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BBC kids drama unit uses laughs to lure family viewers

Embarking on a new quest to become a leading producer of family programming in the U.K. market, the kids drama division of BBC Production has a trio of live-action comedy shows in the works for the 2000/2001 season....
June 1, 2000

Embarking on a new quest to become a leading producer of family programming in the U.K. market, the kids drama division of BBC Production has a trio of live-action comedy shows in the works for the 2000/2001 season.

In production this month for an October launch on the Beeb before swinging over to do a stint on Noggin in the U.S. is Big Kids, a 13 x half-hour role-reversal romp that starts off with a little mesmerism. An average suburban family attends a fundraising event at the kids’ public school that’s headlined by a renowned hypnotist. Ever cynical, the kids scoff at the ‘charlatan’ and denounce his ‘parlor tricks.’ To get even with the young hecklers, the hypnotist puts their parents in a trance and programs them to respond to certain trigger words by reverting to childhood behavior-usually at the most inopportune times. For example, the mother, who is a music teacher, reverts to the Chopsticks-playing level in the middle of a piano lesson.

Borrowing from State-side successes like Fox’s Malcolm in the Middle and sitcom hit Seinfeld, the BBC is gearing up for the spring 2001 launch of a show with a similar formula of funny asides and comedic monologues. Custer’s Last Stand-Up features a 14-year-old aspiring comedian who’s described by executive producer of children’s drama Elaine Sperber thusly: ‘If comedy is the next rock `n roll, Jamie plans to be the next Elvis.’ Drawing on his experiences with family and friends for material, the mini-Seinfeld creates stand-up bits that he practices out loud when he’s alone. Penned by Gail Renard, the show has also been presold to RTE in Ireland. According to Sperber, both Custer’s Last Stand-Up and Big Kids carry average budgets for half-hour kids dramas of between US$160,000 to US$200,000 per episode.

With a slightly higher total price tag in the ballpark of US$3 million, the Beeb is producing a modern fairytale Sunday serial with Canada’s Catalyst Entertainment. Based on a book called I Was a Rat by Philip Pullman, the six x half-hour series tells the story of a boy who’s convinced that he was a rat in a previous life. Sure enough, it turns out he was the lucky rodent that Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother turned into a coachman to escort her to the ball. However, he was busy cavorting in the palace and eating leftover hors d’oeuvres when the clock struck midnight and ended up missing the retransformation process. Unsuccessfully trying to adjust to life as a modern-day human, the rat-boy receives much-needed help when a reincarnated Cinderella shows up. I Was a Rat (a.k.a. Cinderella and Me) will debut on the BBC this holiday season, before being recut into a feature-length version that Catalyst will start selling at MIP-TV 2001.

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