of Canada’s most popular kids’ shows, This is Daniel Cook, has just finished breakfast, a bowl of Lucky Charms.
Before school started this year, Cook taped 65 more episodes of the show, which airs not only on virtually every kids’ channel in Canada, but, since being bought by Disney this year, five days a week across the U.S. (The new season starts in December.)
The first DVD of This is Daniel Cook, which premiered in 2004, will be released in November and the BBC recently followed him around for a week for a profile.
Cook, who lives just outside Toronto, began his television career at the age of six. He is now eight (though his agent tells me he’s calling himself seven — apparently, it’s never too early in this business to start lying about your age). He has become so famous his family can no longer walk into a McDonald’s. “We have to go through the drive-through,” says his mother, Deborah. “Too many people want to talk to him. We’ve even been approached by 20-year-olds who know who he is. I’m not sure what they’re doing watching a kids’ show.”
Cook, I’ve been warned before our interview, has been “media trained.” “Hello Rebecca,” he says, politely, when his mother passes the phone to him. After three minutes of answering such questions as, “Do you like school?” and “Do you have a best friend?” he moans, “Oh my ears!” He’s bored talking to me. This is the beauty of Daniel Cook. He says whatever enters his mind. When he met the mayor of Toronto, he asked David Miller why kids aren’t allowed to vote — or have dessert before dinner.
In each episode of his show (they have titles like “This is Daniel Cook feeding animals” or “This is Daniel Cook learning to train a puppy”), Cook learns from professional guests — everyone from chocolate makers to world champion figure skaters. “My favourite show was flying the plane, and my other favourite show was getting to go to Disneyland,” he says. From a child’s perspective, the show is a hit because Cook gets to do everything a child dreams of doing. From an adult perspective — and for the university students who watch children’s TV for kicks — the appeal is getting to watch unscripted television. If Daniel Cook is bored filming, for instance, he doesn’t hide it.
Then there’s the dinosaur thing. More often than not, he’ll bring up his love for dinosaurs even if he’s making pizza with a professional pizza maker. “I want to be a paleontologist when I grow up,” he says, “because I really, really, really, really like dinosaurs.” .
Cook was “discovered” at the age of five, when his mother took him to meet a talent agent, a friend of the family who had told the Cooks he saw something in Daniel. While his mother was signing documents, Cook was left talking to receptionist J.J. Johnson, then a 22-year-old graduate of Ryerson University who had already started Sinking Ship Productions with Blair Powers, which, along with Marble Media, produces This Is Daniel Cook. “They just got along so well,” says Deborah Cook of Johnson. “They were talking about TransFormers and having the best time. So J.J. created the show around Daniel. We thought maybe Daniel would make a commercial or two and make a bit of money. We never thought it would go this far.”
Deborah Cook knew she had what she describes as a “smarty-pants” early on. “Once he was bickering with his younger brother, Spencer, and I said, ‘Stop aggravating your brother, Daniel, and he responded, ‘He activated me first.’ He just says such astounding things,” Deborah says. The stay-at-home mother and her husband, Murray, who works at an advertising company, have no idea where their son’s ability comes from. “He’s never intimidated,” she says. Still, despite Daniel’s success, they don’t want their five-year-old, Spencer, to go into the business. “We don’t want that sibling rivalry. Spencer is a really good skier so I think we’ll concentrate on that for him.”
At home Daniel acts, and is treated like, any other eight-year-old. He likes video games and his favourite chore is washing the car. “Oh my gosh, he is such a normal kid,” says his mother. “But because he’s so exuberant, he can sometimes get a little crazy. He does get punished and does get time outs, probably more than the average kid.”
Right now it’s time for Daniel to get off the phone. The TV host has to go to school. “Yeah, too bad for me,” he says.