Plum slate pickings

With the BBC now screening kids shows on BBC1 and BBC2, and BBC Worldwide an increasingly aggressive buyer of kids rights, Theresa Plummer-Andrews has rarely been busier....
August 1, 1999

With the BBC now screening kids shows on BBC1 and BBC2, and BBC Worldwide an increasingly aggressive buyer of kids rights, Theresa Plummer-Andrews has rarely been busier.

‘No in-house BBC production has been lost to acquisitions,’ she stresses. ‘But a lot of the expansion in air time has gone to acquisitions and co-productions.’ Where possible, she has used her increased muscle to support the U.K. animation industry.

Returning series include the final 13 half-hour episodes of EBU production Noah’s Island and a second batch of Noddy animation, recommissioned from Cosgrove Hall. The latter will also form the basis for a new series of the U.S. live-action/animation series Noddy in Toyland. ‘Noddy in Toyland has done so well in the U.S., it will be aired across the whole of PBS starting in the fall,’ says Plummer-Andrews.

New animations are headed by Hibbert Ralph’s 26 x five-minute Angelmouse, a story about a heavenly mouse whose good deeds have a tendency to backfire-with the result that his halo is prone to slip.

A keen supporter of Graham Ralph’s work, Plummer-Andrews says she typically looks for three to four new five-minute animation series each year to add ‘flexibility and diversity to the schedule.’

After a strong showing at last year’s Cartoon Forum, she has also signed up the debut stop-frame/CGI animated series from League of Gentlemen called Yo, ho, ahoy! (52 x five minutes). After she had seen the pilot, Plummer-Andrews ‘collared the producers straightaway. It is so original in style.’

Because the BBC now has air time on BBC2, it has tended to commission longer runs more

quickly from producers. This, in turn, allows indies to amortize costs. A good example is the BBC’s relationship with HIT Entertainment. After ‘screaming with laughter’ at a pilot, she committed herself to two series of preschool show Bob the Builder. ‘The stories are so simple and strong. They don’t treat preschoolers as if they’re idiots.’

She is now working with HIT on its latest 26 x 11-minute offering Sheeep!-another Cartoon Forum pick-up. Eleven minutes is a good format for the BBC because it allows the pubcaster to air the shows either as 11-minute segments or half hours by doubling up episodes.

French producers are also making inroads with Plummer-Andrews with projects like Wild Instincts from Spain prodco Praxinos and Pablo the Little Red Fox from France’s Millimages. Plummer-Andrews has also thrown in her lot with Italtoons (U.S.) and Teletoons (France) on 52 five-minute episodes of Rotten Ralph, the story of a fiendish red cat who is constantly forgiven by his good-hearted owner Sarah.

Other overseas projects signed up by the Beeb include the third run of live-action drama series Round the Twist and a high-tech Aussie-located update of the Huck Finn story from Barron Enter-tainment called Chuck Finn. Acquired dramas are deliberately selected to ‘complement in-house productions,’ says Plummer-Andrews, ‘We look for locations and lifestyles that will give children a different view on life.’

Straight acquisitions still play a role in providing continuity in the BBC schedule. Recent pick-ups include Animorphs from Scholastic and Goosebumps, which was creatively edited so it could play in a 4:30 p.m. slot.

Columbia TriStar movie spin-off Godzilla and the new Woody Woodpecker cartoons from Universal are other recent acquisitions.

As a rule, Plummer-Andrews is as demanding over acquisition quality as she is over BBC-led programs. She reads scripts closely and refuses to take second-rate material just because it is cheap.

As for the gaps, she is hunting for good live-action/comedy/drama for ‘the middle age range of kids.’ Not Bodger & Badger, which is too young, and not Kenan & Kel, which is too old. ‘Something like Misery Guts, which has rated well for us.’

The BBC’s commitment to Europe continues with the new EBU project Zeppy and Zenior. Inspired by Italians, the story concerns a group of birds that lives above Venice. Plum is once again an executive producer on the project.

Another animation project on the move is Ten Pin Alley’s Little Monsters.

Peter Orton

Chief executive, HIT Entertainment

‘Theresa is instinctively one of the most talented people in our industry. When we were working on Bob the Builder, we traveled up to our studio in Manchester together and she told me that she thought our creative team was wrong about the choice of theme song for the show. So we took her advice and went with `Can We Fix It? Yes We Can!,’ which turned out to be one of the most successful aspects of the show.

‘She has a fabulous track record for picking shows, and she manages to get decisions through the BBC bureaucracy extremely quickly because they trust her judgement.’

Graham Ralph

Managing director, Silver Fox Films

‘Theresa is a great enthusiast. If she likes something, she will want it there and then-and she’ll support it 200%. A lot of people in this industry are in fear of their jobs, but she will knock down doors to get what she wants.

‘As a producer (on productions like Spider, The First Snow of Winter and Angelmouse), she gives me a sense of confidence that she is not going to nit-pick every detail of a show. She trusts creative talent.’

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