Alliance Atlantis unit AAC Kids is shifting tween production gears away from animation along the lines of SpongeBob SquarePants and Dexter’s Laboratory, narrowing in on live-action comedies and dramas instead. ‘Unless you’re a Nickelodeon and can build those kinds of properties in one market, there is rare upside in [the tween animation] genre,’ says VP of production, distribution and licensing Ken Faier, adding that at the end of the day, ‘we’re not an animation company.’
The outfit’s MIPCOM slate is replete with three new tween shows that reflect this change in positioning, starting with Normal (previously known as Headspace and Mental). In production with Montreal, Canada’s Zone 3, the 13 x half-hour comedy centers on the day-to-day life of Donavan Mackey, who appears to be an average high school student. But dig a little deeper and out pops Donavan’s four friends RJ, Skipper, Sparks and Maynard – all of whom reside in his head. For the most part, they helpfully try to guide their host through the trials and tribulations of adolescence, but sometimes things go horribly awry.
Stacy and Friends (13 half hours) is in development with Paris, France-based prodco Kayenta for debut on France 2 in 2003. Based on a same-name series of British books by Allen Jones, the show features a likeable, down-to-earth 12-and-a-half-year-old who tends to worry obsessively. In one ep, she gets caught up fretting about why her usually horrible sister is being so nice. Stacy finds out that the reason is James, her sister’s new boyfriend. She also catches James kissing another girl. On one hand, Stacy wants to preserve her sister’s newfound bliss for purely selfish reasons. But on the other hand, she feels she should tip her sister off to James’s treachery. Despite repeated warnings from her mum about meddling in other peoples’ affairs, Stacy soon finds herself knee-deep in this particular quagmire.
In early development, Whistler 4+1 is a 13 x half-hour tween culture drama that’s been presold to the Family Channel in Canada for a 2003 debut. Set in a fictional ski resort town in Western Canada, Whistler 4+1 stars five teens from very different backgrounds who get together to start a band. The band itself is somewhat peripheral to the plot (à la Catwalk on YTV in 1992/1993), which focuses on general teen issues.
Preschool – another mainstay AAC Kids genre – is also getting refreshed with new projects in time for MIPCOM. Heading up the slate is Poko, a 39 x half-hour stop-motion comedy in pre-production with Toronto’s Salter Street (a division of Alliance Atlantis) for the CBC next fall. Poko is a fun-loving three-year-old just starting to discover the world around him. With his dog Minus and his stuffed toy Mr. Murphy, Poko spends each ep confronting a new childhood milestone – like learning to tie his own shoelaces.
Peep and the Big Wide World (26 half hours) is currently in development with Boston-Massachusetts-based WGBH Productions in association with broadcast partners Discovery Kids and TVOntario. Rendered in 2-D Flash animation, Peep is based on a National Film Board short from the early ’90s that was narrated by Peter Ustinov. Baby birds Peep, Quack and Chirp are also just learning to experience the world around them by interacting with each other and the mysterious characters and things they come across. One day, Peep wakes up to a huge snowfall. While playing, he finds mysterious ‘holes’ in the snow and spends the rest of the episode figuring out that they are actually animal tracks.
Faier describes the per-episode budgets for all five new series as being mid- to high-level, with ‘mid’ meaning somewhere between US$200,000 and US$250,000 for a half hour of animation, and roughly US$400,000 for the same amount of live action programming.
Editor’s note: The electronic version of this article has been edited from the original print version in order to correct or clarify some information that it contained.