With broadcasters worldwide clamoring for tween live-action projects, Melbourne, Australia’s Jonathan M. Shiff Productions is basking in the heightened demand. A veteran studio that has specialized in the live-action genre for the past five years, Shiff has pumped out award-winning tween shows like Ocean Girl (1998), Thunderstone (1999) and Cybergirl (2001).
But to stay ahead of the competition, Shiff is aging some of his newest projects up slightly from the traditional eight to 12 tween demo because he says this audience is ‘polyserved’ by programming for the slightly younger and slightly older crowds. The shift is also familial in instigation: ‘My daughter is 16, and I’m struggling to keep up with her,’ Shiff admits ruefully. ‘Kids her age aren’t watching shows for eight- to 12-year-olds. They want aspirational material that depicts model behavior. They want to know what to do if a guy asks them out.’
A 52 x half-hour teen soap called Ironbark Diaries should fill that bill. Still in development, the show will likely center around a motley group of difficult teens from all around the world who have been sent to work on an Australian cattle ranch and learn to cooperate. Ironbark will be shot in Australia on a US$9-million budget, and although there were no partners on-board at press time, Shiff says the series will likely be a U.K. co-production. Australia’s Network Ten (which has partnered on all but one of Shiff’s other kids shows) is expected to come in as a domestic partner.
Also in the pipeline is Wicked Science, a 26 x half-hour comedy series in preproduction with Germany’s ZDF (which has worldwide rights outside Australia) and Network Ten. The US$5.5-million show stars two teens–Elizabeth and Toby–who get zapped by a mysterious ray during a scientific mishap, granting them intellectual powers that enable them to create in reality anything their imaginations dream up.
Elizabeth becomes unhealthily obsessed with testing the scope of her newfound talents, while Toby, a little more grounded, must stop her from getting out of hand. In one ep, for example, Elizabeth manages to clone a T-Rex and uses it to terrorize the high school, while Toby works to find a way to stop the destructive dino.
Shiff is also in production on Pirate Islands, another older-skewing live-actioner that sees its 15-year-old protagonist Kate stumble into a video game that’s based loosely on the story of Peter Pan. The US$5.2-million, 26 x half-hour show is being distributed worldwide by Tele Images in Paris, with ZDF, Network Ten and Disney Australia lined up to air it.