Toon house goes live in Oz

Company not affected by EM.TV's troubles

SYDNEY — Australian animation specialist Yoram Gross-EM.TV has embarked on its first live-action series and is pumping out a slew of toons with international co-producers.

The 30-year-old production house, headed by Yoram Gross and his wife, Sandra Gross, has eight programs in production or recently completed and six projects in development.

But things could have been very different — German parent company EM.TV ran up huge debts after overpaying for assets such as the Jim Henson Co. and a 50% stake in Formula One motor racing, and the founders were forced out.

The current board has reaffirmed its commitment to its co-venture with Gross.

“We haven’t been affected by (EM.TV’s travails),” Sandra Gross tells Variety. Besides, she adds, “EM.TV’s troubles are largely behind it: It’s turned the corner.”

“Bambaloo” is Gross’s first live-action effort, co-produced with the Jim Henson Co. and Australia’s Seven Network.

Created by Donna Andrews, former programming head at Nickelodeon Australia, and freelance producer Justine Flynn, the skein is about a girl and her Muppet-style pets who live in a treehouse in a rainforest.

The 65 half-hour segs are being shot at Fox Studios Australia, where Yoram Gross-EM.TV is converting a pavilion into a TV soundstage. The studio will be rented out to other producers after “Bambaloo” has wrapped.

YGEM.TV general manager Geoff Watson approached Henson execs for help on the puppetry and was thrilled when they wanted to come aboard as co-producers. Henson is handling international distribution and Gross and Seven Network are tending pan-Asian territories.

EM.TV has co-produced with the Aussie company animated series “Fairy Tale Police Department,” the third season of “Tabaluga” and a “Tabaluga Christmas Special.”

Gross has pre-sold “Art Alive” to the Disney Channels in Asia and Australia. The 50, four-minute segs feature children’s drawings that become animated.

“Seaside Hotel” is a co-prod between Gross and France’s Tele-Images, pre-sold to Gallic web TF1 and Seven Australia, of which 30% is being animated in Oz. It’s the story of a girl whose parents run a “Fawlty Towers”-type hotel.

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