Co-producers: L.A.’s The Jim Henson Company and Toronto-based Decode Entertainment
Style: 3-D CGI
Format: 52 x 11 minutes
Demo: three to six
Budget: US$300,000 per half hour
Status: Henson and Decode have moved into pre-production and are testing animation. Decode Enterprises is handling worldwide distribution outside the US, while Henson looks after global L&M activities. The pair is currently gauging broadcast interest and looking for presales to kick the project into full production by fall 2009.
Delivery: fall 2010
Concept: Anyone familiar with the calypso-tinged strains of the theme to Jim Henson’s much-loved early ’80s puppet series Fraggle Rock should recall the tiny hardhat-clad characters that toiled tirelessly in the background, building miniature structures ultimately gobbled up by the much larger Fraggles. In this series, those wee workers known as the Doozers have been cast into the spotlight and will take on their construction work above ground. Moreover, underpinning the show that focuses on a trio of new apprentice Doozers – named Baxter, Puzzlebea and Daze, who learn through teamwork and cooperation – is a curriculum built around green technology and eco consciousness.
‘The curriculum is related to our other science shows,’ says TJHC co-CEO Lisa Henson, ‘but it’s oriented toward ecological concepts and ways of thinking about re-use, waste, economizing and limiting our ecological footprint.’ To help craft the curriculum, Decode EVP of production and development Beth Stevenson says her team, which is heading up production efforts in Toronto, has brought in an advisor who specializes in green building practices. ‘He’s a civil engineer from the University of Toronto whose input brings a whole other level to the scripts,’ she says. ‘He turned us on to the notion of vertical building and has introduced us to futuristic, enviro-friendly tools that we have versioned for the Doozers.’
Decode Entertainment > www.decode-ent.com
The Jim Henson Company > www.henson.com
Producer: Dublin, Ireland’s Jam Media
Style: 2-D Flash with live-action segments, supplemented by Jam’s proprietary Headhunter software
Format: 52 x 11 minutes
Budget: US$7.5 million for entire series
Financing needs: Through Ireland’s generous system of grants and tax incentives, Jam CEO John Rice says his company can put up 50% of the budget once it gets the broadcast greenlight.
Status: Jam is in the process of looking for co-production partners and has just started pitching the concept and bible to broadcasters in the UK.
Delivery: Fall 2010
Concept: Jam CEO John Rice says the concept for this other-worldly preschool series had been floating around the company’s offices for a while, but it wasn’t until he brought in art director and character designer Aaron Brady to head up development that it crystallized. And Brady has crafted a character-driven series set in a schoolhouse located on a vibrantly colored, magical, musical garden – The Pondership – orbiting the Earth, where a close-knit group of friends imbibe knowledge from their tree-shaped teacher, Miss Info. The group gathers ’round her to learn about the strange and curious things taking place on Earth. The problem is, more often than not, she gets it all wrong and then sends the troupe to the planet to discover the truth, where they are set straight by a quartet of average Earth-dwelling kids. ‘The great thing,’ says Brady, ‘is that roles are reversed. The children are not being taught, but are the teachers. It’s very empowering.’
As for what the rag-tag group will be investigating, both Rice and Brady say the storylines are only limited by the writers’ imaginations. For example, episodes could be built around figuring out what goes on with commonplace objects like garbage and fire trucks and in settings such as playgrounds and zoos. The series will also employ an ambitious mix of styles, with 2-D animation bringing The Pondership and its inhabitants to life, and live-action segments being used to illustrate the everyday Earth phenomenon. Jam’s Headhunter software, used to great effect in the prodco’s first series Picme, will provide the icing on the cake to make the show’s viewers the guest stars of each ep – four kids will be selected to have their headshots animated as the Earthlings that teach the aliens. Additionally, the software is in its third iteration and can now generate several facial expressions from one image, even mapping images to enable head movement.
Jam Media > www.jammedia.ie
The High School of Doctor Moreau
Producer: Bada Bling/Curtis Jobling
Style: Currently 2-D, but exploring
Format: 52 x 11 minutes
Demo: eight to 12
Budget: US$325,000 to US$350,000 per half hour
Financing needs: Creator Curtis Jobling is currently shopping the project around with the goal of bringing on a larger prodco or broadcaster to put the series into production.
