The truism that ‘no two deals are ever the same’ has never been more accurate than in today’s climate of intricate production partnerships linking companies from around the world. The main feature in our MIP-TV special report traces the evolution of these partnerships through the complex deals that led to new children’s television shows that are now being marketed at MIP-TV. The report also includes a discussion with U.S. studios on television programming trends, as well as a glimpse into the television markets of Germany, England and France.
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A 13 x 30-minute animated TV series set in an swamp, Coots & Critter revolves around the misadventures of a jolly alligator and his raccoon sidekick, along with an assortment of animal friends. The well-meaning buddies are often foiled in their plans by their adversaries Balmy Bear and Greasy Weasel.
Dendy the Elephant, also 13 x 30 minutes, follows Dendy, the head of a television production company, as he travels the world and outwits his f’es, including the nasty head of a competitive company and a gang of criminal rats.
Partners: White Mountain Entertainment, U.S., Argus International, Russia
How the partnership began:
Husband-and-wife team Bob and Cassie Yde launch White Mountain Entertainment. Bob Yde had previously worked as an independent producer, writer and director of TV specials. The new company focuses on the acquisition and development of product for the international marketplace.
‘We were looking for the perfect TV series that would play anywhere around the world, but we found that there was no such animal,’ says Bob Yde. The pair decide to concentrate on animated programs, because these are relatively easy to translate.
Argus, a private animation company headed by Vladimir Repin, is founded in Moscow.
The political climate in Russia at the time was favorable for such a move, says Yde, because the government had loosened control over cultural products, which made for a relatively hands-off environment. Previously, he notes, the government financed and regulated all entertainment industries.
White Mountain discovers Coots & Critter when the Ydes see an animated Christmas special produced by the independent company Coots and Critter Co. Seeing strong potential in the characters, the company secures exclusive rights to develop an animated television series and an aggressive worldwide licensing effort.
Meanwhile, Argus teams up with Dr. Sergej Fedulow, an independent Russian producer based in Tübingen, Germany, and forms Argus International. Fedulow is named the company’s president. The new team begins a search for a distributor to help bring their products to an international market.
The White Mountain team scouts for an animation company to help produce Coots & Critter. While meeting with Russian contacts to discuss other business opportunities, namely representation of the Ydes’ Television Syndication Company catalogue in Russia, White Mountain and Argus meet for the first time. The Americans are impressed with Argus’ animation, which they describe as ‘Disney-esque,’ and the seeds for the partnership are sown.
‘We decided that we would form [a partnership] and do one series from each of our companies,’ says Yde. White Mountain brings Coots & Critter to the table, and Argus contributes Dendy the Elephant. The deal is finalized in Cannes.
The co-producers are introducing both shows at MIP-TV, and Bob Yde plans to talk with broadcasters about outlets for the shows worldwide. Coots & Critter will be complete between late 1997 and early 1998. Dendy the Elephant is scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 1998.
According to the partners’ plan, the initial Coots & Critter and Dendy The Elephant series will be followed by an additional 13 episodes as soon as the first shows are sold.
Evaluating the Partnership
While working with a Russian company has required more time and patience, Bob Yde notes ‘there are a lot of wonderful things that they bring to a project.’
‘In my opinion, it’s a very promising co-production,’ Argus’ Repin says. ‘White Mountain is a solid company. They combine production experience with distribution ability. That’s a big advantage for us.’