Up Next: What’s developing in kids production

Zenith gives ye olde Round Table romance a laughtrack
June 1, 2004

Zenith gives ye olde Round Table romance a laughtrack

Historians have told the classic tale of King Arthur for centuries. But London, England’s Zenith Entertainment wants to shine a light on the stuff left out of the legends in its first animated series King Arthur’s Disasters, a slapstick toon for six- to nine-year-olds that charts Arthur’s futile and hilarious attempts to win Guinevere’s heart.

All of the classic characters make an appearance, including: Arthur’s advisor Merlin, who’s prone to eccentricity and drama-queen behavior; the loyal but incompetent bodyguard Splag; and chivalrous outlaw Robin Hood, who laughs in the face of danger and bursts into song when his testosterone levels surge. Then there’s the fair Lady Guinevere. For the purposes of this show, she’s a manipulative, opportunistic materialist who demands the smitten King do impossible things like turn her slippers into gold. Arthur thinks he’ll win her heart if he can live up to these ridiculous expectations, so he tries valiantly to find a way each time.

Partners on the 13 x half-hour series include CiTV and Spain’s Neptuno Films, and the remainder of the US$4.2-million budget will be deficit-financed by Zenith. If all goes according to plan, King Arthur’s Disasters will debut on-air in April 2005.

Mainframe plants its first preschool seeds with Binomes

Flexing its CGI muscle outside the realm of futuristic action, Reboot studio Mainframe Entertainment is getting into the preschool game for the first time with a new show that trades on kids’ ever-earlier adoption of computer skills and knowledge. Set inside a PC, the 52 x 11-minute series centers around life on a computer chip farm run by a family of Binomes, a race of cyber-beings comprised of geometric mechanical parts who somehow manage to still look humanistic and friendly. Likewise, the computer chip farm looks as soft and bucolic as a fairytale setting.

Each episode will put a digital spin on the kinds of discoveries and lessons that preschoolers experience every day. Like most youngsters, lead character Bin and his friend Cookie (sense a pattern vis à vis the names?) regularly moan and groan about having to take ion baths, but when they avoid the tub in one episode, they get sticky and stop functioning. Lesson learned: Baths are a necessary evil.

With eyes squarely focused on a fall 2005 launch, Mainframe is courting presales and co-production partners, particularly those based in the U.K. and Australia. Each of the 52 episodes will be budgeted at approximately US$160,000.

PorchLight’s Rok gets into a prehistoric slapstick groove

‘Be careful what you wish for’ is the edict taught by a new 2-D animated tween series from Yvon of the Yukon creator Terry Klassen that’s in pre-development at L.A.-based PorchLight Entertainment.

On the eve of a big school test, Rok’s 13-year-old protagonist Rick wishes he was the smartest kid in the world. He wakes up the next morning to discover he’s been transported back to prehistoric times, and given that the only other humanoids in existence are Neanderthals, he has become, by comparison, the smartest kid in the world. Although he’s now got the intellectual edge he always wished for, Rick struggles comically to adjust to living without modern-day amenities like running water and video games, at the same time fending off the primeval creatures whose curiosity is aroused by his disruptive presence.

PorchLight just brought in Canadian partner Thunderbird Films to round out a co-pro roster that already includes Australia’s Yoram-Gross and Germany’s EM.TV, and all four companies will work to secure presales for the US$6.5-million show in their territories. PorchLight expects to have 26 half hours of Rok ready for Q4 2005.

Earth science informs Film En Stock’s Cotoons

An alien invasion may be the stuff of sci-fi movies, but Paris France’s Film En Stock is using the E.T. hook to teach kids about Earth science in its first foray into the preschool market.

Cotoons stars four insatiably curious cuties who discover a porthole to Earth. In each seven-minute episode, one of the characters returns from an Earth jaunt with a strange new object to share. Having never seen an apple before, for example, the foursome has so many questions that they travel back down to Earth to learn about their find firsthand, visiting an apple farm and watching families enjoy the fruit as a healthy snack.

Montreal, Canada’s Zone 3 has signed on to manage the live-action filming and will work closely with Film En Stock’s animation studio to ensure that when the 3-D characters visit Earth, the shadows and reflections on the animation matches the live footage. Financial partners on this US$4.3-million series include France 5, TVOntario, Discovery UK and Radio Canada. French toyco SMOBY will release a line of licensed toys in Q4, and French publisher Playbac plans to bookend the show’s Q1 2005 debut with a book range.

Granada and Indie Kids find a worse witch

London-based studios Granada and Indie Kids are bringing a little humor to a well-loved book-based property that has already lived twice on TV. In production for an October debut on CiTV, The New Worst Witch will build on a legacy that includes a TV movie made 18 years ago and a live-action drama series that aired in the U.K. from 1998 to 2001.

The revamp will star Hettie Hubble – an 11-year-old cousin of original worst witch Mildred – and her adventures at the family alma mater, Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. Impatient with the methodical nature of school learning, Hettie often jumps the gun and uses her spells before they’re perfected, landing her in hot water with headmistress Miss Amelia Cackle and deputy head Miss Constance Hardbroom. In the debut episode, Hettie is running late for the first day of school and decides to break the rules and climb the school wall to get there faster. But she gets distracted mid-climb and ends up falling on Miss Hardbroom as she’s giving a lesson about, ironically, the ills of tardiness.

Budgeted at just under US$400,000 per episode, The New Worst Witch will be a 13 x half-hour live-actioner. Granada and Indie Kids will likely hit up the same nets that bought the original series when they start to sell the revamp internationally, and plans are already underway for a second series. In the next season, producers anticipate the girls from Miss Cackle’s Academy will go up against three witches working for the headmistress’s evil twin sister, who’s bent on taking over the school.

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