CANNES: While the appetite for children’s television programming is increasing with the opening of new broadcast markets, there d’esn’t yet appear to be a clear pattern of what these markets are hungering for-not according to brief chats with sales and production executives at this year’s MIPCOM market.
Sunbow president C.J. Kettler sees something of a shift in interest, which she saw beginning about a year ago, towards comedy and classic cartoons-’more comedic, more edgy and more story-driven properties’-but no obvious overall trend.
If anything, she d’es see a latent desire for ‘a new kind of action genre that is ready to be reinvented. Something that is less standard goodie-versus-badie, less formulaic.’
Although animated programming shows no signs of losing its luster, live action is showing signs of renewal, perhaps simply as an antidote to the surfeit of animated product.
Raymond Thompson, CEO of U.K.-based The Cloud 9 Screen Entertainment Group, is currently shooting a live-action series in New Zealand in association with CLT Multi Media of Luxembourg. The family adventure series is based on the best-selling secret novels of Enid Blyton. Other shows, which are being packaged as a classic collection series of mini-movies and specials, include The Adventures of Swiss Family Robinson, starring Richard Thomas of The Waltons fame.
‘I see a demand for a return to traditional family entertainment,’ says Thomas. ‘I think people want old-fashioned entertainment with strong production values and entertaining storylines.’
Thomas, whose background is television writing, says he is targeting his shows for a Sunday evening viewing environment.
‘Our shows are the kind that the whole family can watch together, including the children and granny. We are creating positive programming. There is no mistaking who is good and who is bad.’
Other companies that are continuing to market live-action projects include NBC International, which launched what amounts to a line extension of its Teen NBC’s Saturday morning program block for teens called USA High. Set in a high school in Paris, the show follows the lives of six culturally diverse teens in an American school in the French capital. The show has expectations of capturing international appeal.
One new show that was, in effect, customized for maximum international travel is Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues, a new Nick Jr. original series that uses a compelling animated dog, Blue, to encourage active learning involvement from viewers. The show, aimed at kids two to five, debuted on Nickelodeon on September 9 and got the highest audience-targeted premiere ratings in Nickelodeon history.
Blue’s Clues opens with a live-action host who introduces the character Blue, who then has children participate in the show through a series of clues.
‘The host can be localized to make the show relevant to core cultures,’ says Kathleen Hricik, senior vice president, program enterprises, Nickelodeon International. ‘We are taking a proven genre and we’re showing people how they can localize it using their own studio time.’
(Nickelodeon made the point to potential buyers with great flair at a presentation luncheon. The live-action opening was staged in front of buyers, who were then encouraged to act out the role of host themselves, complete with videotape and full animation background. Those who participated were given a tape that recorded their performances.)
As a means of increasing its diversity of programming genres, Hricik says Nickelodeon has created a worldwide development group that will pool global resources and creative talent to develop product in all sorts of formats, including animation, live action, sports and games. The newly created Nickelodeon Worldwide Development Group will be coordinated by Albie Hecht, senior vice president, Nickelodeon Productions, and will include Nickelodeon executives from around the world.
While hot genres come and go, the act of traditional storytelling remains the one constant, especially in children’s programming, says Martin Gates, producer/director of Martin Gates Productions, one of the U.K.’s leading animation producers for cel and 3-D puppet animation.
‘People forget that the Brothers Grimm never really created a story. They collected them and retold them, changing them with each retelling,’ says Gates, whose adaptations of the Wind in the Willows stories-Mole’s Christmas and The Adventures of Mole-have been nominated for two CableACE Awards.
‘Stories should not be stuck in aspic; they should constantly be made more relevant. When Hans Christian Andersen created his stories, he told them to small groups of children and retold them and perfected them.’
Gates is currently working on the Andersen classic The Ugly Duckling for delivery next June or July. It will be a 76-minute special for video release.
Gates points out that the original Ugly Duckling story was four pages long.
‘We looked at the theme, which in the original story, Andersen said, ‘When you’re ugly, everything is wrong, and when you’re beautiful, it’s alright. We’ve taken that and we’ve changed it so that it will seem a fair resolution for children.
‘I think Andersen would be the first today to alter his stories. You have to make them work for the current times.’