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MIPCOM Report: Co-production diary: Dr. Xargle

The semi-brilliant Dr. Xargle lectures his alien pupils on the unbelievable world known as Earth. Disguised as Earth children, his students partake in zany misadventures while observing life on the planet firsthand. This 13 x 30-minute comedy series aimed at kids...
October 1, 1996

The semi-brilliant Dr. Xargle lectures his alien pupils on the unbelievable world known as Earth. Disguised as Earth children, his students partake in zany misadventures while observing life on the planet firsthand. This 13 x 30-minute comedy series aimed at kids six to 11 years old combines animatronics, cel animation and live action.

PARTNERS:

HTV, U.K.

King Rollo Films, U.K.

Cinar Films, Canada

Ravensburger, Germany

How the partnership began:

Late 1993

King Rollo Films acquires an option on Dr. Xargle, a series of humorous books written by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Tony Ross. It hopes to develop the book line into an animated series.

Winter 1993-1994

King Rollo president Clive Juster unsuccessfully shops the concept. Although a fan of the book series, HTV controller of children’s programs Dan Maddicott initially passes on the show. Maddicott, however, suggests the idea of producing Dr. Xargle as a mixed-media program with live-action (Dr. Xargle and his students are animatronic puppets) and animated (the students’ lessons about Earth) elements. Suddenly, it becomes a show different from anything currently on TV, says Juster. The two companies go into partnership.

April 1994

As they seek additional partners to offset production fees, models of the main characters are constructed for MIPCOM. Canadian production house Cinar Films and German broadcaster Ravensburger express interest. Cinar president Ron Weinberg, a fan of the book series, finds the idea of doing a mixed-media series that would capture the unique graphic quality of the book intriguing.

The four co-producers meet in Montreal to finalize the agreement.

1994-1995

The waiting game begins.

The program is put on hold as they await word on whether or not British network ITV will commission the series and fund the U.K. share of the co-production. ‘We all agreed to go ahead once we got a commitment from a major broadcaster,’ says Maddicott. ‘In this case, being a British project, we felt that we should get a British broadcaster committed first. You get so far raising the financing, but it’s often that last chunk that you need, and that’s the one that takes a long time.’

April 1996

Up to this point, no one is sure if the series will be made, but ITV finally commissions the program and the partners move actively into pre-production.

King Rollo takes more of a back seat and acts as a co-executive producer. HTV and Cinar handle most of the production elements. Cinar also gets international distribution rights. All partners have approval on scripts and show elements.

‘It’s a democratic process until there’s an issue,’ says Cinar’s Weinberg. ‘As a co-producer, you need to know when you should stand up and fight. Where it becomes a problem is when a partnership includes a partner who is not experienced in the process and d’es not understand the dynamics of sharing not only authority but responsibility.’

October 1996

At long last, the program is ready to be sold by Cinar. Production also begins, with live-action segments handled by HTV and animation by Cinar. The program is scheduled to air on ITV in February 1997.

Evaluating the Partnership

All parties involved speak of a very productive relationship. Cinar’s Weinberg is confident that it will progress smoothly, as long as everyone fulfills their end of the deal. ‘Just getting to the starting line has been such a long haul,’ he says.

King Rollo’s Juster hopes that the partnership will be the first of a long working relationship among the companies. ‘As a co-producer, it’s interesting how everyone brings different creative influences to the table. It stimulates everyone.’

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