He’s 17 years old, but Barney isn’t showing any signs of teenage rebellion – not to say that he’s opposed to shaking things up a little. Thanks to a revamp led by HIT Entertainment’s U.S. office, Barney will be grooving to new beats and travelling the world in the coming year.
Although the latest season of Barney & Friends hitting U.S. airwaves on PBS this fall will continue to reinforce the brand’s credo of sharing and friendship, its format, character development and music are getting a modern-day makeover. Think of a hip-hop version of ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ designed to appeal to today’s preschoolers and their gatekeepers.
Karen Barnes, executive producer of Barney & Friends, says constructing a music curriculum using pop-inspired compositions is the primary focus of the new series. For example, the show’s standby ABC song appears in the ’06 season, but has a reggae twist. The plan is to use these new versions of classic Barney tunes to teach preschoolers and encourage movement.
In addition to spicing up the music selection, the new series is revving up its international approach on the nuts-and-bolts front to help spark global broadcaster interest. Barney & Friends will no longer follow a traditional half hour format and instead come in at a more international broadcaster-friendly 12 minutes. Thirty-second 2-D animated interstitials now bridge the two episodes and feature different styles of music set to fantasy-inducing visuals.
Changes are also in the works for the series’ secondary characters, B.J. and Baby Bop. These characters have been a part of the show for a while, but Barnes says there’s a lot of room for the big purple guy’s friends to grow. For example, in one planned episode Baby Bop adopts a pet caterpillar, but thinks she loses him. It’s not until she later sees him flying away as a butterfly that she figures out what’s happened.
HIT also intends to enter the format markets in Europe, Asia and Latin America with the revamped Barney & Friends and launch localized versions of the show. Barnes wants producers to infuse a local cultural sensibility into the show, while HIT supplies the core values, characters and music. She says broadcasters have expressed interest in this new format, but no partners have been pinned down.