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Real Madrid has show for kids (& soccer dads)

Net mixing puppets, soccer, diversity, tolerance

MADRID Spanish soccer club Real Madrid reckons it’s on a winner — off the field.

The world’s richest and best-known club is creating “Muppets”-style tots-to-tykes skein “Real Pets,” its first push into TV fiction.

“Most very young children begin to be aware of the phenomenon of soccer. But they don’t recognize individual star players,” says Michael Novack, director of Real Madrid Television, which produces “Real Pets” with Madrid-based Pets Entertainment.

But baby animals get their attention. Combine that with soccer, and dads are happy, too.

To make lion cub Triky, a two-foot, felt and fur puppet, awake in his cave, smile and rolls his big, blue eyes, two puppet handlers work beneath the stage. A third wags his tail.

The skein will incorporate soccer while preaching diversity and tolerance, “Sesame Street” style.

Triky’s pals include Ali, a mini Mideast chameleon; and Fly, an Andean condor chick.

The gang watches Real Madrid’s youth teams train at the club’s grounds, and learns teamwork from the players. Every episode presents a challenge — like building an animal tower together — and a life lesson.

There won’t be goofy felt versions of Real Madrid stars Ronaldo, David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane. But the players will make cameos, helping the baby animals.

The club has its own dedicated channel, Real Madrid Television (RMTV), which is broadening beyond sport to general entertainment.

However, the show’s target is largely pay TV channels worldwide to raise Real Madrid brand awareness. RMTV should be “one of its final windows,” Novack adds.

“Pets” has a lot of things going for it, including rapid production.

Toon series take two-to-three years to make; “Pets” is targeted to complete 130 episodes by September, says art director Manuel Roman from Pets Ent.

It can also tap into a worldwide fan base.

Launched last July, RMTV’s two international services — Spanish- and English-language versions — have signed satellite/cable carriage deals in 12 countries, including with France’s Canal Satelite and TPS. Network will be included on an as-yet-unnamed U.K. pay TV platform in September.

Puppets, soccer and good-hearted values could spawn a rash of local imitators.

“A show like that in Germany, with a German soccer club, would be a guaranteed hit. Kids would love it,” says Marco Kirchhof, head of production at German tyke pubcaster Kinderkanal.

And dads, too. Real Madrid figures to have fathers worldwide imploring their offspring to follow “Real Pets.”

(Ed Meza in Berlin contributed to this report.)

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