Up Next: What’s developing in kids production

Shelltown delivers three eggs, funny side up
August 1, 2004

Shelltown delivers three eggs, funny side up

Drawing voice talent from pretty much every corner of Britain’s entertainment scene, the celeb quotient alone should be enough to pique presale interest in the first animated project from Northern Ireland-based indie studio Shelltown Productions. Aptly named Shelltown, the CGI series will feature the vocal stylings of serious thespian Kenneth Branagh, top British comedian Johnny Vegas and ex-Irish boy-band lead singer Ronan Keating.

The series’ story line centers on the Good Egg Gang, a trio of mischievous young eggs who are always looking for some crack-me-up fun, be it playing practical jokes on the townspeople or egg-sperimenting with invented contraptions. In one episode, Splat is conspicuously non-plussed about the local high school’s upcoming dance – that is, until his buddy Exactly creates a special pair of remote-control dancing shoes. Splat starts the evening off as a disco dynamo, but when he accidentally spills soda on his fancy footwear and frys their electronic circuits, his two left feet are exposed.

Irish pubcaster RTE has signed on as Shelltown’s first broadcaster, but the show’s producers are still scouting for additional presales and co-production partners to help get the US$3.8-million series off the ground. Meanwhile, veteran animation house Cosgrove Hall has agreed to animate the 26 x 10-minute show, which is intended for five- to eight-year-olds. The pilot, scripted by Fun Factory scribe John Gatehouse, will be ready in time to screen at MIPCOM Jr. in October.

Sardine mixes styles to get an alien look for Zun

Targeting older kids ages eight to 12 with a US$7.8-million show that goes behind the scenes of an alien sportscast, Montreal, Canada’s Sardine Productions is blending CGI with the improv expertise of experienced puppeteers to create the sense that anything could happen during the course of an episode.

Zun – Live from Space! stars an ET broadcasting crew that’s constantly scrambling to keep their fumbling and unprofessional sports news show on the air. The network’s foreboding boss blames the show’s hapless ratings on the producers’ bizarre editorial decisions to cover off-the-wall events such as the Ktoran Lava-Juggling Olympics, as well as on the show’s obvious bias (evidenced in one episode by the two hosts’ off-screen betting and on-screen cheering for the teams they’ve backed).

Miraculously, the show is saved from cancellation by the skin of its teeth in each ep. In one, for example, Boss Man is on his way down the hall to axe Zun when a news bulletin comes in announcing that the destruction of the Digee Star System has forced the cancellation of the Diggee Family Show, thus moving Zun up in the ratings and saving it for one more week.

Production on the 26 x half-hour series should last about 18 months once enough presales and co-pro partners are lined up to complete the financing puzzle.

Kids programming ain’t rocket science for Johan’s Malaysian producer Inspidea

Often nerdified by the schoolyard in-crowd, science is about to get a much cooler rep if Malaysia’s Inspidea has anything to say about it. The one-year-old prodco is hard at work developing a show that steps outside the laboratory to explore the kind of fun facts that will engage preschoolers. In each episode of Johan The Scientist, the show’s six-year-old namesake hunts for answers to his endless questions by visiting a futuristic world contained in an amazing magic book of science called ScienScape.

When a frog finds its way into Johan’s bedroom, our hero uses ScienScape to take the amphibian back to its habitat. Goldilocks-style, Johan first visits several unsuitable environments – including the freezing Snowy Mountain and a hot saltwater summer beach – before he cottons onto the little green hopper’s natural abode in the pond.

Each of Johan’s 13 half-hour episodes can be divvied up into 12-minute segments, and the 2-D animated series is budgeted at just under US$2 million. Inspidea is aiming for an October 2004 finish and is keen to lock in a few more presales to join Emirates Cable TV and Multimedia (eVision). The production team is also developing the English-language show in Arabic, French and Mandarin.

Indie producer channels hosted-puppet era with Mustard Pancakes

Although Mustard Pancakes may sound like an unappetizing breakfast, California-based indie producer Joel Wertman is hoping to make the odd word pairing synonymous with feel-good social learning. His new 26 x half-hour show is hosted by a nurturing substitute-parent-type much like classic kids TV hosts Mister Rogers and Shari Lewis.

Having toured countries such as England, Iceland and Turkey singing nutty songs and telling kid-friendly stories, Courtney Campbell and her house of animal puppet friends will use their small-screen show to present stories about problem-solving and confronting fears. In one half-hour segment, Courtney plays a new song that gets everyone off their seats and dancing – except for Mr. D, a cat who claims he’s injured. But he’s such an inept fibber that the gang soon gleans there’s something more behind his reluctance to boogie, and they coax him to overcome his shyness and give it a try.

The US$4-million series has a commitment from the Oregon syndicate of PBS, as well as from local Canadian stations Now TV in Vancouver and SCNTV in Saskatchewan. Delivery is planned for Q3 2004, and Wertman is actively pursuing more presales through Mustard Pancake Productions. He says he would also entertain co-production scenarios.

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