WhirlGirl spins into TV format
In January 1999, an action-adventure webisode for teens and young adults called WhirlGirl became the first independently produced webisode to be licensed by a major U.S. network. In February of that same year, Showtime and the series’ New York-based creator Visionary Media converged the concept for a one-time TV/web simulcast. Over 100 eps have aired on-line on Showtime’s website (www.sho.com) since, and Visionary brought the concept to MIP-TV in order to pitch it in a pure TV incarnation.
While the on-line version skewed a little older, a TV series will age down somewhat, capturing more tweens and teens. ‘There were only around four or five line changes in the script,’ explains Buzz Potamkin, former executive VP of Hanna-Barbera Studios and now acting CEO of Visionary Media. ‘Little things like changing slut to wench. And there are literally two or three images that might have to be changed. We never specifically targeted adult audiences anyway, so it wasn’t that difficult to put WhirlGirl in a tween environment.’
Kia Cross, a.k.a. WhirlGirl, comes from and reflects TV, comics and video game influences, says Potamkin, ‘a superhero for this decade.’ The newly adapted concept is being developed in Flash-based technology that enables broadcast video quality, and it should cost less than US$100,000 per episode. However, that budgetary figure is based on using material already produced for the web, says Potamkin. If and when Visionary Media has to start from scratch, the budgets will likely graduate to the US$200,000 per ep range. Production, pending co-pro agreements, should begin later this month or July, with the first 13 episodes ready for mid-season or fall 2002.
Why is Visionary making the move to TV? Potamkin answers that question with another: ‘Have you ever heard of Willy Sutton?’ When asked why he robbed banks, this real-life historical figure always replied, ‘Because that’s where the money is.’
CiTV takes a whiff of a new witch-based kid offering
CiTV has commissioned 26 11-minute episodes of Pongwiffy, a U.K. property for six- to nine-year-olds that’s based on a five-book series by children’s author Kaye Umansky. Published by Penguin, over 250,000 copies of the books have sold to date, with translations into German, Danish and Italian. A publishing deal has also been signed with Simon & Schuster for North America.
Produced by Telemagination and directed by Alan Simpson (the animator for Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and feature film Watership Down, who has also racked up directorial credits for kids series including Letters from Felix and The Last Polar Bears), the US$3.9-million series is about a group of dysfunctional witches. Pongwiffy is the worst of the bunch by far, displaying a remarkable inattention to personal hygiene. As if that little quirk wasn’t enough to make her the butt of witchling jokes, she also lacks a basic sorcerer’s staple-a familiar. Pong takes out a want ad to procure one, but the only response comes from a hamster with attitude.
Described as an animated sitcom, the series is going to be drawn in traditional 2-D style, with backgrounds combining 2-D and CGI to render the fast-action aerials of flying witches. Pongwiffy is in preproduction for delivery in January 2002, and TV-Loonland has worldwide rights, excluding the U.K., which will be managed by CiTV.
TMS thinks it’s time to raise some hell
While many in the industry are tagging robot properties as the next big thing, Satoji Yoshida, executive director of Tokyo-based TMS Entertainment, feels monsters are also a good bet. One of the company’s recent pushes is Devichil, a series based on a comic book from Argentina that has already garnered some popularity as a TBS show and Game Boy title in Japan.
TMS, whose major shareholder is Sega, has the rights to 50 half hours (budgeted at approximately US$250,000 each), 26 of which have already aired. The remaining eps are in production for delivery sometime in early November. The property has attracted European and North American interest, says Yoshida-for both its series and merchandising potential-although no licensing or broadcast deals were signed at press time.
The series takes place in the not-too-distant future and centers on a young boy named Setsuna and an aging inventor. The gate of Hell has been opened, and the pair sets off to stop countless servants of Satan from entering their world.
Setsuna is a Devichil, someone who possesses devi-genome DNA. How he came to have this demonic heritage, we don’t know, but it allows him to pass freely between Hell and Earth.
EM.TV bets on creepy things
EM.TV has a new project for the six to 12 set in the very early stages of development. Creep School, a 26 x half-hour 2-D co-pro with Sweden’s Happy Life, received considerable interest from North American and U.K. players at Cartoon Forum last year, says Dr. Sylvia Rothblum, former deputy member of EM’s board of management, production and programming.
Budgeted at US$325,000 per half hour, Creep School is described as a spooky comedy starring a motley crew of aliens, monsters and ghosts. Production should begin in early 2002 for a 2003 delivery.
Just another day. . .
Hoping to fill a youth programming void, Hungary-based Varga Group is attempting to find and develop toons for teens and young adults. That kind of animation is ‘the Holy Grail for most broadcasters these days,’ says Jan Sawkins, group managing director for Varga. And most recently, Sawkins has found that venues like the Bologna and Frankfurt Book Fairs are good hunting grounds for that sort of find.
In general, she’s always searching for new looks. ‘Sometimes you get great design, but no story. . . or lots of story and poor design.’ Sawkins says Commes Chaques Matins, a book-based property from French author and designer Christian Voltz (published by Editions Rouergue out of Paris), features a design that could fly with the teen and young adult market.
The concept incorporates an interesting real-texture cutout technique that will cost around US$325,000 per half hour to render. Commes Chaques Matins (working title) is in very early development, with Varga getting writers together to work with Voltz and others to put together a bible for MIPCOM. Translated as ‘Just another day,’ Commes Chaques Matins is about a very ordinary Joe Blow-type character who works in a patent office. Relieving his workday boredom, our protagonist stumbles across several interesting inventions that fill each ep with unexpected twists.
Pending co-pro agreements, production-which will primarily take place in Varga’s Budapest studio-is targeted to start sometime in 2002. The property garnered a lot of interest at NATPE, and discussions with broadcasters and other partners are underway.