Tykes round the globe

Kids programming has international flavor

Those adorable troll dolls, a child who speaks in sound effects and a search for the few bushmen tribes that don’t have access to “SpongeBob Square-Pants” will highlight NATPE 2005’s kid biz, a segment of the expo that is almost entirely international.

Now that U.S. stations have consolidated into station groups that buy programming for all their outlets, NATPE is less helpful for domestic deals in general. But kiddie distribs in particular will be especially focused on overseas markets.

“That local kid market has dried up, if it was ever there in the first place,” says Terry Kalagian, VP of programming and acquisitions at Cartoon Network and Boomerang.

Successful kids shows tend to be more universally appealing than successful adult shows. They’re less dependent on the tastes of a particular U.S. aud, so domestic distribution can be easily done at the station group level, making NATPE less necessary. But kids shows are also less dependent on the culture of a particular country, making overseas deals more plentiful.

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A prime example of kids programming going global comes from 4Kids Entertainment, which will be selling “Mew Mew Power,” about five girls with special powers, and “F-Zero,” an action anime skein with a racecar motif that has already aired on 4Kids’ “Fox Box” block.

4Kids has tweaked these Nippon anime skeins for non-Japanese auds, a process it also uses on long-running series such as “Pokemon,” “Yu-gi-oh!” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” for which it will also be looking to find renewals and new buyers internationally.

Kiddie distrib DIC will be selling “Trollz,” based on the figurines with the colorful Einstein-esque electric shock hairstyle that have earned up to $5 billion in sales worldwide over the past half century. Though domestically the series will only be on video and DVD, DIC is looking for international buyers.

Internationally, the company will also be selling “Strawberry Shortcake,” based on the 1980s-era character. Skein has been available domestically through video/DVD and will at some point be rolled into the “DIC Kids Network” block, which airs on 450 Fox, WB, and UPN stations. Company will be looking domestically for renewals and new buyers for the block.

Cookie Jar Entertainment, formerly Cinar, has three skeins that already have North American outlets but are seeking foreign homes.

One is “Gerald McBoing Boing,” about a boy who can only communicate through bells, whistles, sirens and other wordless noises. Animated skein is adapted from the Dr. Seuss-scripted animated short film that won the Academy Award in that category in 1951. Sam Ewing, senior VP of sales and distribution, says the skein will premiere domestically on Cartoon Network in April.

Distrib also has two live action skeins: “Dark Oracle,” the gothic-supernatural skein about boy-girl twins that premiered on Canada’s YTV last fall, and “The Doodlebops,” which could be described as “The Monkees” for preschoolers, which is beginning this month on Canada’s CBC.

Nelvana — whose former execs Michael Hirsh and Toper Taylor now run Cookie Jar — is also shopping new shows. Examples include “Jane and the Dragon,” about a female medieval knight, and the supernatural action series “Di-Koto Warriors.”

Kid TV vet Tom Lynch, CEO of his own company, has two new live-action shows he’ll announce before NATPE. They have domestic outlets lined up and will be looking for global buyers. His company’s first animated pilot might be available as well, if its unidentified U.S. net decides to order the series by then.

Nickelodeon will be hawking “Unfabulous,” its skein that stars Emma Roberts (niece of Julia) as an awkward high schooler, to overseas buyers. Ditto “Drake & Josh,” about an odd couple pair of teen stepbrothers, which, like “Unfabulous,” began on Nick in September. Net will also somehow try to find new foreign buyers for “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

One trend MTV Intl. VP Debbie Back points out that might affect the NATPE kids biz is that skeins aimed at teen auds are getting younger viewers than expected. For example, MTV will be selling “The Ashlee Simpson Show” internationally at NATPE this year, and Back expects kids networks might want it.

Sticking with a musical theme, “Gina D’s Kids Club” — already on air in much of the States — will be on sale from Raven Moon Entertainment.

Cartoon Network’s Kalagian says her net uses NATPE as a buying opportunity but the kids programming marketplace is mainly about networking.

“It’s really less about seeing the content for the first time she says, “and more about catching up.”