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Extending the olive branch

In today's competitive and cash-strapped kids market, asking for charitable donations to produce a series and then convincing broadcasters to air it non-exclusively might sound like a pipe dream. But that's exactly what Josh Selig has set out to do with a new preschool series being produced by his New York-based prodco Little Airplane via its newly established nonprofit arm, Little Light Foundation.
September 23, 2010

In today’s competitive and cash-strapped kids market, asking for charitable donations to produce a series and then convincing broadcasters to air it non-exclusively might sound like a pipe dream. But that’s exactly what Josh Selig has set out to do with a new preschool series being produced by his New York-based prodco Little Airplane via its newly established nonprofit arm, Little Light Foundation.

The Olive Branch is a 26 x one-minute, hand-drawn series that focuses on presenting positive messages about conflict resolution, tolerance and mutual respect. The dialogue-free episodes feature two cute creatures (one big, one small) that share an olive tree and must find ways to resolve their differences. Living together peacefully, for example, might mean figuring out how to share a blanket on a cold night or compromising on the choice of lullaby.

For Selig, the idea for a preschool series focused on resolving conflict has been brewing since he worked on an Isreali/Palestinian co-production of Sesame Street back in the late 1990s.

‘That was my first exposure to the impact media could have on kids in terms of really making fundamental changes in how they view one another and how they view issues like tolerance and respect,’ Selig says. He chose to build the idea around an international symbol of peace, the olive branch, whose meaning translates to just about any community. The series has also been endorsed by UNICEF, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his foundation, which reviews storyboards for their representation of conflict resolution before an ep heads into production.

So far, Little Light Foundation has raised enough money to produce three episodes, which began airing exclusively in the US for a six-month period on Nick Jr. this spring, and on a non-exclusive basis on more than 100 Nickelodeon channels worldwide. The episodes were also recently picked up by Disney Australia.

To get the series out there, Little Light Foundation is offering the program for a license fee of one unit of a broadcaster’s local currency per episode. Selig says most broadcasters are also making tax-deductible donations to the nonprofit to help cover the cost of production.

The Olive Branch’s production will be carried out on an episode-by-episode basis, as piecemeal funding comes in. In fact, Selig says the series hasn’t been entirely mapped out – he and his team come up with the each new episode idea as they can afford to make it. Based on donations from the small family-run Selavy Foundation in New York, Little Light has just started early development on the fourth episode.

‘We’re finding that people are charmed by this model and they want to be part of something that they feel good about,’ says Selig.

At press time, other broadcasters taking on the series included Canal+ (France), British Forces Broadcast Service, NRK (Norway), SVT (Sweden), MHZ Networks (Washington, DC), Macedonia OXO and KidsCo UK. In addition, RVT (Slovenia) and TVO (Canada) were in negotiations.

Besides contributions from broadcasters, individuals and organizations, Little Light has also set up a new initiative called Grow A Show. It would allow donors, such as a school class, to come to the Little Airplane studio, participate in brainstorming story ideas and development on an episode and get a front-row seat to the production process.

Along with plotting a fourth episode, Selig is also working closely with the show’s animator to create and pitch an Olive Branch book series. New to the world of publishing, Selig now has a literary agent on-board and is in early talks with publishers in the US and the UK.

As for other Little Light projects, Selig says he is open to making more programs that focus on themes of tolerance and mutual respect. In fact, he’s in the early stages of development with Scottish producer Dana Dorian on a series called Bolibose about an odd village chock full of personalities that have to learn to cope with each other and the problems that arise from their differences.

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