The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss
Distributor: L.A.-based Jim Henson Television (323-802-1500)
Producer: The Jim Henson Company in the U.K.
Format: 40 x half hour
Style: 3-D CGI/live action/puppetry
Current broadcaster: Daekyo Network (South Korea)
Seuss nostalgia stirs Wubbulous buyer interest
Having spawned a cast of characters so weird and fantastic that he once remarked in an interview, ‘If I were invited to a dinner party with my characters, I wouldn’t show up,’ it seems fitting that the book-to-TV translation of Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel’s world would stray from the beaten path somewhat.
When the Jim Henson Company hooked up with the Geisel estate to extend Seuss’s creations to the small screen in 1996, both parties agreed that the show would have to have an equally quirky aesthetic style. The result was a 3-D/puppetry hybrid called The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss that went on to win a Writer’s Guild award, five Emmy nominations–and now, KidScreen’s inaugural Gemmy Award for best 3-D catalog specimen.
Since CGI technology was still in its infancy in ’96, there wasn’t a whole lot of existing software that could support the concept Henson had in mind–so the enterprising studio created its own. The idea was to have Muppet versions of existing Seuss characters (like Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant and The Grinch) team up with new Henson creations to tell Seuss-like stories in front of a virtual CG background that would change with the narrative. ‘Most other virtual set systems had a very finite space, but ours enabled the cameraman to change environments on the fly based on what the puppeteer was doing,’ says Ritamarie Peruggi, executive VP of worldwide production at Henson. ‘It was really ahead of the curve at the time.’
The show made its Nickelodeon debut on October 13, 1996 (with a second series airing in 1998), but it failed to find its footing on that platform. Wubbulous was a much better fit for spin-off channel Noggin, which added the series to its launch lineup in February 1999. Strong ratings there and international sales to France (Canal J), Spain (Canal Plus), Latin America (MNS and Televisa in Mexico), South Korea (Daekyo Network) and the Middle East (Gulf DTH) provided the foundation for a global licensing program that tapped categories including plush, books, games, puzzles and party goods.
Only Daekyo is still airing the show, which has lost some ground over the last couple years to the flood of preschool fare that is over-serving the market right now. But EM.TV president of television distribution Patrick Elmendorff, who currently manages international sales for the Henson catalog, says broadcasters still respond nostalgically to Wubbulous’s book roots. ‘Parents and buyers alike have grown up reading Seuss, so that’s the entrée to the pitch–that and the fact that it’s easier to convince kids to watch a TV show than read a book.’
Henson doesn’t currently have any plans for additional series production or a follow-up merch program, but broadcast interest in the show might pick up when DreamWorks/Universal launches feature film The Cat in the Hat in Q4 2003.
Rolie Polie Olie
Distributor: Toronto, Canada’s Nelvana International (416-588-5571)
Producers: Nelvana and Paris-based Sparkling
Format: 65 x half hour
Style: 3-D CGI
Some current broadcasters: Disney Channel (U.S.), CBC (Canada) and La Cinquieme (France)
Distributor: Universal City-based Universal Studios Television Distribution (818-777-1300)
Producer: Universal Studios and L.A.-based Sitting Ducks Productions
Format: 26 half hours
Style: 3-D CGI
Some current broadcasters: ITV (U.K.), TF1 (France) and YTV (Canada)
Distributor: London-based Entertainment Rights (44-208-762-6200)
Producer: London’s Harvest Films
Format: Half-hour special
Style: Model animation
Some current broadcasters: BBC (U.K.), TVNZ (New Zealand), Teletoon (France) and ABC (Australia)