‘Not now, I’m pickling some slugs’

The opening conference at last month's MIPCOM Jr. cut to the chase as globe-trotting moderator/Banff TV Fest prez Pat Ferns grilled broadcasters and producers re: 'Is the kids biz facing crisis or is everything O.K.?'...
November 1, 1999

The opening conference at last month’s MIPCOM Jr. cut to the chase as globe-trotting moderator/Banff TV Fest prez Pat Ferns grilled broadcasters and producers re: ‘Is the kids biz facing crisis or is everything O.K.?’

Since there is no paucity of product, a focus of discussion became ‘is there enough variety out there?’ given the influence of four majors controlling a large share of the programming in the international market. Theresa Plummer-Andrews, never one to mince words, put it this way: ‘Every airport has a Bally shoe shop. I’m bored of Bally.’ Declaring the world swamped with animation, BBC’s head of kids acquisition and co-pros described the kids TV offerings as ‘same meat, different gravies.’ Susanne Möller, head of children’s programs at Germany’s ZDF, weighed in on-side with the consensus that a lot of the output is very similar, adding that when co-producing with these companies, it’s hard to have any influence on the product.

This is especially trying given the Catch-22 facing producers like Australian Children’s Television Foundation’s Jenny Buckland, who are trying to produce alternatives. The squeeze on license fees affects the quality of indigenous programming the most, the area one might anticipate as a source of different meat.

Big picture, Möller cited digital channels as the biggest challenge looming, while Plummer-Andrews said it was keeping the importance of kids programming in the minds of the bosses.

Canvassing Junior attendees on the topic of what was hot, what was not and what’s missing in the market, curiously no clear picks as to The Next Big Thing emerged. The response ‘Haven’t seen one, not even at Cartoon,’ summed up the consensus, however honorable mentions for Next Pokémon status went to Aardman Animations’ Rabbits!, Nelvana’s Maggie and the Ferocious Beast and Tiny Planets from Pepper’s Ghost. Projects people would like to be attached to included: Rotten Ralph, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Sony Wonder/Sunbow’s MegaBabies, Decode’s Angela Anaconda and Watership Down. Gaining nods for The Worst Thing, was the idea of a separate boys and girls channel. Buzz-gleaning kudos went to SpongeBob Squarepants, and candidates for Looks Like A Franchise status went to CTW/CTTG’s Dragon Tales and Mega Babies. BBC’s Tweenies got nods in every category, so we gather it got noticed-no easy feat that.

As to what’s missing, it was definitely good live-action drama/comedy for kids and tweens.

Looks like the stage is set for Harry Potter’s screen career. Given that author J.K. Rowling was unknown two years ago when the first boy-wizard tale was unleashed, can we draw the conclusion from the first three (of seven) books’ current reigning status in the top three slots on the New York Times bestseller list, that there’s been a dearth of rollicking stories for this age group? (The debut novel Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone also tops the paperback list.)

‘Not now, I’m pickling some slugs,’ is muttered by a small sleeping wizard in his bed compartment on the knight bus in the third Potter installment, The Prisoner of Azkaban, and is typical of a zillion magical asides that together with kick-Muggle plot, pacing and unforgettable characters combine to create a world that gives kids credit for critical faculties. One sentence yields more inventive detail than many books have in a whole chapter. It’s ironic that when a worthy new book series for kids finally arrives anyone would object to it, yet some parents in southern U.S. states wanted to keep the Potter books out of schools, saying that they glorified the Dark Arts (worried, perhaps, that their eight-year-old will use magical powers to blow up an aunt?). Quit messing with the gravy: the NYT booklist’s Harry Hysteria tally suggest the audience is hungry for truly original concoctions.

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