While an international formats market in the kids biz has yet to cut its baby teeth, there is a sense that it’s on the cusp of taking off and Montreal, Canada’s Apartment 11 may just help lead the way. The prodco and its distributor, L.A.-based Marvista Entertainment, are just dotting the i’s on a contract with a major Euro broadcaster for format rights to its popular half-hour series Prank Patrol.
The series debuted on Canada’s YTV last fall, and Apartment 11 president Jonathan Finkelstein says the net ordered a second season after three eps had gone to air. Prank Patrol has since developed a strong co-viewing audience using its Punk’d meets Trading Spaces formula.
Unlike the MTV/Ashton Kutcher vehicle, celebrities aren’t involved. Instead kids get to build and execute pranks on their nearest and dearest. Each ep offers a recipe for a prank and gives the kids the ingredients to make it. Finkelstein says creator David Hansen spends a lot of time in coffee shops ‘dreaming up insane scenarios, and then we try and find kids to do them.’ Some of the more notable stunts have involved kids building video games that come to life at the touch and constructing lake-inhabiting monsters.
Prank Patrol has been nominated for a Banff World Television Award this year, and The Apartment 11 crew has become somewhat expert in creating kid-sized reality shows in the past three or so years. Prior to breakthrough Prank, Mystery Hunters (now in its second season) debuted on YTV in 2004 and the Iron Chef meets Fear Factor-inspired Surprise! It’s Edible Incredible! is going into its third season on Canadian pubcaster CBC.
Finkelstein isn’t taking much time off to celebrate. Apartment 11 has a number of projects in the development hopper. First up is Other World, a ghoulish fiction twist on the reality genre. Targeted at older tweens and teenagers, the live-action comedy is about a teenager who accidentally winds up on a website that acts as a gateway to a paranormal parallel universe filled with vampires, werewolves and generally creepy creatures. The teen then gets thrown into a house with these spooky inhabitants and winds up competing against them à la Big Brother. ‘It’s really about growing up and realizing you’re not the only freak around,’ says Finkelstein. A bible’s currently being hammered out and it will move into scripting shortly.
Animation is also on Finkelstein’s radar. Something of a departure from the prodco’s live-action slate is a toon in development that aims to convey the principles of science and environmental studies to kids in a fun way. The concept is based on a French-language science magazine for kids published out of Montreal called Les Débrouillards. It’s early days, but the plan is to center the series around a secret club that uses science and technology to resolve problems, whether it’s saving the world or helping out community members on a smaller scale.