Although preschool and toons have always been and still remain a strong part of Toronto-based Nelvana’s portfolio, the list of properties the prodco has in its MIPCOM bag of tricks, including a new roster of Nick and MTV shows, indicates a marked move towards teen and live-action programming. Following its acquisition by Corus in December, Nelvana has been positioning itself to fulfill three appetites: Corus’s broadcasting group, which includes YTV and Teletoon; up-aging U.S. broadcast partners like Nickelodeon, Disney and Fox; and the international sales group, which is experiencing high demand for older-skewing shows.
In addition to the distribution deal with Nick, which gives Nelvana the international sales rights to Taina and The Fairly OddParents, Nelvana has paired up with MTV for the first time to create two new shows. The first of which, Sausage Factory (working title), is a live-action comedy described as American Pie meets Dawson’s Creek. Thirteen half hours (budgeted at approximately US$300,000 each) are in production with MTV and Peace Arch Entertainment out of Vancouver, Canada.
The project will make its market debut at MIPCOM Jr., suggesting that while MTV’s traditional target demo is 18 and up, Sausage Factory itself does have younger appeal. It’s an angst-driven coming-of-age story featuring four boy-band-esque guys in search of the perfect girl–but things don’t always work out for them. Sausage Factory and Taina–a music-driven series targeting 10- to 18-year-olds–mark Nelvana’s move into the tween/teen program genre. Toper Taylor, president of Nelvana Communications in L.A., says this older audience is not only underserved domestically, but is also more attractive to advertisers because of its larger disposable income.
Nelvana is also eager to feed the Asian programming trend with Beyblade, a Japanese property by Mitsubishi that has both TV and toy incarnations in the East. (See ‘Killer tops, Choco Eggs and e-karaoke all the rage in Tokyo,’ page 66 in KidScreen’s February 2001 issue.) The gyroscope-based beyblades have been established as a collectible game in Japan. Kids try to knock their opponent’s blade out of the playing area, and along the lines of marbles, the defeated opponent has to relinquish his beyblade. Nelvana acquired the property in August and was still nailing down a game plan for it at press time.
Heading up the preteen development slate is Jeroleman Street Players from Michael and Betty Paraskevas. Animated in 2-D for US$300,000 per ep, the 26 x half-hour series centers around 13-year-old math genius Harry Lawrence. He moves to the Big City in order to attend Albert Einstein Middle School, but a clerical error gets him sent to Jeroleman Street, a super-hip, Fame-like junior high where he doesn’t really fit in.
Created by Gene Simmons of KISS, My Dad the Rock Star explores what it would be like to grow up with a crazy rock star dad in an equally crazy household. Thirteen half hours are in development for US$300,000 each.
Despite all this older-skewing activity, Nelvana certainly isn’t forgetting its preschool roots. The company has acquired the Berenstain Bears, a best-selling book series that has sold 260 million copies worldwide. Nelvana is developing 20 to 26 half hours of 2-D animation that will run in the PBS Bookworm Bunch block next season.
Based on that wacky on-line song-and-dance number that’s probably been e-mailed to you about a hundred times, Hamster Dance will be worked up as a 13 x half-hour 2-D production featuring Hampton Hamster, Fuzzy Neville, Dixie and Hado, four hamsters who have broken out of their cages to take up singing. They even have their very own website at www.hamsterdance2.com.
Both Cyberchase (preteen) and George Shrinks (preschool) have done well for PBS and are being stripped five days a week next year. Taylor says one of the goals at MIPCOM is to find some global partners for edu-properties like Cyberchase… which isn’t all that easy to do. They don’t always travel well, he says, because each country has a different educational curriculum.