Fat Dog Mendoza is a 24 x 30-minute animated comedy that
follows the adventures of Fat Dog and his cohort, an insecure 10-year-old boy who always wears a superhero costume. The series is based on the original comic of the same name by Dark Horse Comics artist Scott Musgrove.
Budgeted at US$375,000 per episode, the series is geared to a target audience of kids ages four to 15. The partners will begin to deliver
the series in the fall, with a Cartoon Network Europe debut scheduled in early 2000.
Partners: Sunbow Entertainment, New York, New York
Cartoon Network Europe, London, England
TMO-Loonland, Munich, Germany
How the partnership began:
The co-production story gets under way with Sunbow’s March 1, 1994 option of the comic-book property. ‘Our development department looks for interesting creative sensibilities,’ says Andrea Miller, Sunbow’s senior VP of sales and co-production. ‘The character of Fat Dog-a big, fat dog with a giant mouth-struck people. It made us laugh,’ says Miller.
According to Miller, Fat Dog Mendoza remains on Sunbow’s development slate for a long time because it is a ‘raw’ property that exists only as a comic book.
The first stage in developing the toon is to create a preliminary bible to sketch and describe Sunbow’s vision for the property. This involves converting the adult comic’s characters and storylines into a kids property. Sunbow’s focus throughout the adaptation is to retain the qualities of the Fat Dog character and his boy cohort that initially attracted them to the property. ‘The [boy character] reflects all the anxieties and fears children have-only [they're] expressed visually,’ says Miller. ‘There is such appeal in these two characters. We worked hard with their creator, Scott Musgrove, to keep the project creative-driven.’ Only when this preliminary bible is completed does the active search for co-production partners begin.
‘The first thing we look for in a partner is their ability to make an artistic contribution,’ says Miller. ‘Fat Dog has broad appeal, but it is not a mainstream property.’ Sunbow plans to put up half of the series’ budget, with additional funds being sought through co-production partners.
While shopping the series around to potential partners, Sunbow gathers feedback. According to Miller, many who see the preliminary pitch are surprised at how well the formerly adult property works for kids,
thanks to the companion boy character. While most feedback is positive, some buyers feel that the property skews either too old or too young for their audiences, or that it is too entertainment-based without educational content. Overall, however, Sunbow receives ‘really good encouragement,’ says Miller.
As scripting on the series begins with the completion of a finalized bible, Sunbow starts to assemble the co-production. The studio’s first priority is to find partners who can help develop Fat Dog Mendoza into a product that will work internationally. European kids ages four to 15 are the primary target, as the U.S. is essentially a back-end market for the property.
Secondary considerations for Sunbow in assembling co-production partners are the partners’ financial participation and their ability to bring European content (which is required for some European broadcasters) to the project.
One of the first companies Sunbow pursues for a partnership is Cartoon Network Europe, as the outlet seems a good fit for the property. Although Cartoon Network Europe’s VP of programming and development, Finn Arnesen, who closed the deal with Sunbow, says the viewing tastes of kids in the U.K. are significantly different from those of kids in the U.S., the fact that an American company brings him the property doesn’t put him off. Arnesen is assured from the start that he will have enough creative input to mold Fat Dog Mendoza into something that will work for European kids.
An additional attraction for Arnesen is the possibility that TMO-Loonland, a cutting-edge German animation company with whom he had long wanted to do business, would join the co-production as creator of the animation. Arnesen had heard a lot about the company’s reputation for producing animation with a unique look and feel, and he feels it could pull off a quirky property like this one, having proved its mettle on similarly nonmainstream co-productions such as The Three Friends and Jerry, with partners HIT Entertainment in the U.K., Sweden’s Happy Life and Nickelodeon UK.
‘We don’t only do `far out’ properties, but we have an interest and feeling for them,’ notes Peter Volkle, CEO of TMO-Loonland. Volkle is also excited to work with Cartoon Network Europe for the first time.
Cartoon Network Europe signs on first, with TMO-Loonland coming aboard just afterward. The signing of TMO-Loonland as producer of the animation ensures that the series will qualify as having European content. The co-production is funded 50% by Sunbow, 35% by TMO-Loonland and 10% to 15% by Cartoon Network Europe. (Fat Dog Mendoza is the first of two programs to go into production as a result of Cartoon Network’s multiyear development deal with Sunbow.)
‘Cartoon Network [Europe] is a co-production partner that represents what I call an enhanced presale,’ notes Miller. ‘It gets a first window in all European countries where there’s a Cartoon Network [outlet], and [this] allows us to get a substantial presale.’ Sunbow retains the rights, however, to sell to terrestrial networks throughout Europe on a country-by-country basis. TMO-Loonland owns distribution, licensing and merchandising rights to all German-speaking territories, with the remainder of international broadcast and licensing rights held by Sunbow. Licensing and merchandising programs undertaken in Germany by TMO-Loonland will be separate from those of Sunbow, although Sunbow staff will coordinate all ancillary activities to make a larger impact, says Miller.
Animation tests begin in tandem with continuing work on the scripts. At this stage, Sunbow oversees gathering input from the partners. ‘Both TMO and Cartoon Network Europe assigned persons to look at every script and character design, and we didn’t move forward on anything until we had complete agreement,’ says Miller. Arnesen labors to ensure that the series will appeal to kids in the U.K., plus fit the branding needs of his network. While Cartoon Network Europe airs its series all over Europe, ‘the U.K. [market] is a priority as it is our big revenue generator.’
‘What kids find funny in [the U.K.] is very specific,’ says Arnesen. ‘What we are looking for for our core audience of four- to 15-year-old kids is a slice-of-life kids show with fun, friendly and interesting characters.’
The adaptation of an adult property into a kids series is something Arnesen says he finds ‘challenging,’ but that Volkle is accustomed to, since The Three Friends and Jerry started out as an adult pilot, then evolved into a kids product as partners came on board. Volkle notes that the runaway success of adult-focused animation such as South Park has pushed the boundaries of how far you can go in terms of creating kids properties that have varying degrees of adult appeal.
Animation of episodes begins this month, as Miller plans to bring some tape to MIP-TV. A completed episode will be screened at MIPCOM Jr. this fall to key broadcasters.
Evaluating the partnership
Fat Dog Mendoza is still in production, yet the partners already consider it a success, as they have all benefited from the relationship creatively and have forged a method of working on a co-production that each finds efficient and rewarding. In fact, the three partners have inked an identical deal to co-produce a second series, The Cramp Twins, to be announced at MIP-TV.