King World Prods. is looking to bring “The Little Rascals” franchise into the 21st century, with plans for new feature and TV projects as well as a big push into the previously untapped frontier of licensing and merchandising.
King World and Turner Entertainment have struck a deal with Universal Pictures to co-produce two more “Little Rascals” features, following the success of the 1994 “Little Rascals” pic released under a similar arrangement.
King World, distributor of “Oprah Winfrey,” “Wheel of Fortune” and other syndie TV hits, owns the rights to the shorts produced by Hal Roach from 1922-38, while Time Warner’s Turner Entertainment controls the rights to the original “Our Gang” name and the shorts produced between 1938 and 1944 by MGM.
In 1955, Roach sold the rights to the pre-1938 shorts, which were introduced to a new generation on TV as “The Little Rascals.”
In 1998, King World will create a licensing and merchandising division to handle worldwide merchandising for the upcoming features and all other “Little Rascals” properties. King World Kids, the company’s newly formed children’s programming arm, is at work on a live-action TV series comprising new wrap-arounds leading into colorized versions of the pre-1938 classics.
” ‘The Little Rascals’ has been the cornerstone of King World since we started, and it’s going to be the cornerstone of King World Kids in the future,” said Michael King, vice chairman of King World. “It’s a property that has always worked, no matter what medium or what generation it played to. We are going to do our best to re-Rascalize America in the years to come.”
The new push behind “The Little Rascals” also reflects King World’s effort to diversify its business portfolio beyond firstrun syndication. King World is un-derstood to be mulling other feature co-production opportunities. The company also plunged into the made-for-TV movie biz earlier this year by inking a development pact with Barbra Streisand’s Barwood Films.
The upcoming U-distributed “Little Rascals” features will be shot either simultaneously or back-to-back next year with a new group of kids. The goal is to be able to get the follow-up title in theaters quickly before the preteen stars grow out of their roles. The features will have a different cast than the tots featured in the wraparounds for the new TV series, revolving around a group of kids who gather each day to watch the vintage “Little Rascals.”
The TV series and the first of the two new features are expected to bow in 1999. The TV show is likely to be distributed by King World in syndication, but the project also has piqued the interest of several major webs. A pilot will be shot next month, although the details of a major merchandising blitz will likely take more than a year to put together, Michael King said.
“We’ve got the opportunity to do a ‘Star Trek’ or ‘Batman’ kind of franchise formula with a TV series and merchandising and movies and homevideos coming out on a regular schedule,” King said.
Outside “The Little Rascals” oeuvre, projects in development at King World Kids, headed by producers Vanessa Coffey and Jim Ballantine, include the animated skeins “Family Values” and “My Pet Boy.”
“Family Values” is a primetime sitcom entry created by Roseanne and four of her children: Jennifer, Jessica & Jacob Pentland and Brandy Brown. Roseanne is set to launch a daytime talkshow next year with King World.
“My Pet Boy” is a cartoon, aimed at the “Rugrats” audience, about a boy who has to adapt to being the only human in a world of dogs.