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Cooking shows: A recipe for success?

There's a general rule in the realm of kids entertainment - if it's hot in toys and publishing, chances are it will find its way to TV. So it's not surprising that with food and cooking gaining weight in toy and book aisles over the past year, kids culinary projects are starting to simmer at a number of TV production outlets.
January 8, 2003

There’s a general rule in the realm of kids entertainment – if it’s hot in toys and publishing, chances are it will find its way to TV. So it’s not surprising that with food and cooking gaining weight in toy and book aisles over the past year, kids culinary projects are starting to simmer at a number of TV production outlets.

And producers appear to be cribbing from the recipe cards of art-based TV series. ‘The reason why Art Attack has worked so well is because kids are able to do the activities themselves,’ says Clément Calvet, a producer at Paris-based animation studio Alphanim. ‘And we think that it will be the same with a cooking show.’ Alphanim is developing Cooking?…Child’s Play (39 x five minutes, budgeted at US$1.2 million), based on author Michel Oliver’s kids cookbooks. To keep things simple for the series’ four to seven target demo, Alphanim has settled on a 2-D toon treatment.

In each episode, two central characters – a boy and a girl – will guide viewers through recipes for traditional French dishes that are well-known internationally. A grown-up will lend a hand, either as the recipe book (with voiceover) or in person. At press time, Alphanim was leaning towards the human character option for safety considerations. ‘We don’t want kids to be alone in the kitchen using knives and hot stoves,’ says Calvet. To that end, the prodco will insert animated warning signs such as ‘Stop! You need a grown-up to help with this recipe’ or ‘Careful! The pan may be very hot’ at appropriate intervals.

Negotiations for co-pro partners and a French broadcaster were still underway at press time, with production slated to start early this year for a mid-2004 delivery.

Similarly, Siriol Productions managing director Robin Lyons compares his new show – Maisie Dough (26 x 11 minutes), based on a series of cookbooks by children’s author Maisie Parish – to 1980s art series Take Hart, in which artist Tony Hart’s lessons were interrupted by a mischievous animated character called Morph.

Budgeted at US$1.3 million and targeting the four to eight set, Maisie Dough’s live-action cookery segments (hosted by Parish) will be upstaged by stop-motion sugar dough characters Maisie Dough, her mischievous brother Morty and her naughty dog Muffin. ‘[Parish] will be showing kids simple recipes and how to make characters out of basic ingredients like flour, sugar and water. Then these characters come to life and interfere with her attempts to cook,’ says Lyons.

Maisie Dough and her pals will also be featured in three-minute stand-alone adventures within each episode, which leads to the possibility of creating a shorts package, says Lyons. The hunt for co-pro partners had begun at press time, with Siriol eyeing a spring 2003 production start. While Lyons expects the bulk of interest to come from English-speaking territories, the prodco will consider offering the format for international localization via the three-minute stop-motion segments.

Of course, the cooking production craze doesn’t stop at European borders. State-side animator Debby Solomon (creator and director of the animated Lizzie on Disney series Lizzie McGuire) is in cahoots with a New York chef on a children’s cooking series concept.

While Alphanim and Siriol took their cues from art formats, the impetus for Solomon’s project lies in a U.S. problem that echoes globally: ‘The preparation of food is being demoted in this country,’ claims Solomon. In fact, according to NPDFoodworld’s annual Report on Eating Patterns in America for the year ending February 2002, half of all meals were prepared in 30 minutes or less. Also, the total number of annual meals prepared and eaten at home decreased from 702 in 1991 to 651 in 2002, while meals purchased away from home increased from 184 to 209.

That data notwithstanding, Solomon is betting that her project will be a hit with American kids since cooking ‘is one of the first exciting things that you can do when you’re little.’ To differentiate her concept from the culinary pack, Solomon may explore educational elements that explain where food comes from and how it’s grown: ‘There is a lot of exciting stuff at the periphery of eating and cooking that you can successfully bring into animation.’

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