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Polygram grabs ‘Barney’

NEW YORK — After being stuck for three years in the tar pit of development at Warner Bros. (Daily Variety, Aug. 14, 1996), the purple fuzzy dinosaur known as Barney has finally been pay-or-played to star in a movie.

Polygram has greenlit “Barney’s Great Adventure” at a $15 million budget to be distributed by its new releasing arm in spring 1998. They’ve hired Steve Gomer to direct the script by Steve White, and Broadway great Jerry Herman has written a new Barney theme song.

The involvement of WB and producer David Geffen are both as extinct as a velociraptor. Barney creator Sheryl Leach said she and the studio didn’t see eye to eye. Geffen, meanwhile, became busy with his own studio, DreamWorks. Geffen has been replaced as executive producer by Ben Myron, the producer of ”Mr. Magoo” and ”Leave It To Beaver,” and Leach will produce with Dennis DeShazer. Jim Rowley is co-producer. The pic’s move from WB to Polygram has been rumored for some time.

”Warner Bros. had a different vision of the way the film would be marketed and produced than we did, so they amicably allowed us to explore other options,” said Leach. ”Because of David’s help, we were able to take it and set it up at Polygram, which is a really natural fit, because they’re partners internationally on the video and audio side of Barney. They also want to gain a foothold into family films.”

The deal allows Polygram a high-profile entry into kidfare for its new distribution arm, one built around family entertainment. Interscope, which has an output deal with Polygram, recently made an overall deal with ”Jumanji” author Chris Van Allsburg, which underscoring the company’s desire to get into the half-pint-fare game.

Interestingly, the deal was hatched by Polygram U.K., where Stuart Till, prexy of Polygram Intl. Filmed Entertainment, and Graeme Mason, veep of worldwide acquisitions, were prime movers. Also key will be Polygram president Michael Kuhn and Andy Fogelson, president of Polygram marketing and distribution.

The script is by White, a newcomer to films, but a longtime writer on the PBS show who also scripted the live Barney show that played Radio City Music Hall, as well as an NBC special. Gomer’s credits include ”Fly by Night” and ”Sunset Park,” but also had another prerequisite going for him, said Leach: ”He’s a Barney dad.”

While some might feel Barney’s film fortunes might have been rendered prehistoric by the long delay in getting to the big screen, Leach disagrees.

”All children’s properties have their peaks and valleys,” she said. ”Barney had a very strong peak in 1994, then went through a stabilizing period. It takes about three years for the Barney audience to change over and build up again. The audience spans 18 months to six years, and builds, peaks and levels off every four years.”

Leach said that the film’s actually a better gambit now in the foreign market because the show, ”Barney and Friends,” has grown to become a daytime programming staple in 30 countries on six continents. Barney just had a private audience with Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Leach said. In the U.S., the show continues to be the top-rated program for children under six years old, has sold 25 million books, is a permanent attraction at the Universal theme park, and has sold 15 million stuffed toys and millions of records and videos.

The movie will look decidedly different from the show, said Leach. In addition to shooting on outdoor locations, the familiar Barney anthem will be missing, replaced by the new song by Herman, whose Broadway credits include ”Hello, Dolly!” and ”La Cage Aux Folles.” Leach said she’s looking to get a top-selling singer to record it for the film.

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