Now more than ever, quality of content is determining which TV concepts get funded in today’s more cautious kids market that offers few opportunities for mediocre product–and that puts creative developers at the top of everyone’s Most Wanted list.
Dan Clark, the mind behind Jim Henson’s Brats of the Lost Nebula and Fox Kids’ aborted wrestling series Los Luchadores, is one storyteller who’s guaranteed to be in hot demand once his latest masterpiece launches in Disovery Kids’ revamped Ready Set Learn! block next February. The Save-Ums!, which The Dan Clark Company co-owns with Toronto, Canada’s Decode Entertainment, reinvents the action-adventure wheel for preschoolers by pumping up the requisite pro-social curriculum elements with strong morals-driven superhero story lines.
The idea for the 26 x 30-minute 3-D CGI series was born when Clark, browsing through an L.A. boutique that specializes in Japanese kids books, spied a bunch of photos of tiny sculpted creatures posed in cute cardboard environments. Working with this acorn of a design concept, Clark and visual arts specialist Dave Pressler started developing the concept, which has been described as Rescue Heroes meets Hello Kitty.
The team hit a bit of a road block, though, when it came to choosing a curriculum that jibed with the property’s high-octane feel. ‘Action-adventure usually involves jeopardy or conflict, which isn’t appropriate for the preschool audience,’ says Clark. ‘When I stumbled across the Empathy Curriculum, which is simply about identifying emotion and having appropriate responses, compassion became the springboard for the show’s action.’ The Save-Ums! stars a group of wee adventurers who use their brains rather than their biceps to rescue friends and neighbors from more mundane conundrums than those faced by Spidey or Superman. In one ep, for example, Ollina Octopus has tied herself up in a huge knot by trying to lace up too many shoes with too many hands, and the Save-Ums are dispatched to the bottom of the ocean to untangle her.
Looking beyond The Save-Ums! is tough right now since Clark is involved in every stage of its development–from scripting, to recording sessions, to PR art, to consumer products translation–in order to ensure that the property’s creative integrity isn’t diminished in the process. However, Beverly Hills, California-based The Dan Clark Company generates five show ideas a year on average (pitching two), so the creative wheel is still turning. The studio is currently working on a Brats of the Lost Nebula direct-to-video title with Henson, as well as Smithereen Machine, a CGI series concept about a benevolent scientist whose family of knee-high service robots runs amok when the doc is inadvertently frozen in a lab mishap. The Smithereen Machines break off into two factions–one continues to be social and helpful, but the other becomes feral and mean-spirited.
Also on the development slate is Cryptotape, a live-action teen horror series about a group of kids with special gifts (ESP, the ability to hear ghosts, etc.) who are rounded up by a government agency and sent out on missions to document the behavior of creatures like vampires and yetis on videotape. A kids broadcaster breaks into the video archive and edits the raw footage into scary bite-sized TV shows à la Blair Witch.