Sixteen years had elapsed since Phil Vischer wrote a VeggieTales episode, and he didn’t know how easily he could bring the characters back to life. But Vischer decided to try after the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) approached him last year and asked him to present Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber, and the rest of his botanic, Bible-teaching creations from the 1990s to a new generation.
“I started writing, and Larry walked through the door,” Vischer told me. “It was surprisingly easy for them to start talking to me again.”
Vischer, his wife, Lisa, and co-creator Mike Nawrocki put together 18 new VeggieTales episodes in partnership with TBN, Big Idea Content Group, and NBCUniversal. The VeggieTales Show is scheduled to premiere Oct. 22 with the same classic format, except this time Bob and his buddies are backstage at a theater, trying to come up with that night’s show.
The chance to take another stab at writing VeggieTales episodes came as a surprise for Vischer. He imagined Bob and Larry into existence at age 25.
“One of the problems with having a big success when you’re very young is you don’t know yourself,” Vischer said. In the late 1990s, his company grew from $1.3 million to $44 million, and he envisioned becoming the next Walt Disney. But mismanagement and a lawsuit from a distributor sent his company, Big Idea Productions, into bankruptcy.
“I learned that finding out who I am comes from walking with and listening to God,” Vischer, now 52, said. “None of it was ever mine to begin with.”
He sold Big Idea in 2003, and VeggieTales passed between several owners with mildly successful TV and streaming spin-offs on NBC and Netflix. Vischer continued to voice VeggieTales characters for years, but the show drifted from its Christian roots, losing its fan base.
Bouncing, talking vegetables can only go so deep in a 22-minute episode. But Vischer said fans can expect the new show to include “richer theology” and more New Testament teachings like the parable of the Prodigal Son, the fruits of the Spirit, and Paul and Silas’ imprisonment. “It has a more redemptive message about Jesus,” he said. “It’s not just about behaving better.”
A recent Christian Post article quoted Vischer saying Christian producers will eventually have to address LGBT issues in children’s programming because they are becoming so common in secular shows. But he also said he would not put a same-sex wedding in an episode, and he told me he has no intention of introducing mature social topics that are “inappropriate to address to preschoolers” on TV.
During his VeggieTales hiatus, Vischer said he spent time praying, studying the Bible, and evaluating his goals. That led him to a greater desire to help children and their parents grow in Biblical literacy. In 2012, he released a video series for children called What’s In the Bible? This week, Vischer debuted his first children’s Bible, The Laugh and Learn Bible. With these projects, he hopes the Bible becomes more accessible to families, helping children see Scripture as “a big story they are a part of.”
But The VeggieTales Show uniquely appeals to kids who might not crack open a Bible or who have never heard about Christianity outside of Sunday morning. Vischer hopes the show introduces children to a world where God exists and there is no separation between the sacred and the secular.