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A superhero for the irony age

Property: Captain Lightning
Owners: BBC Worldwide
Concept: Original TV series from the imagination of BBC producer Rick Siggelkow, whose portfolio includes stints producing Noddy and Shining Time Station. The show, which heads into production in February, will break new ground in...
October 1, 2000

Property: Captain Lightning

Owners: BBC Worldwide

Concept: Original TV series from the imagination of BBC producer Rick Siggelkow, whose portfolio includes stints producing Noddy and Shining Time Station. The show, which heads into production in February, will break new ground in kids TV, by mixing live action with computer-generated images.

Description: Marco, a suburban teen, is sitting in his basement playing his favorite video game (Captain Lightning), when he discovers a level in the game that isn’t supposed to exist. As he’s exploring it, lightning strikes his house and electricity courses through the console, subsequently bringing the game’s characters to life. Joining the Captain are female superhero Sparks and a morally conflicted cyborg named Random Virus. Other recent emigrés into the real world, however, include the Captain’s enemies from the game-Lord Fear and fellow baddies Pigface, Anvil, Googler, Lady Illusion, Venus Flytrap and Dirty Rat. The villains want to stay in the real world and soon learn that to accomplish this, they will need to retrieve all the pieces to a magic amulet. Naturally, Captain Lightning and cohorts’ goal is to get it before they do, round them up and ship them back into the game’s universe, also known as the fifth dimension.

Demo: Boys six to 11

The Latest: The BBC is scheduled to air Captain Lightning in the U.K. on BBC1 starting in fall 2001, and is currently trying to sell the show to a U.S. broadcaster. Nancy Gendimenico, VP of licensing and merchandising at BBC Worldwide Americas, says BBCWA will need to get a U.S. broadcaster and a master toy licensee on-board before it starts signing any licensees; she expects to have deals for both sewn up before the new year.

Potential: With the release of the X-Men movie this summer and plans for a Spiderman feature in the works, the superhero genre is currently enjoying a renaissance with audiences-a love-in that should work in the show’s favor when it debuts next fall, says Gendimenico. But Captain Lightning promises to offer more than just your standard superhero fare.

‘One of the things that we liked about the series is that it has a lot of heart, unlike many of the action-adventure series that target boys these days,’ says Gendimenico. Indeed, according to creator/producer Siggelkow, in addition to the requisite battles typical of most boys shows, it will also contain a lot of humor.

Most of the yuks will come when Marco tries to teach Captain Lightning how to function in everyday life, which invariably means keeping his superhero tendencies in check. For instance, instead of ripping the door off its hinges every time he makes an entrance, the Captain needs to learn how to use the handle like everyone else.

An avid comic book reader, Siggelkow had been kicking around the idea for a show that would provide a new twist on the superhero formula. ‘I wanted to try and reinvent the genre, and I thought it would be an interesting premise to incorporate action with the comedic element,’ says Siggelkow. Initially, he had envisioned the superhero character coming to life out of a comic book, but ‘I have two kids of my own, and I realize that video games are where they invest most of their time now.’

‘Once I knew he came out of a video game, I knew it would give the show a completely unique look,’ says Siggelkow. That look will include mixing live action for all the human characters and CGI for the game gang (Captain Lightning, Lord Fear et al.). Throughout the series, the show will switch to the perspective of the game’s characters, which will resemble an all-computer-generated environment, similar to that of a video game.

As a pioneer in a live-action/CGI hybrid trend for kids television, Siggelkow says he anticipates encountering some technical hurdles in trying to pull it off. The big challenge, he says, will be in trying to get the characters to look as realistic as possible. Siggelkow says the characters’ appearance (if not their personalities) should be comparable to the Jar Jar Binks character from the Phantom Menace. ‘From a technical standpoint, Jar Jar Binks was flawless,’ says Siggelkow.

Market Reality Check: Kirk Bloomgarden, chief executive at the London-based Copyright Promotions Licensing Group, thinks the licensing prospects for the property are strong because it’s coming at the superhero genre from a different angle.

‘Over the last couple of years, you’ve seen the success of shows like Pokémon and Digimon. Both are properties that don’t feature your typical heroes, and I think to reach boys today, you need to offer something different than the traditional superhero,’ says Bloomgarden.

Desiree Collazo-Soto, a licensing exec at Upper Montclair, New Jersey-based agency Bradford Licensing Associates, also thinks the concept will resonate with boys. Specifically, she liked the story line of a boy befriending a superhero, which reminded her of the Warner Bros. film The Iron Giant. But she cautions that the demographic the show is targeting is the toughest group to break through to. ‘It’s not like girls six to 12, where they’ll gravitate towards something and remain loyal to the very end. Boys tend to glom on to different shows very quickly. Take Pokémon, for example: Yes they stuck with it for about a year, but they’ve since moved on to Digimon,’ says Collazo-Soto.

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