Status: Jobling has paired up with SpongeBob SquarePants writer Eric Shaw to further hone the concept and script ideas with the goal of providing a wide playing field for writers ‘who want to go crazy with silly science, misshapen monsters and extremely ridiculous experiments.’
Delivery: Depends on how soon Jobling can bring partners on-board.
Concept: Curtis Jobling, the character designer behind HIT’s iconic Bob the Builder, says he’s always loved the idea of turning a well-known literary character that people think they know on its head. And that’s exactly what he’s done with H.G. Wells’ 1869 sci-fi novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau. In this new universe Jobling’s crafted, Moreau is no longer a mad scientist conducting terrifying genetic experiments, but is instead a mad misfit principal heading up a school with just six academically brilliant, but socially inept, students who continually meet with taunts from the popular and oh-so-beautiful students at neighboring school, Head Held High. Even more hilarious is the fact that this Moreau is a bumbling, demented headmaster who tells his students he’s cloned himself to teach various classes, but really just wears different outfits – including dresses and wigs – in an attempt to trick his pupils.
At the heart of this writer-driven series that’s aiming to tap into the high concept and high humor so popular with tweens right now (See ‘The co-viewing conundrum’ p. 78), is the group of misfit students modeled on famous literary scientists. For example, there’s Jacqueline Hyde, the shape-shifting exchange student from Germany who sports a uni-brow and Henrietta ‘Etta’ Wells, a time-traveller inspired by the Moreau author himself. The group’s only hope is Evelyn Pimblott, a slacker art student who mistakenly winds up at Doctor Melvin Moreau’s illustrious institution. (Somewhere a brilliant young budding brain surgeon named Evelyn Pomblitt is struggling through a combined media studies/performing arts course in a backwater high school.) Can Evelyn help the misfits integrate into the real world? That’s the question tackled in every episode, where the gifted students invariably try to solve their problems by conducting experiments that go awry. One current episode idea, for example, is ‘Uniformly Annoying.’ The students, tasked with designing a new school uniform, mistakenly hear the word unicorn and end up creating ‘a gruesome, cantankerous unicorn – the first killer unicorn, basically,’ jokes Jobling.
Curtis Jobling > www.curtisjobling.com
Co-producers: Munich, Germany’s TV-Loonland, London-based design studio Airside, and the BBC
Style: digital 2-D
Format: 26 x two minutes
Demo: six to 11
Budget: Roughly US$875,000 for the whole series
Financing needs: While it has a commitment from the Beeb, distributor TV-Loonland is looking for a few more presales to move the production forward.
Status: There’s a full bible and TV-L is prepping a pilot to pitch at MIPTV.
Delivery: Late 2009
Concept: Fur Wars grew from an eight-minute piece of animation commissioned by org Live Earth to screen at its 2007 global series of concerts that raised money for the environment. The original short, notes TV-Loonland MD Olivier Dumont, was clearly written for an adult audience. However, when pitched to the BBC by creator Airside, the broadcaster felt the toon’s distinct look and enviro-theme would translate well to a younger audience. TV-L is now on-board, co-developing and producing the short series and is looking at spinning it into a longer format. Unlike a lot of eco-themed entertainment out there, Fur Wars uses humor and music to make its point about the need for humans to tread lightly on the Earth. Each episode sees the main character – an average Homo sapien named Carl who is just starting to help the environment – getting a lesson from a group of animals in the nearby woods. The pilot ep called ‘Standby’ that teaches energy conservation is a perfect example. One night the animals, led by Jackiepanda enter Carl’s room to find it filled with tech devices not in use but still plugged in and consuming electricity. The animals wake Carl up and sing him a short ditty while unplugging the devices as they dance about.
TV-Loonland > www.tvloonland.com
Peppy and Rex
Producer: Bristol, UK-based Aardman Animations
Format: 52 x 10 minutes
Budget: Approximately US$6.2 million
Financing needs: Aardman is actively looking for co-producers to get this project off the ground.
Status: The series is in development with character, animation design and scripts being hammered out.
