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Sesame works up brand-new production slate

Sesame Workshop has beefed up its production slate this year with four new shows that go well beyond the New York-based company's usual bumper crop of shorts. 'We thought this year, instead of making more miscellaneous segments, let's see if we can pilot some short series that can add value as we put them into our co-productions,' says EVP of creative Miranda Barry.
October 1, 2009

Sesame Workshop has beefed up its production slate this year with four new shows that go well beyond the New York-based company’s usual bumper crop of shorts. ‘We thought this year, instead of making more miscellaneous segments, let’s see if we can pilot some short series that can add value as we put them into our co-productions,’ says EVP of creative Miranda Barry.

Using the success of Sesame’s first stop-motion series Bert and Ernie’s Great Adventures as a blueprint, Barry’s team is aiming to create character- and curriculum-driven series that make classic Muppet characters, such as Elmo and Cookie Monster, as well as new characters like Abby Cadabby, accessible worldwide.

Barry further explains that creating stand-alone series is an effort to keep pace with kids’ ever-changing palate for formats. ‘Sesame has come full circle,’ says Barry. She notes the original format for Sesame Street was a magazine-style show, chock full of short sketches. Then as kids’ tastes developed over the years, the show began to include more long-form pieces, such as the 12-minute street stories. And now, Barry says the focus on multimedia has once again sparked an appetite for shorter-form series.

In addition to spiking international sales, Barry says the revamped production slate aims to tie in with Sesame’s aim of updating the domestic show that’s been airing on pubcaster PBS continuously for 39 years – translating it from its pure magazine format into more of a programming block that features short narrative-driven series. The first show-within-a-show on deck is Abby’s Flying Fairy School, which will be sandwiched between classic Sesame celebrity bits and animated alphabet and number shorts.

Abby’s Flying Fairy School depicts the Street’s newest Muppet and young fairy-in-training Abby through the lens of CGI animation. The twist is it’s the school, and not the fairies, that actually takes flight in this series designed by Peter De Seve, character designer for Fox’s feature film Ice Age. Abby and her friends, who include fairies, trolls and a unicorn/gerbil named Niblet, attend the school and use rhyme and cooperation, plus a helping hand from viewers at home, to solve problems. The show was developed in-house and will be premiering this fall on the US version of Sesame Street, but Barry says its nine-minute eps can easily work as part of a Sesame block or as a stand-alone series. As well, the animated assets should translate well into online games.

As for the classics, Cookie Monster will have his day in 26 x five-minute Munchin’ Impossible, which has the ravenous fur-ball traveling to numerous locations around the globe in search of healthy alternatives to his favorite vice, cookies. The Man, a gingerbread cookie who heads up the CIA (Cookie Intelligence Agency, of course), is in charge of monitoring the Blue One’s exploits and keeping the world’s cookies safe from his voracious appetite. The series will be shot live as Cookie, decked out as a secret agent with black suit and tie, visits strawberry patches, corn fields and rice paddies from America to China in his quest to find out more about different foods and where they come from.

‘Our puppets are fantasy characters, but they are also real, so they look great on location,’ says Barry. ‘Kids respond to them wonderfully in a real environment, which allow us to capture kids on the show in a much more spontaneous way than when they’re in the studio.’

Elmo’s Backyard (26 x five minutes) puts early science and environment-centric learning at the core of its curriculum. As such, Elmo explores his backyard and marvels over things such as a spider web, a worm in the vegetable patch or a frozen bird bath. Kids will be asked to participate by sending in their photos, drawings and videos of their own backyards. Along with Elmo, kids expand their vocabulary and develop a richer understanding of the world around them. The new series are expected to be delivered in 18 months.

Finally, there’s 3-2-1 Let’s Go, a 52 x half-hour preschool block featuring segments from existing Workshop series Play With Me Sesame and Global Grover that will also include content from Bert and Ernie’s Great Adventures. Barry says the project was originally developed with Discovery Kids Latin America as a half-hour programming block, stitched together by short pieces featuring Abby Cadabby that all add up to one story. ‘We’re taking out a lot of the older library content that was in Play With Me Sesame and focusing on the interactive play-along classic character bits,’ says Barry.

Munchin’ Impossible and Elmo’s Backyard will have pilots on-hand at MIPCOM and the Sesame team will be shopping all four series for potential co-pro partners and presales. (Nine eps of the Abby series are in the bag with another 13 planned, and 3-2-1 Let’s Go already has 26 eps completed.) ‘The budgets are quite reasonable on these projects so it’s possible to work either way,’ says Barry. Though she was reluctant to give out specific amounts, she said they were on par with market price, which KidScreen regularly pegs at around US$350,000 per half hour.

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