With the rapid expansion of new broadcast outlets around the world, the demand for television product continues to increase, as evidenced by the growth of markets such as MIPCOM and MIPCOM Junior. With this special report, we continue to follow the evolution of children’s television programming through a series of co-production diaries, as well as a snapshot view of the children’s television industry.
Also, for the second time, we present the KidScreen ‘Dream Block,’ the best two-hour block of children’s programs, according to a poll of senior programming executives. To find out which shows came out on top and why, turn to page 74.
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Nice to Be Here is a fantasy surrounding senior citizens who, clad in bathrobes and slippers, hit the town each night to lead exciting nocturnal lives, while children and parents are sound asleep. One of these nights, a little boy who has snuck out of his house discovers this secret world of the grandparents. A half-hour family film for television, the project combines the talent of the BBC’s animation unit and Varga Studio with the programming muscle of French children’s channel Canal J.
Varga Studio, Hungary
Varga tvc, U.K.
Canal J, France
How the partnership began:
As crocuses are springing from the ground in Budapest, Laszlo Kollar, a computer designer at Varga Studio, creates a 30-second short film in his spare time. This short comes to the attention of Andras Erkel, senior director at Varga Studio and Varga tvc. Erkel and the studio’s founder and creative director, Casaba Varga, see potential in the design and the atmosphere of the piece and arrange to meet with Kollar.
‘Mr. Varga and I sat down with the designer and started to think about what we could do with the idea,’ says Erkel. Hashing out possibilities for the format, concept and story, the three ready a rough presentation for use at MIPCOM. At this stage, they decide to market Nice to Be Here as a half-hour special, although they feel it has a chance to be spun off into a series.
‘We were taking the project to Cannes just to test it. We produced a small flyer and a poster, wanting to see the market response for an idea like this,’ says Erkel.
At MIPCOM, the buzz about Nice to Be Here reaches Colin Rose of the BBC. Erkel and his team present the rough outline and some designs, and the seeds of the partnership are sown.
‘[Rose] said that he liked it a lot and would like to be involved, but wanted creative input,’ notes Erkel. ‘He had thoughts about how the project would work the best way.’
A deal is struck. In exchange for partial financing, Rose will have a degree of creative control over the end product, and will collaborate with Varga on the development of the script.
‘From our side, we were very happy because Colin Rose has been behind a number of very high-quality films including Flatworld,’ says Erkel. While the financial boost from the BBC initially got the project under way, ‘[Rose's] input would play an even more important role than his money,’ says Erkel.
Erkel’s partner, John Adams, meets with Canal J in Paris, and notifies the company of the BBC’s involvement in Nice to Be Here. Like the BBC, the French kids network expresses interest, but asks for creative control in exchange for financial participation. Canal J comes on board, but its input is different from that of Colin Rose.
‘We never had brainstorming meetings or script discussions like we had begun to have with Colin Rose,’ says Erkel. However, the French partner comments on the script and provides notes as development progresses.
‘Unfortunately, the script didn’t go in the direction that Colin and I wanted, so after the third draft, we got a new writer,’ Erkel explains. At this point, Rose and Erkel decide to take the creative reins in order to speed the project to completion.
‘I had a meeting with Canal J and asked them not to comment until we had a finished script,’ says Erkel.
Another change at this time is the shift of scripting headquarters from Varga Studio in Budapest to its sister company, Varga tvc in London, which becomes home to the project during development. The move speeds up the process of readying a final draft for September.
With Canal J’s involvement contingent on approval of the final script, it is possible that new partners might be brought on board at this year’s MIPCOM.
‘We hope we will be able to convince all the other broadcasters to commit,’ says Erkel. ‘If the script is good, the BBC will commit with a big part of the financing.’ Erkel asserts that the partners plan to have the project completed by November 1998. ‘It would be a perfect Christmas special,’ he says.
Evaluating the Partnership
‘It is very difficult to satisfy everyone. Because we [presented the project] first to the BBC and our opinion is closer to [that of] the BBC, I would like to stay with the BBC [as a key partner],’ says Erkel. He notes that Canal J has sought a younger-skewing product, whereas the BBC and Varga have aimed for animation that is more adult friendly. As a result, their opinions on directions for the project have differed.
‘If Canal J doesn’t stay, we’ll try to find another partner. And, of course, if a major new financier comes on to the project, we may have to make major creative changes again,’ says Erkel.
The relationship between Varga and the BBC’s Rose has been very fruitful. ‘We value his experience, not just his reputation,’ says Erkel. ‘What he can tell us is extremely useful.’