With the CBBC throwing the bulk of its focus and resources into getting its kids digital channels up to speed and with CiTV greenlighting fewer projects as it grapples with financial difficulties, U.K. prodcos that have traditionally depended on straight commissions are feeling the pinch. Kids drama specialist Zenith Entertainment is one such company that must explore new financing models in order to survive.
As a first step, the studio has lured Julian Scott away from his group VP of European operations post at Sesame Workshop to replace outgoing Peter Murphy as head of children’s drama and animation. To get the diversification ball rolling, Scott will initially focus on involving the studio in international co-pros.
Zenith has always done well with its commissioned live-action dramas, including Junk (a book-based BBC series about teen heroin addiction that won a ’99 BAFTA for Best Schools Drama) and Byker Grove (the long-running BBC teen soap that draws six million viewers a week). ‘What I want to do now,’ says Scott, ‘is spread that base out into the global market and work with international partners–primarily in the English-speaking territories of Australia, South Africa, Canada and the U.S.’ Scott is particularly keen to strike up creative deals with U.S. writers, who he feels provide drama series with a more exciting pacing than their U.K. counterparts.
Scott also plans to guide Zenith into the animation production fray, with an initial focus on developing envelope-pushing fare for teens. ‘Edgy is the wrong description for what we’re going to be doing,’ says Scott. ‘I’d like to do hard drama and rule-breaking comedy series–in the way that The Simpsons broke the rules when it came out.’
Zenith has no animation facilities of its own, so Scott will be looking to shop out the physical rendering work locally. His output goal will be to produce three animated series a year, and Scott says there are a couple of solid younger-skewing book-based concepts already being developed in-house at Zenith. One of these is Frog, a 26 x 11-minute toon for three- to six-year-olds based on a series of books by kids writer and illustrator Max Velthuijs.
In addition to introducing Frog at MIP-TV, Scott will be hunting hard for both concepts and co-production partners at the market in order to kickstart Zenith’s move onto the international scene.