Concept: Peppy and Rex is Aardman preschool development producer Jackie Cockle’s second undertaking for the prodco. Her first, Timmy Time, was being prepped for broadcast at press time so she’s ready to put a push behind this series. The show started as an art-driven concept with an old artist named Pablo at its center. Since taking over the concept about 12 months ago, Cockle has kept painting and drawing at the forefront, but a relatable six-year-old boy Peppy and his hound Rex are now the stars of the series. When Peppy puts pencil or brush to paper, he’s able to transport viewers from his stop-motion present into the malleable 2-D world of his imagination where Rex can speak. Peppy’s imaginary stories are often populated by characters that resemble members of his family and friends Jack (the problem solver), George (the gadget guy) and twins Shona (the girly girl) and Mona (the tomboy).
Aardman Animations > www.aardman.co.uk
Producer: Toronto’s Nelvana Studios
Style: 2-D squash-and-stretch animation
Format: 52 x 11 minutes
Demo: six to 12
Budget: US$250,000 to US$300,000 per half hour
Status: Launched at MIPCOM in October, the series has secured a spot on Canadian kidcaster YTV (also owned by Nelvana’s parentco Corus Entertainment), so it’s about ready to go into production.
Delivery: winter 2009
Concept: Of all the characters to come out of Toronto publisher Kids Can Press of late, author Melanie Watts’ Scaredy Squirrel is truly a unique little fellow. The series of books built around the neurotic, agoraphobic, conspiracy-theorist-loving rodent have so far sold more than 350,000 copies in North America and should make for good, core-kid-pleasing TV. You see, Scaredy lives in a tree with a built-in panic room and though he’s delusional, paranoid and terrified of everyday things like bees, crowds and germs, he is often forced to leave his treasured nest. Luckily Scaredy has good friends like fearless armadillo Rocco, tadpole-like creature Theo and globetrotting mole Mildew, who burrows her way around the Earth, to help him work through his phobias. In one episode underway, Scaredy reluctantly visits a museum to help Theo find out what kind of creature he is, making the squirrel confront some of his greatest fears like Latin (the language of disease and lawyers, eek) and Plexiglas (the bane of all small, fast-moving creatures and wearers of bi-focal glasses). Eventually he copes for the sake of his pal. Also in the works are over-the-top comic shorts that will take the form of Scaredy-issued warnings on things to avoid and emergency preparedness lists his viewers need to make.
Nelvana Studios > www.nelvana.com
Producer: London’s Kindle Entertainment
Style: live action
Format: 26 x 22 minutes
Demo: nine to 13
Budget: Roughly US$225,000 to US$250,000 per ep
Financing needs and status: The project is in the early stages of development, with a mini-bible and storylines completed. Kindle is currently fielding broadcaster interest and actively looking for co-production partners.
Concept: The hands-down winner of the 10th-annual KidScreen Summit’s ‘Pitch It!’ session that capped off the three-day event, Kindle’s Shiver Sisters is poised to capitalize on the neo-Goth trend sweeping the teen/tween set, symbolized most recently by the success of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. This new series revolves around twin sisters – light, bright and popular Millie and dark-and-brooding Eve – as they deal with the tumult of adolescence. The twist? Millie is accidentally killed in the first episode, returns to the family home as a ghost and the pair try to hide it from their parents – the dark comedy ensues. For example, as no one but Eve knows Millie is dead, one episode will see Millie accepting a date from her crush, Greg. Eve, of course, has to tag along so Greg doesn’t learn of Millie’s secret. Eve is rather a nuisance, continually getting in the budding couple’s way, until she’s the one who has to kiss Greg in the dark so Millie’s cold lips aren’t discovered. In the end, Eve doesn’t seem to mind, spurring a bout of sibling rivalry.
Kindle director Melanie Stokes says Mark Oswin, one of the key writers on the prodco’s first live-action series, My Spy Family, pitched the idea and he’s now slated to act as the head writer and show runner once it goes into production. ‘He’s a comedy writer, that’s his passion,’ she says, noting he’s helped pen a number of UK sitcoms such as Facing Up and Skin Deep.
Kindle Entertainment > www.kindleentertainment.com