Fun, Games, And Foul Play: Toy-Themed True Crime

Marlene Sharp is the proud proprietor of Pink Poodle Productions. Previously, Marlene served as Director, Production at LEVEL-5 abby, home of YO-KAI WATCH and other hit video game-based franchises. Formerly, as Producer, TV Series, at Sega of America, Marlene worked on much more than the Teen Choice Award-nominated cartoon SONIC BOOM. For example, her Hedgehog duties took her to the heights of nerd-dom as an official San Diego Comic-Con 2017 panelist. As a freelance journalist, Marlene concentrates on popular entertainment for buzz-worthy online fan destinations, such as DOGTV,, and As a short film auteur, she has snagged prizes at the Canine Film Festival, the San Luis Obispo Film Festival, and many more. As a screenwriter, her professional stamp is embedded in lots of merchandise-driven cartoons – such as SNACK WORLD – and in her original, award-winning creations, such as BORN IN LA, MASCOT MAYHEM, and THE GIRL WHO LOVED NOSES. She is the winner of 2019 LA Shorts International Film Fest Script Competition (an Oscar and BAFTA-qualifying fest), at which her backdoor sitcom pilot received a staged reading by The Groundlings. And as a human being, basically, she loves dogs. For proof of the aforementioned, please see her website

Spring has sprung! In somewhat similar fashion, the corporate world has sprung a leak, in the form of layoffs. In this author’s opinion, the dramatic workforce reduction breeds a HUNGER GAMES-like atmosphere in the toy biz, the kids’ content landscape, and office culture at large. By HUNGER GAMES, think SQUID GAME-lite: back-stabb-y, finger-pointy, tattle-tale-y interactions amongst survivors of a downsizing apocalypse . . . The subjects at hand are erstwhile fine folks who are fated to become ex-office mates and new job competitors. For some of these sad sacks, no micro-aggression is too large (or too small); what matters is that one keeps one’s job, whether one needs the income or likes the work. The point is to WIN. Highly personal case studies are available upon request.

In honor of this nail-bitingly real situation, let’s celebrate the silver lining of pretty much everything bad: true crime. Percolating discontent oft leads to law breaking, which is the fuel of great storytelling, which begets epic true crime podcasting, non-fiction filming, and based-on-real-events retelling. Here are a few guilty-pleasure-filled narrative non-fiction audio examples: Wondery’s SCAMFLUENCERS and EVEN THE RICH; Campside Media and Sony Music’s INFAMOUS; and investigative journalist Javier Leiva’s brilliant PRETEND, especially the arc that unmasks the perverse con artistry of Frank “Catch Me If You Can” Abagnale.

Fun fact: the toy industry has its own unique set of newsworthy transgressions, felonious deeds, and international incidents. There’s a dedicated installment of the podcast WINE AND CRIME to prove it; see “Toy Crimes” (April 30, 2020, episode 168). This one-off offers a taste of  skeletons in the toy closet, and they are not plastic, nor are they relegated to the seasonal section of favorite retail outlets! These skeletons have truth in their bones.

Toy crimes seem to have reached maturation. They deserve their own show. These cautionary tales are ripe for audio and screen treatment, and yours truly claims them all for a yet-to-be- realized magnum opus.  As proof of concept, here are ideas for the first few episodes, whose loglines are simultaneously en route to the US Copyright Office and the Writers Guild (WGA). Please shelve thoughts of CHIP ‘N’ DALE: RESCUE RANGERS-style intellectual property infringement (here’s looking at you Disney re: Ugly Sonic) accordingly.

  1. Tom Kalinske’s Matchbox cars odyssey – For an encapsulation, see the prologue of Blake Harris’ iconic tome CONSOLE WARS. In 1987, Matchbox president (and eventual Sega of America head hedgehog) Tom arrived in Spain for a friendly product distributor visit; what transpired was an up-close-and-personal encounter with a fake mini-vehicle factory.
  • The Cabbage Patch Kids Riots of 1983 – The ‘80s sure was a volatile time for play-loving people! In 1983, these soft-sculptured dolls were in short supply; consequently, disgruntled consumers resorted to violence. Most important, the in-store battles royale(s) spawned offspring, such as the Tickle Me Elmo Tantrums of 1996 and the Hatchimals Hysteria of 2016.
  • Toys ‘R’ Us Murder of 2013 – It was a classic inside job: A deceitful loss-prevention expert (Bernard Grucza) murdered a Hamberg, New York TRU store manager (Larry Wells) who had become wise to said security guard’s stockpile of stolen merchandise.
  • Lyle Menendez’s Moppets – In his 1993 trial testimony, Lyle Menedez credited a beloved stuffed animal collection – particularly a white teddy bear squad – for his time-tested coping skills . . . which sadly malfunctioned on the night that Lyle and his brother Erik murdered their parents. Where were ‘the Pookies’ when Lyle really needed them?!
  • The Pez Outlaw – Prolific Pez candy dispenser smuggler Steve Glew earned gobs of ill-gotten gains from his efforts, plus a 2022 Netflix documentary tribute!

For more juicy toy true crime tidbits, wait for the podcast! There are heaps more toy tragedies for the DOGGONE CRIME! gals (pup Blanche, person Marlene) to cover in a separate program.

For a palate cleanser, please digest a vintage 2019 LinkedIn publication by XSolla president and video game giant Chris Hewish. He has lead companies with servitude and written about it. Most important, he interviewed a kindness-spewing, true crime-loving, opinion-having columnist who loves to make fun of annoying situations in order to change them . . . or die laughing.

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