Delays plague Sony’s ‘Troopers’ cartoon

CGI problems produce holdup

Maybe there’s a time warp. Stations that bought Sony’s kids strip “Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles” are having to air the same episodes as many as four times in five weeks. Similar delays have plagued the syndie series on the Sci-Fi Channel.

The snafus have prompted sci-fi enthusiasts to sound the alarm about the production of the show.

“Roughnecks” was sold into syndication as part of an f/x-intensive animated block by distrib BKN Entertainment at January’s NATPE. Deals called for it to air concurrently four times a week on the Sci-Fi Channel and five times a week on other stations.

But problems with the difficult CGI production process have produced major delays. Station sources say that 20 episodes of the series were to have been readied before the first episode went to air. Because of the snafus, the delivery schedule has been repeatedly revised.

As a result, stations are having to mix one or two fresh episodes per week with reruns of older shows.

As of this week, the first episode of the series is slated to run for the fourth time in five weeks on the air. The saga is based on the Sony movie of the same title.

Station execs are privately grumbling about the delayed episodes.

“It’s frustrating,” said one station manager in a top 10 market. “We were expecting to run a regular slate of new episodes for over a month. Now I’m just hoping that they don’t have us start all over again.

“Still, the program has held up well and kids don’t seem to mind watching it over and over again.”

On top of the delays, there is apparent confusion between the Sci-Fi Channel and distributor BKN over whether the cabler will drop the animated series or not.

A spokesman for the Sci-Fi Channel told Daily Variety that the series will be pulled off the cabler’s sked as of Oct. 4 in favor of toon series “Jumanji.” At that time the animated block that includes “Roughnecks” will be wholly restructured.

A source at the cabler notes that with the series running at 1:30 a.m., adults rather than kids are likely to be watching.

BKN reps insist that there have been no discussions with the cabler about pulling the show, and the distrib expects it to keep running indefinitely.

The production troubles are due to the heavy load of animated effects used in the series.

Two visual effects companies, Foundation Imaging and Flat Earth, were brought in to handle f/x duties with little pre-production time before “Troopers” was skedded to debut. Flat Earth was only involved in the production for a short time and is no longer under contract to Sony.

“It was one of those projects that was extremely tough and ambitious from the start,” said Kevin Kutchaver, president of Flat Earth.

There were “a lot of changes and re-dos to the show while (the Sony producers) figured out what they wanted,” he added. “At the same time, the schedule was slipping away on new shows while we were fixing up the first ones. We felt that there had to be more give and take given the time frame for this.”

Sony execs are now promising that 40 episodes of the series will be ready by January.

A spokesman for the company said, “We are meticulous about the quality of this show and wouldn’t think to air episodes until they meet the high quality of the company.”

BKN founder and CEO Allen Bohbot said the show is drawing fantastic reviews from both stations and audiences. He said he supported Sony’s efforts to ensure top-notch production quality and would accept further delays if necessary.

“No complaints. No (station) defections. We stand by Columbia TriStar 100%,” said Bohbot. “If they need time to produce the show, they can take it.” He went on to say that the company was extremely pleased with what they’ve seen so far.