A 50 x 30-minute wildlife adventure series hosted by creature fanatics Martin and Chris Kratt, and an animated character named Ttark who introduce children to animals from around the world. The show will air daily on PBS across the U.S. starting June 3. TVOntario has also committed to launch the series in the fall, and another sale is pending in the U.S.
The Earth Creatures Company
Paragon Entertainment Corporation, Toronto
Maryland Public Television, Owing Mills, Maryland
Here’s how the partnership began
Leo Eaton, then senior vice president of national/international production with Maryland Public Television, and now a co-executive producer of the series, meets The Earth Creatures Company, consisting of Chris and Martin Kratt, for the first time. The brothers, who have backgrounds in biology and zoology, had produced five-minute wildlife segments that they were trying to market to schools. Eaton screens the tape, and ‘thought it was absolutely fabulous’ (his four-year-old son concurred).
The Kratt brothers and Eaton start to work on a sample episode for a weekly series. Eaton approaches potential partners in the U.K. Just before Christmas, Eaton begins discussions with PBS, which requests a sample of a daily series.
At the American International Toy Fair in New York, Ken Katsumoto, vice president of family entertainment with Paragon Entertainment, speaks with Alice Kahn, PBS’s head of television programming. Kahn, who had talked with Eaton and the Kratt brothers, suggests that he view the sample episode to get an idea of the kind of show proposed. Katsumoto brings a videotape to Jon Slan, CEO of Paragon, and Richard Borchiver, president and COO. ‘We thought it was brilliant,’ says Borchiver. Paragon asks Katsumoto to go after the rights on the series.
Paragon, the Kratt brothers, representatives of Maryland Public Television, and Eaton come to the table for the first time to discuss producing a daily series.
The show they agree to produce is ‘the sort of show that has never been done before,’ says Eaton. What makes the show unique is that it will feature original wildlife footage from the exotic corners of the world. The show’s creators, Chris and Martin Kratt, will be its stars. ‘[Paragon's] enthusiasm for the show, as it was, really made us think these are the guys to go with,’ says Eaton. ‘There was actually no question after we’d met them.’
Paragon recognizes the opportunity to do a one-of-a-kind production. ‘It was not just about animals,’ says Borchiver. ‘It was about two wildlife specialists interacting with animals in a comedic and a very entertaining way. It was informational, and it was totally off the wall.’
The show will be a Paragon production. Paragon will make up the shortfall of financing-about 80 percent-after PBS’s contribution of US$1.5 million. Paragon borrows nearly CDN$3 million to cover the deficit in its budget, ‘believing that future merchandising revenues and other things would justify our investment.’
Paragon’s partners will have consultation and approval rights, ‘which we take very seriously,’ says Borchiver, on everything from merchandising to publicity. Maryland Public Television, the PBS presenting station that commissioned the deal on behalf of PBS, will raise awareness of the series among other PBS stations.
By the first day of the month, PBS and Paragon sign the contract, and production starts the following Monday.
Shooting starts in Costa Rica. A week after the first days of shooting, some of the crew experience the first tribulations of their globe-trotting-a bout of dengue fever.
Momentum Partners of New York, which had handled licensing for Paragon’s Lamb Chop’s Play-Along, becomes the licensing agency for the property at the end of the year.
The last studio shoot takes place. Paragon showcases preliminary materials at MIPCOM.
Hasbro Interactive Worldwide of Beverly, Massachusetts, signs on as the fourth licensee, and will produce a CD-ROM (see page 72). The other licensees on board are: Scholastic, with a library of 18 books; PolyGram Video, with 12 videos; and Unique Industries, with a paper and party goods line. ‘As these deals started to come together,’ says Borchiver, ‘we realized that we in fact had a hit.’
The ‘BIG FIVE, Little Five’ episode of Kratts’ Creatures wins three awards in the final round of judging for the 1996 International Wildlife Film Festival held in Missoula, Montana: best children’s program, a merit award for good communication to a young audience, and a merit award for script.
Buoyed by the accolades and the response from licensees, Paragon is discussing other productions with the Kratt brothers, whom Borchiver describes as ‘very bright, innovative guys.’ Borchiver also has praise for Eaton, an award-winning partner, and Maryland Public Television, which has been ‘a pleasure to deal with.’
Eaton is impressed with Paragon’s concerted efforts to keep the best interests of public television at heart. ‘Paragon has been exceptionally good at keeping me informed,’ he says. On a personal note, he adds: ‘I’ve had a great deal of fun working with Paragon. And I would certainly welcome the opportunity if it came up again.’