Following in the footsteps of indie prodcos like Nelvana (PBS Kids Bookworm Bunch) and The itsy bitsy Entertainment Company (It’s itsy bitsy Time, which sold to Fox Family in the U.S. and Canada’s Treehouse TV), Sesame Workshop is considering getting into the preschool programming block game. Although no deals have been signed yet, the Workshop has begun discussing the idea with clients and has also been approached by a number of broadcasters.
The block’s format has yet to be nailed down, but Jennifer Chrein, Sesame’s VP of global television distribution, suggests that shows may skew older than the core preschool target towards the end of the block. She adds: ‘We have a significant library and development slate, and we are now in a position where we can continually supply programming to broadcasters that will keep the block fresh.’
In the last 18 months, the Workshop has launched three new properties that have been placed with major broadcasters. The first series, Dragon Tales, has sold into 80% of the international market, and a second season that debuted at MIP-TV in April has resulted in several renewals. The two newer shows are Tiny Planets, which is launching on Noggin by early 2002 and was recently picked up by Mediatrade in Italy; and Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat, which bows on U.S. pubcaster PBS and on Canadian nets TVOntario and Radio-Canada this fall. Eschewing Sesame’s core preschool audience, Sagwa skews up a bit to the five- to eight-year-old demo and represents the beginning of a major push from within the organization to explore projects for viewers in their ‘middle childhood.’
With preschool programming flooding the market, Sesame’s move to package its tot fare and turn to older kids, in particular the six to 11 demo, may be prescient of a demographic shift in the kids entertainment industry at large. Most of the prodco’s 14 to 15 developing projects are geared to older kids because Chrein says broadcasters are desperately looking for programming for this demo.
A survey commissioned by the Workshop to investigate the needs of the six to 11 age group found deficits in subject areas such as geography, media literacy, history, science and math. Programs in development will reflect these needs. The story line of live-action drama Two Down Under, for instance, features two characters–one from Los Angeles and the other from Britain–who wind up in Australia together. Miss Carney’s Class is another project that works curriculum into its plot about a kindergarten class that’s chosen by aliens to resolve problems on Earth (a younger version of the G8 summit perhaps?). Lastly, Zoe Hawker Neighborhood Dog Walker, about a girl whose ‘ambitions are slightly higher than her abilities,’ is also in development as a live-action series for which broadcast pitches kicked off last month.
A co-development partnership that Sesame Workshop signed with Granada Media for the creation of factual series for the eight to 12 set should further boost Sesame’s older kids portfolio, but so far, no activity has come out of the deal. The two companies had discussed producing a U.S. version of Granada science series Big Bang, but that project appears to have been abandoned. Heading back to the drawing board, Nancy Steingard, Sesame’s senior VP of creative development, reaffirms the company’s commitment to the genre: ‘We feel there’s a need for factual programming, especially in the areas of math and science, but it’s not an easy sell in the U.S.’