Henson preps preschoolers for the big bad world
January 3, 2002

Henson preps preschoolers for the big bad world

Jim Henson Television has decided to give the world an inside look into what made Kermit the reptile he is today. Jim Henson’s Frog School is a live-action/Muppet preschool comedy (with some short animated segments) that centers around Kermie’s adolescent years at Frog School, where his education was based on an ancient frog philosophy stressing virtue and responsibility for one’s actions towards others and the environment. Jim Henson’s daughter Lisa will serve as executive producer on the 26 x half-hour series, which is budgeted at between US$350,000 and US$400,000 per episode. Animated sequences illustrate fables and myths from around the world that are used to teach the reptilian students about life outside the swamp.

The project is part of a new Henson curriculum focus guided by an educational advisory board established to help the company follow through on its assertion that TV can change people’s lives, says Juliet Blake, president of Jim Henson Television US. Henson is hoping to carve a niche with preschool shows that tackle school readiness, Blake explains, from both an emotional and curriculum perspective. She likens Frog School to Bear in the Big Blue House, the producer of which–Alex Rockwell–is also on-board for the new Henson offering.

Another preschool project under the advisory board’s guidance is Harry and Lulu. Budgeted closer to US$300,000 per ep, this 26 x half-hour animated series stars a five-year-old and her brand-new stuffed dog. When Lulu’s parents turn off the lights at night, Harry comes to life and starts telling her about his world travels. Lulu’s a little skeptical, so Harry leads her through a magical doggie door that’s a portal to anywhere in the world. The series was developed for preschoolers about to make the transition to kindergarten, the idea being to introduce them to the fact that there’s a big world outside their neighborhood full of different kinds of kids.

Both Jim Henson’s Frog School and Harry and Lulu are in early development, and delivery dates weren’t available at press time.

Lynch taps into the music world for his latest tween comedy

Tommy Lynch and hip-hop mogul Master P, CEO of Richmond, California’s No Limits Records, are developing a comedic live-action tween property starring P’s 11-year-old son and burgeoning hip-hop sensation Lil’ Romeo (whose self-titled debut album premiered at number six on The Billboard 200 in July). It’s a hip-hop version of The Monkees featuring a kid who comes of age in the music biz, says Lynch, who is developing the as-yet-unnamed series with Master P for Nickelodeon. The pair has finished the pilot script and should start shooting next month. Master P has also agreed to create and produce the soundtrack for the series–both the singles the group and Lil’ Romeo will sing and the musical underscore. ‘Whenever you’re working with a young star,’ says Lynch, ‘the parents are a vital part of that mix’–just a little more so in this case.

The series is a half-hour comedy, but Lynch is waiting to see how the pilot fares before he commits to a number of episodes. Having said that, larger orders of 26-plus eps tend to be the norm for Lynch productions. It was a little early to talk budgets at press time, but Lynch admits that historically, his productions cost in the US$400,000 to US$500,000 range per half hour.

Lynch’s main push at NATPE remains Galidor: Defender of the Outer Dimension with Montreal’s CinéGroupe. A website launched last month providing a sneak peek at the back story viewers won’t get from the series, and a role-playing game will launch in March.

Nelvana and MTV spoof teen dramas with history toon

Targeting the 11-plus market, Nelvana and MTV have hooked up on Clone High, a 13 x half-hour 2-D toon that satirizes the high drama of mainstream teen fare like Dawson’s Creek. The second co-pro in a three-series deal between the two companies, Clone High’s premise reads like an excerpt from a paranoid delusion: Sixteen years ago, a clan of evil scientists extracted DNA from a motley crew of historical figures and cloned them. Now well into their adolescence, the teenage clones are facing all the normal problems that modern-day teenagers do. For example, Cleopatra must choose between two suitors–a shy and overly earnest Abe Lincoln and the popular, womanizing JFK.

Budgeted at around US$300,000 per episode, Clone High is currently in development for an MTV debut sometime in 2002.

EM.TV saves the world from sad endings with F.T.P.D.

Germany’s EM.TV is looking to expose today’s kids to yesterday’s fairy tales by giving the ancient lore a modern twist with F.T.P.D. (Fairy Tale Police Department), a new 26 x half-hour series for the six to 12 set. The 2-D toon features a special unit of the secret service that fights evil forces bent on turning all happy endings into sad ones. As an example of their handywork, Prince Charming is led to believe that Sleeping Beauty isn’t quite as beautiful as he had been told, and he no longer wants to wake her up with a kiss. Two X-File-esque agents must restore order to Fairy Tale World by making sure he follows through.

Budgeted at US$280,000 per episode, F.T.P.D. is currently in production for delivery in spring 2003.

What price are you willing to pay?

Looking to develop material that is more sophisticated than typical Saturday morning cartoons, Vancouver, Canada-based Delaney & Friends has created a 2-D animated series based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel The Bottle Imp. The tween/young adult-targeted project follows the saga of a bottle-dwelling imp who can grant wishes, and the various folks who are willing to sign a contract with the devil in order to benefit from his powers. The series (26 half hours, budgeted at US$340,000 each) begins in the 1800s and visits many epochs, featuring historical figures and events as backdrops. The theme and tone will be in the same vein as Tales From the Crypt in order to appeal to a modern youth audience. The Bottle Imp is currently in preproduction for a likely spring 2003 delivery.

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