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LEGO Media hits the small screen
So with all the robot properties milling around, why haven't there been many for preschoolers? Perhaps, some argue, it's because a preschooler wouldn't know a robot when they saw one (or swallowed one). . ....
May 1, 2001

LEGO Media hits the small screen

So with all the robot properties milling around, why haven’t there been many for preschoolers? Perhaps, some argue, it’s because a preschooler wouldn’t know a robot when they saw one (or swallowed one). . . I mean, what is a Teletubby, and do kids really care? But recognizably robotic or not, LEGO debuted its first foray into TV last month at MIP-TV in the form of 26 x 10-minute preschool series Little Robots.

LEGO Media International has teamed up with U.K.-based Cosgrove Hall for the US$3.5-million to US$4-million project that will most likely be rendered using model animation and CGI background effects. A pilot was completed for MIP-TV, with plans to go into preproduction in June or July for an estimated August 2002 delivery.

Based on a preschool picture book by U.K. author Mike Brownlow (launched in the U.K. last April and State-side in October; published by Ragged Bears Publishing out of the U.K.), Little Robots is about some robots that have been abandoned on a scrap heap. Together, they turn the junk they find around them into a home, ‘pioneers, builders and architects of a brand new world.’ Riveting.

‘Distribution is a big question for us,’ says Michael Carrington, LEGO Media’s head of acquisitions and co-productions. The company was looking for partners at MIP, and at press time, Carrington said the property was generating a lot of interest.

Vanessa Chapman, LEGO Media’s controller of programming and strategy, found the property in spring 2000, ‘and at that time,’ Carrington says, ‘I don’t know how prolific robots were. Vanessa noticed that there hadn’t been an animation series for preschoolers with robots.’

Both Chapman and Carrington have strong TV backgrounds. Chapman was formerly the controller of children’s and youth programming at ITV, and Carrington was the former head of program acquisition and animation at BBC.

Byte Boy takes a bite out of crime

Neptuno is in early development on an adventure-comedy property called Byte Boy for eight- to 12-year-olds. The 2-D animated project (with some 3-D effects) is being developed for video (80 minutes) and TV (26 half hours), budgeted respectively at US$5 million to US$6 million and US$250,000 per ep.

The series is set in the near future, when Evil Victor Midas has complete domination over the world’s petroleum supply. (I’m not sure whether that’s what makes him evil, but it sounds pretty dastardly to me.) A young kid named Titch gets an electrical shock while playing with a virtual reality game, and his brain is transformed into a super-powered computer. Now Titch can access any data off the Internet. Midas finds out about Byte Boy, sees him as a threat, and sets out to destroy him. Riotous adventures ensue.

The series-based on a Spanish comic book by Joseph Viciana-will come before the video, and is unlike anything Neptuno has done before. ‘We try to do something different every time,’ says Roberto Mitrani, Neptuno’s director of international business. The property was introduced for the first time at MIP-TV via some early sketches, and Mitrani hopes to have a pilot ready for MIPCOM.

What’s with Graham Ralph and his hamsters?

Link Licensing, which was recently acquired by Entertainment Rights (see ‘Euro players partner up and CGI abounds at MIP-TV 2001,’ page 10), has gotten together with U.K.-based Silver Fox Films to make a half-hour special called Second Star to the Left. Link hopes to duplicate the success of its last Christmas special, the award-winning First Snow of Winter, which aired on BBC1 on Christmas Day 1998 and netted more than five million viewers.

For kids seven to 12 and their parents, Second Star is about three pets: Archie the rabbit, Duke the guinea pig and Babs the hamster. Budgeted between US$900,000 and US$950,000, the 2-D animated special is an original concept from Silver Fox’s Graham Ralph (who also did First Snow). Ralph was wondering what life is like for Scruffy, his son’s guinea pig. It must be pretty mundane. . . but do they crave excitement? (Check out Ralph’s other hamster-centric TV offering Bounty Hamster in ‘Cool New Shows,’ page 92 of the April 2001 issue of KidScreen.) Could they be prone to bouts of existential crisis? The story sprung from there. One day, a parcel from Santa’s sleigh lands in the pets’ shed. The three are determined to deliver the present, hopefully proving that no matter how small you are, you can make a difference.

