This Children’s Television Workshop (CTW)/Cartoon Network co-production is a commercial-free, entertainment educational series featuring animated and live segments, Muppets, songs and music videos designed to inspire creativity and imagination in preschoolers. Viewers are asked to ‘play along’ at home by assembling a ‘big bag’ filled with ordinary household items-socks, spoons, etc.-to enter a world of exploration and fun. The show debuts Sunday, June 2 at 9 a.m. (ET) on Cartoon Network. (13 x 60 minutes)
Children’s Television Workshop (CTW)
Here’s how the partnership began
At a New York screening of the cartoon Moxie, Marjorie Kalins, senior vice president, programming and production for Children’s Television Workshop, and Betty Cohen, president of Cartoon Network Worldwide, meet for the first time.
Cohen, an admirer of CTW because of its use of humor and animation in educational TV, had been curious about developing or acquiring a similar-style program for Cartoon.
By coincidence, CTW had been exploring ideas for a new, fun, educational preschool series, its first since Sesame Street. It had hired producer Nina Elias in January to develop a concept.
Encouraged by this conversation, both parties agree to continue talking.
Despite the lack of a concept, talks continue about the development of a two-hour preschool block of programming. ‘None of us knew what we were talking about,’ Kalins said. ‘But all of us had the same feeling about what we wanted to do. We felt that the only way that we could make this work was to work with someone who was interested in experimenting.’
The two companies begin contract negotiations. Producer Nina Elias begins talks with animators from around the world to see what CTW could co-produce or commission for the series.
The play-along concept of Big Bag begins to crystallize. This allows both CTW and Cartoon to begin to formulate budgets. Realizing that the cost of producing two hours of programming with multiple animated segments would be prohibitive, Big Bag is stepped back to 16 one-hours.
The deal still isn’t completed (it wouldn’t be until the spring of 1995). However, CTW and Cartoon are on the same page in terms of the creative concept. Most contractual problems involve ancillary rights, licensing and international distribution-particularly with the six animators providing material for the show. Nobody wants to do the final deal until they know what all the elements of the show will be. ‘We didn’t want to end up with a show that only had four of the six [animated segments] cleared with worldwide rights,’ Cohen said. ‘We had to make sure that the characters that we loved would also be the characters that we used.’
October 1994 (MIPCOM)
Producer Elias and Cartoon’s Mike Lazzo, senior vice president of programming and production, begin screening programs over the weekend for possible acquisition. Lazzo and Elias, who had never met before, hold a meeting in the middle of the lobby of the Majestic Hotel in Cannes and compare notes on what they liked and disliked. To their shock and surprise, their likes and dislikes were nearly identical. ‘That was a very exciting meeting,’ Cohen said, ‘because we realized that we weren’t going to get something from CTW that was too earnest or too soft or too not like the Cartoon Network. I think CTW gained a lot of confidence in us the same weekend, because they saw that our tastes were in keeping with what they wanted to do.’
At that same MIP, Cohen tells her CTW counterparts how she had done a research paper on CTW while in high school, and had always been interested in the use of animation for teaching reading. ‘I think everyone thought, ‘This is a network we can work with,’ ‘ she said.
The deal is finally done.
CTW proposes to drop the number of shows from 16 to 13, take the money saved and invest it into the creative. Agreements are made with animators from Spain, England, Germany, Australia and the U.S.
After working with each other on the project for a year, the two companies enjoy a trusting and flexible relationship. CTW is given a total free hand in the show’s creation and can make changes even if Cartoon is satisfied with the existing product.
Kalins approaches Cohen about running the show commercial-free. Cohen says she’ll look into it. Some time later, Kalins is stuck on an L.A. freeway with car problems. She calls her office and is told that Cohen needs to talk to her. Cohen informs her that she can clear the way to make the show commercial-free. ‘She brought me into her issues, and I brought her into mine,’ Kalins said. ‘There’s nobody else in the world I would have called back immediately while I was trying to get my tire fixed.’
Summer – Fall 1995
With all of the creative elements of the show in place, Kalins leads about a dozen CTW executives to meet their Cartoon Network counterparts in Atlanta. The summit meeting involves people from each side who have anything to do with the project both creatively and business-wise. The dialogue created that day has continued to the present and essentially links the two companies as one unit on the project. ‘That meeting was as unique for CTW and the Cartoon people said it was unique for them,’ Kalins said. ‘We had a terrific day.’
The synergy results in the passing of all materials between both companies, such as Cartoon Network trade ads, and editorial that runs in CTW-published magazines.
CTW is still not satisfied with the show and asks Cartoon to push back the debut from April until June so it can deliver a better product. Cartoon agrees, as viewership is higher for the channel in June.
Evaluating the Partnership . . .
Both companies say their working relationship has been overwhelmingly positive. ‘You have to be clear going into things knowing what you want and what your goals for the show are,’ says Cohen. ‘I think the reason Big Bag is coming together so beautifully is because everyone seems to understand what the show needs to be.’
The 13-episode series debuts in June. In November, Cohen and Kalins will evaluate its success and decide whether to produce more episodes.