With six months under his belt as SVP of programming for Jetix Europe, Marc Buhaj has attacked the net’s ongoing goal of developing more original content with characteristic gusto. In fact, Buhaj says he’s working towards increasing co-production activity so that these projects make 60% of the channel’s lineup, up from 50% right now.
Jetix has built up a solid base of boy-skewing programming over the years, and the demo is still well-served by top-performing staples including Totally Spies!, Monster Buster Club, Galactik Football and Team Galaxy. Buhaj says the key now will be to inject strong visual comedies into the mix to give the net an edge, particularly in the crowded UK market, where a one-trick pony just won’t win the race. ‘It’s not about maintaining your audience,’ says Buhaj. ‘It’s about aggressively dragging them away from what they’re doing elsewhere, and that requires shows that stand out.’
Buhaj also has his eye on smaller Euro territories where there are opportunities to make gains. Programming for such a broad international market means recognizing and responding to subtle regional nuances like the gender makeup of Jetix viewers in the UK (heavy boy draw) versus the Netherlands (much more evenly balanced), or a softer sensibility in Scandinavia that won’t stomach a lot of action-adventure. As for scheduling, Buhaj says the fragmented Euro market seems to respond better to frequent repeats and stripping, as opposed to playing to one large base of kids that will tune in for a once-a-week block.
Buhaj says great comedies are a challenge to unearth and can often be too regionally specific, but he points to Ying Yang Yo! as the kind of character-driven comedy he’s looking for. ‘It’s a good example of where we’re going as a channel, a network and a brand,’ says Buhaj. The edgy, high-energy show is about a spritely brother-and-sister rabbit team trained in the martial arts by their Woo Foo mentor, a crusty old Panda. Hilarity ensues as they put their sibling rivalry aside to deal with an evil and often idiotic cast of antagonists. With a strong dose of visual comedy, wisecracks and surprises, Bujah says it’s the type of show that engages kids, but is also clever enough to illicit a chuckle out of co-viewing parents who may be tuned in.
Comedy also serves to satisfy the broadcaster’s goal of including girls. ‘Boy audiences are fickle. You can’t throw in a bunch of unicorns and fairies and expect that you’ll increase your girl base and not affect the boys,’ says Buhaj. Though boys won’t likely admit to watching girls programming, Buhaj says that they will sit down for live-action shows along the lines of High School Musical and Hannah Montana. For now, however, Jetix Europe will focus on stocking up animated comedies to hit its eight to 10 sweet spot.
Buhaj says he’s still primarily interested in half-hour eps, or doubled-up 11-minuters. And he’s also looking to add some additional short-form companion features around the longer-form series. Buhaj is open to various pitching approaches, as long as the concepts presented have a strong set of characters, a viable backstory and a clear plan for sustaining a multi-season series. His only other piece of advice to producers echoes an oft-repeated but oft-forgotten caveat: Know your broadcaster and be ready to answer questions.