Most often, it works this way. A writer develops a concept. A studio turns it into a show. A broadcaster finds an audience. A manufacturer converts characters from the show into toys.
But Con Fullam, a Portland, Maine-based songwriter, performer and a special projects producer for the Maine Radio and Television Company, has shown that the process can work just as easily the other way.
Fullam started with an idea for a stand-alone character (his name is Wompkee) and brought it to life, first as a plush toy, then a book, and at about the same time, a Christmas special TV show and an audio cassette. And now he’s out pitching the idea to studios in the hope of turning Wompkee’s Grand Adventure book into a TV series.
Fullam’s own grand adventure g’es back a number of years and owes its beginning to a pet name he had given to his wife, Maura Clarke, also a songwriter.
‘Wompkee is a term of endearment I use for my wife,’ says Fullam. ‘It sounded kind of like a character, so over the years my wife and I developed it into one. We gave him big ears and built a whole story around him. Wompkee just took on a life of its own.’
The gestation period ended in the office of Lew Colby, chief executive officer of Maine Broadcasting, owner of WCSH-TV, one of the first NBC affiliates and one of the last that is still family owned. Fullam, who works on special projects for the company, presented Colby with initial sketches and an adventure story involving Wompkee’s encounter with Vikings.
Colby said he was interested and agreed to push the idea ahead as a half-hour Christmas special and soundtrack if Fullam could find a toy company and a publisher to make a doll and a book.
Fullam gathered up his drawings and arranged a meeting with the family-owned and -operated Mary Meyer Corporation in Townshend, Vermont, a company known for its high-quality plush toys. The Meyers liked the idea and were further intrigued because their company had also never advertised on television. They would commit if Fullam could get a book deal.
Next stop was Penmoor Lithographers of Lewiston, Maine, another family-run business and an international name in printing. Penmoor was sold on the Wompkee concept and the prospect of becoming a publisher.
‘I had them [potential partners] all on the fence and I had to knock them all over simultaneously,’ recalls Fullam. ‘This is not like a shooting match where you knock them down one at a time.’
It took four months from the day Fullam presented the idea to Colby (January 1994) to the moment all partners signed on. WCSH-TV made the show a camera movement treatment using illustrations from the book and the soundtrack cassette, Mary Meyer manufactured the Wompkee, and Penmoor printed the book.
Packaged sets retailing for $19.95 were distributed in bookstores throughout Maine during the Christmas holidays of 1995 and after the show hit the air, 3,000 packaged sets were sold within three weeks.
Wompkee’s life will continue this Thanksgiving when his likeness, in a seven-foot suit, will appear at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.
And Fullam is looking to complete his fairy-tale story by finding an animation studio to bring Wompkee to television. He says he already has the interest of a major toy company and a licensing agent.
‘The story and drawings for the second Grand Adventure have just been completed and the story for the third is written,’ says Fullam, who, when asked what he’s learned through this experience, replies: ‘It seems that successful endeavors often owe their life to whim, happenstance and good timing.’