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U.S. producers import foreign concepts

For years, export of kids product conceived and produced in the U.S. has been brisk. But the days when U.S. production entities export far more than they import may be numbered if current trends toward a more global product slate persist....
December 1, 1998

For years, export of kids product conceived and produced in the U.S. has been brisk. But the days when U.S. production entities export far more than they import may be numbered if current trends toward a more global product slate persist. On the cutting edge of the new import-friendly environment, U.S. producers are also scouting foreign territories for concepts to produce in the U.S. As the creative lines between Europe-based and North American product blur, some have ventured even further off the beaten track, picking up ideas for product in places like Malaysia and Japan.

‘As the marketplace becomes more competitive, we’re looking in more places for answers, and at the possibility of live-action concepts being able to travel,’ says Rich Ross, senior VP of programming and production at Disney Channel. The channel picked up the U.S. rights to a Japanese game show, renamed Off the Wall, which it modified and produced for American viewers ages nine to 11. The series premiered in late July, and was produced for under US$100,000 per episode, according to Ross. Due to the fact that game shows don’t repeat as well as animation, Ross decided to produce 65 episodes in the first round of production.

Tailoring the series for the U.S. market meant toning down the ‘manic quality’ of the show, yet retaining some of the high-energy feel that attracted the producer to the property. ‘It’s active,’ notes Ross. ‘A lot of [domestic] game shows are very passive.’

Foreign kid concepts are also of interest to Beverly Hills TV production company Matinee Entertainment, says executive producer Michael Yanover, who was instrumental in the firm’s acquisition of the rights to Malaysian comic book phenomenon Kampung Boy for production of a 26-episode animated series Stateside. According to London-based ITEL, which holds the non-U.S. distribution rights to the series and represented the show at MIPCOM, Kampung Boy is the first Asian-based comic strip to be produced as an animated TV series by a U.S. producer. The series was developed by producer/director Frank Saperstein (Ren & Stimpy), in conjunction with the comic strip’s Malaysian creator, Lat, for about US$350,000 per episode, and will be available in fall 1999. Matinee is producing the series with Astro Broadcasting in Malaysia and Philippine Animation Studio Inc. in Manila. Astro Broadcasting will air the show on its DBS satellite system. No broadcast outlets outside Malaysia had been secured at press time.

According to Yanover, the property’s most compelling feature was its unique look, which gives it the potential to stand out amid what he sees as a cluttered and homogenous international marketplace. He notes that the show’s hero, Mat, and his family and friends represent a range of racial tones and shades. ‘People are more receptive to that today,’ Yanover explains. The storyline is also culturally diverse, centering around the challenges of life in a small jungle village in Southeast Asia.

‘The whole notion of developing a property from outside the U.S. is based on the fact that the worldwide marketplace is increasing in importance with the globalization of culture,’ stresses Yanover. ‘Americans are more open-minded than they’ve ever been to these kinds of properties.’ Interestingly, the U.S. market is secondary to the international market in terms of sales priorities for this series, according to Yanover.

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