This ambitious production, shot on location in Ireland and loaded with impressive special effects, is something of a departure for Fox Kids. First of all, it’s an action-adventure series that endeavors to attract as many girls as boys-after all, one of the leading knights is a female. Secondly, this Celtic mythology-based epic is an original, somewhat unproven genre. The fact that Fox Kids has made a substantial financial commitment to the series upfront indicates that the network expects it to be a breakthrough in the crowded fall marketplace. The series is scheduled to run at 4 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and at 10 a.m. on Saturday mornings starting September 12. The initial order for the series is 50 episodes-an unusually big commitment by Fox Kids for a new show.
How do you get the message across to kids about a show that is groundbreaking and different? According to Carol Monroe, senior VP of programming at Fox Kids, producers there have looked to other hit shows with mystical or mythic elements, attempting to discern what elements made them successful. The tremendous ratings success of NBC’s Merlin mini-series in 1997, which was nominated for an Emmy earlier this year, along with the phenomenon of Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, were indicators to Fox Kids that this series could break through. ‘The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog embraces a lot of elements kids are very attracted to: swords, sorcery and myths,’ notes Monroe. ‘Kids may not be quite as familiar with Celtic lore, but they’ll recognize the dragons and swords.’ The idea for the Saban Entertainment-produced series was generated internally, largely by producer Bob Hughes at Saban.
While based on Celtic mythology, Monroe and her creative team have taken liberties with time periods and certain elements of the legends. The basic premise, however, could be a morphed Power Rangers storyline: A band of young heroes gains strength and power and sets out on a quest. Both the lead character, Rohan, and Dierdra, the female knight who is destined to become queen, must learn how to use their powers to battle arch-enemy Queen Maeve, who uses her powers of sorcery against them.
When questioned about how drama such as this will work with kids, Monroe asserts, ‘I think Power Rangers is a drama for kids, and it’s our number one show. Kids are well able to understand dramatic structure-they don’t need to be restricted to comedy.’ That being said, she admits that the show is something of an experiment. ‘It’s different [from] anything we’ve done before or that kids have seen before,’ she notes.
By airing Mystic Knights weekday afternoons, as well as Saturday mornings, the series will capitalize on the strong viewer numbers Fox Kids pulls in during weekday afternoons, says Tom Cosgrove, VP of scheduling at Fox Kids. ‘What we’re doing is going after a broader audience with this show, which has high-quality special effects and some computer-generated characters. As you go later in the day, [the audience] ages up.’ While the show will target an older, bigger audience in general, Cosgrove notes that there is also a larger number of two- to five-year-olds watching during weekday afternoons. The series will be grouped with another debuting actioner, Young Hercules, in the block.
The goal of this scheduling plan was to capitalize on the show’s strengths, according to Cosgrove. ‘We look to this show as probably one of the broadest-skewing shows we have [on Fox Kids],’ he says. As for counter-scheduling against what other kids players are airing, Cosgrove notes that Kids’ WB! airs similar programs in the same time period, but these shows reach a more strictly boy-oriented audience. ‘Fox Kids’ [audience] is much broader than what [Kids' WB! is] doing.’ While competitive schedules are always factored in, they weren’t the determining factor in scheduling The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog. ‘We aren’t too concerned with what others are doing,’ he notes. Cosgrove focused on existing Fox Kids audience demographics to choose an optimal schedule for the series.
After placing the quality of the product foremost, the marketing efforts that follow are very thorough, says Elie Dekel, executive VP of the consumer products division at Fox Family Worldwide. ‘Then we begin to apply a whole range of marketing tactics and strategies-getting a lion’s share of marketing muscle behind the show.’ On-air promotions will highlight the series’ story, provide character introductions and point to the fact that this is ‘a different genre of program.’
The aggressive off-air ad campaign for the show will encompass cable TV spots, in-school promotion, kid-targeted print advertising-even in Nickelodeon and Disney publications-and a Web site where interactive content will ‘provide role-playing that is derivative of the show and [will] deepen the experience of the show,’ says Dekel. Themed play areas based on The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog will be introduced into 205 Discovery Zone stores nationwide this fall.
Plans for promotions are still in early stages, but may involve sending a winner to Ireland, where the series is filmed. However, the location will not be directly addressed in the series, says Dekel. ‘In a kids fantasy, you want to avoid that. If you stress too much about [the production itself], it will dilute the impact of the story.’