The project went into production last October and will be ready for delivery in August, well before its Christmas debut on BBC1. The special will also air on ZDF in Germany, in France on Canal+, and deals were being finalized with casters in Scandinavia and Canada at press time. A deal has been completed with BBC Worldwide for TV tie-in books, but further details were pending at press time.

All hail, King

Toronto, Canada-based Decode and France’s Alphanim are co-producing King, a 2-D toon for eight- to 12-year-olds.

King features a boy named Russell who has moved to a new neighborhood. He didn’t have much say about the move and feels like his world has been turned upside down. But wait! In his new room, he finds a portal (à la The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) leading to a secret world in which he is chosen to rule.

The project is in development, with preproduction starting early this month for delivery in spring 2002. The series (26 half hours) is budgeted at US$300,000 per ep and is an original concept created for TV by Ottawa, Canada-based Funbag Animation. Decode has worldwide rights excluding French-speaking territories, which will be managed by Alphanim. The Family Channel has committed to the series for Canadian broadcast, and at press time, Germany’s Super RTL and France’s TF1 were also interested.

A whale of a property

‘I’m hoping for the tide to change in kids TV,’ says John Kennedy, president and CEO of Tipperary Films out of Wilmington, North Carolina. Whale Magic, a proposed one-hour TV special and 26 x half-hour series, was spun out of a property called Royal Critters that Kennedy has been working on for more than 12 years. ‘In ’91, it was rejected by 21 studios because there was no violence in it. It was too wholesome,’ says Kennedy. However, after generating interest from MGM and Blockbuster/Viacom at this year’s NATPE, he is preparing to have a pilot ready for MIPCOM Jr.

Part of the acclaimed Kennedy clan, John Joseph Kennedy came up with the Royal Critters concept in 1985 when Prince Charles and Lady Diana voyaged State-side for the first time. He wasn’t sure of the protocol for sending gifts, but he sent one to the embassy anyway. Later he found out that he had addressed the package to the Prince and Princess of Whales, a chance spelling error that spawned the idea for Royal Critters. ‘It was also a message for kids,’ Kennedy says, ‘that you can learn and adapt from mistakes!’ Similarly, Kennedy has created the Duke and Duchess of Yorkies. The primary cast of the Royal Critters/Whale Magic series includes Prince Buoyant (sperm whale) and Princess Eviana (beluga whale).

The project will be digitally animated (with some live action, but not a mix, says Kennedy), and it’s pegged to be an educational series for six- to 12-year-olds. It should have universal appeal, says Kennedy, and he has already partnered with Roman Sound International (out of L.A. and Mexico), which will handle dubbing into Spanish and Portuguese. The hour-long special is budgeted at US$3 million and the series at US$500,000 per ep.

Tipperary Films was incorporated in 1999 and is privately funded by The Kennedys of Charleston. The company is working with a Canadian author to develop books based on the property.

Bunnies bent on broadcast

What do you do when you’re the happy father of five little bunnies who always get into trouble? Get some partners together and create a series of specials called the Bellflower Bunnies. Montreal, Canada’s TVA International has hooked up with TF1 and Protecrea out of France to do just that. Production began on four half-hour specials for TV and video last fall, with delivery slated for end of this summer.

The 2-D animated specials will roll out seasonally (in video format, they will probably be bundled as fall/winter and spring/summer), and each will feature Papa Bramble and his bunnies: Violet, the only girl and a daredevil at heart; Poppy, a budding intellectual; Mistletoe, the athlete; Periwinkle, the shy one; and Dandelion, the spoiled youngest child who is also a burgeoning gardener.

France-based Milan is the publisher of the book series the project is based on (available in 19 countries), and its subsidiary, Protecrea, secured the TV rights. Together with TF1, Protecrea proceeded to look for a North American partner on the US$2-million project, finding one in TVA, which will handle North American rights. In terms of video, TVA has partnered with Utah-based Feature Films for Families for the telemarketing rights. (The company has a client list of video retailers across North America to which they sell over the phone.) So far, TF1 and the BBC have committed to the series, and a German party is said to be interested.

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