Cinar and WGBH Boston prep Arthur spin-off
With the bookish aardvark having long since established a nook in the preschool psyche, extending the entertainment franchise was a no-brainer for the property’s primary stakeholder Marc Brown Studios. The result is Postcards from Buster (65 x half hours), which WGBH Boston and Cinar are producing in association with PBS and Marc Brown Studios. A live-action/2-D animated fictional travelogue for kids four to eight, the series follows the bunny from Arthur on a round-the-world journey with his jet pilot father, who is chauffeuring a Latin rock group on a mini world tour. Along the way, Buster records his encounters with the people he meets as video postcards, which he sends back to his friends at home.
Using a hybrid format they’ve dubbed ‘documation,’ the producers will combine the live-action footage of Buster’s dispatches with 2-D animation. In addition to encouraging music appreciation, one of the goals of the series will be to promote literacy and communication among non-English speakers. PBS will sneak-peek the series, which is budgeted at US$13 million, during Arthur’s airtime on December 22. Currently in production, the series will debut on PBS Kids in fall 2004.
Silver Lining hits the books again with Small and Friends
With its straightforward strategy of cornering the market on kidlit properties, New York-based Silver Lining Productions (Olivia, Gaspard) is back with another book-based series for two- to five-year-olds. Adapted from Scottish author Debi Gliori’s Mr. Bear book series, which has racked up 2.5 million in worldwide sales since the first title was published in 1994, the show revolves around the simple adventures of the Caledon Forest denizens. Whether it’s Mr. Bear getting caught in a terrible storm whilst looking for a lost bunny, or an uninvited monster crashing a picnic, all of the episodes find the animals pulling together to resolve a problem – reinforcing the values of friendship and cooperation in the process.
Budgeted at US$250,000 per half hour, Small is designed to play as either 26 x half hours or 52 x 11 minutes. Silver Lining is co-producing the Flash/3-D animated series with Vancouver, Canada-based Mainframe Entertainment. Currently the two companies are focusing on securing presales in North America and Europe, and the plan is to deliver the series in early 2005.
DIC concocts a bewitching new Sabrina show
Hoping to repeat the magic it conjured with Sabrina the Animated Series, DIC has refreshed the property with a new 2-D animated show called Sabrina’s Secret Life. Though Sabrina is still trying to balance boys and school with her supernatural calling, Sabrina’s Secret Life finds the lead character at odds with a new foe – a witch from another dimension (Portia) who is relying on Sabrina to teach her how to fit in amongst mortals. The problem is that Portia is driving Sabrina to distraction by trying to steal her boyfriend and demanding that she divulge details about the secret witchcraft lessons she attends. DIC is co-producing the 26 x half-hour series at a per-episode cost of US$350,000 with French net TF1 and Paris, France-based producer LST. DIC expects to complete production by January 2004.
Sunwoo’s Wild Animal Baby spreads the conservationist gospel
With an eye to piquing kids’ interest in all things critter-related, Reston, Virginia conservationist org the National Wildlife Federation is co-producing Wild Animal Baby as a direct-to-DVD series with Seoul, South Korea’s Sunwoo Entertainment. Based on NWF’s same-name kids mag, this 52 x 11-minute mixed-media (Flash/2-D/3-D) series features a stable of animated animal hosts (Joelle the hippo, Tajo the frog and Kaya the koala) who chaperone kid viewers through real animal adventures, along the way relaying interesting facts about animals.
Budgeted at US$250,000 per episode, WAB is the second series NWF has partnered with Sunwoo to produce; the first, The Unhuggables, is currently in development. The NWF will distribute WAB on DVD to its 400,000 members this spring, after which it will be sold as a TV series.
Raggs rocks kids
Charlotte, North Carolina-based prodco Raggs’ musical preschool series The Raggs Kids Club Band Show (26 x 24 minutes) proves that inspiration for kids TV can come from anywhere – even the mall. Based on a costumed character that former ad exec (and company founder) Toni Steedman created in 1997 as part of a kids club program for local shopping malls, the live-action/2-D animated series concerns five musician pooches who regularly get together to rock out. Designed to encourage kid interest in music (Steedman is consulting with music educators) and promote cultural diversity, typical episodes deal with the challenges of fame and friendships that lead character Raggs and his pals face while playing in a popular band.
Steedman is in talks with The Film Foundry (also based in Charlotte) to co-produce the series at a per-episode cost of US$250,000. Since launching six years ago, the Raggs franchise has grown to include videos and CDs (which are available in select distribution at Wal-Mart, Media Play, Musicland and Eckards) and three touring troupes, which are on pace this year to perform 1,500 shows in the U.S. Raggs is also in talks with broadcasters and other investors to help underwrite the show, which it’s hoping to deliver for fall 2004.
Foothill serves up a gender-bender of a comedy with Me & My Shadow
As if puberty weren’t tough enough… In Santa Barbara, California-based Foothill Entertainment’s new tween comedy Me & My Shadow, lead character Peter wakes up one morning to discover that his shadow has assumed the identity of a girl – and a prickly one at that. Whereas Peter is quiet and reserved, his shadow Kimberly is loud and obnoxious and makes no bones about being unhappily saddled with Peter. In spite of his predicament, Peter tries to lead a normal life and conceal Kimberly’s existence from the kids at school and everyone else. Unfortunately for Peter, he can only temporarily get rid of Kimberly (who appears as a real girl whenever he looks in the mirror) by turning out the lights. Developed by London, England-based Phew!! TV, the live-action/CGI series (26 x half hours) is budgeted at a per-episode cost of between US$100,000 and US$250,000. Foothill, which will handle distribution, is currently hunting for a Canadian co-production partner, as well as trying to raise additional financing through presales to broadcasters. Shadow is slated for delivery in early 2005.
VGI Entertainment’s Blanche is not just one of the sheep
You can forget about the law of the jungle with Blanche (26 x six minutes), a new 2-D animated series aimed at the two to six demo that turns the notion of animal instinct on its head. Based on an original concept from London, England-based VGI Entertainment, the series focuses on a golf-playing sheep who hangs out in the countryside with a collection of her quirky animal pals – a vegetarian lion who prefers studying fauna to hunting, a pig without an appetite, and a penguin who can’t dive. Typical show episodes deal with friendship and cooperation issues, like when Blanche and her cronies try to help a rhino with a throbbing toothache and a bee who can’t fly. VGI is co-producing Blanche with Rome, Italy-based Graphisme, broadcasters RAI (Italy) and France 5, and Paris-based Les Films de la Perrine. VGI expects to deliver the series, which is budgeted at US$2.5 million, sometime in summer 2004.