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Books and toys aren’t fail-safe TV fodder

Variety Junior 2011

In the bid to fill the demand for kid-targeted shows, established brands from other industries and media (such as toys and books) play different roles depending on the genre.

Spurred by successes such as “iCarly” and “Victorious,” demand for live-action sitcoms aimed at kids 6-11 is at an all-time high. But finding those shows is tough, and outside brands can’t be counted upon to help.

A hit comedy series is the most elusive success story because so many elements have to come together in an extraordinary way to resonate with kids around the world and become a global franchise,” says Toper Taylor, prexy and COO of Cookie Jar Entertainment, who cites the Cartoon Network series “Johnny Test” as one of his company’s hits in the genre.

Such difficulties make comedies tough to adapt from other media, and most such efforts come from artists who can storyboard out their humor or from top writers in the field, Taylor says.

“Ten years ago, I probably wasn’t developing very much live action at all, but this year maybe half of the things we’re developing is live action,” Taylor says. “I was developing far more preschool five years ago, and today it’s comedies for 6- (to) 11-year-olds.”

In the boys’ action space, toys remain the top source for material, with some inroads being made by video games, says Nicolas Atlan, co-CEO of France-based animation house Moonscoop.

Comicbooks also are popular, he says, though the pickings are limited to lesser-known and overseas characters by the top American publishers — Marvel and DC Comics, owned by Disney and Warner Bros. respectively.

Adaptations in the conservative preschool space remains dominated by books, which have the advantage of being accepted by parents but not being as overtly commercial as toys or other commercial properties.

Michael Dee, content director at U.K. -based Coolabi, cites the company’s new series “Poppy Cat,” based on a book series that has sold nearly 3 million copies.

“You know there are people out there who like it, and it’s much more effective selling to broadcasters and to distributors and eventually to your end consumer,” Dee says.

Suzanne Ryan, CEO of Australia’s SLR Prods., says she rarely has to describe the new preschool series she’s exec producing because it’s based on a beloved and widely known children’s book.

“As soon as you say I have this property called ‘Guess How Much I Love You,’ the reaction is always: ‘I love this book,’ ‘I read it to my son, my daughter,’ ” she says. “We don’t have to pitch it too hard.”

So far, the Internet and other digital platforms do not have much of a track record when it comes to creating kids properties that can cross over to TV hits.

“We’re in the nascent years of the Internet being the creative development laboratory for the broadcasters, but we’ve seen a couple,” says Taylor, citing “Fred,” which morphed from YouTube hit to Nickelodeon MOW, and music sensation Justin Bieber.

Despite the popularity of adaptations for children’s shows, there is still room for original programs — and advantages to taking the harder road.

Martin Baynton, who co-created the original series “The WotWots” with Weta’s Oscar-winning designer Richard Taylor for their company Pukeko Pictures, says the disadvantage of an original show is the need to effectively communicate the concept to buyers.

“The biggest disadvantage is nobody is familiar with it, so you have an inertia issue,” Baynton says. “With a very popular, well-known property there is no inertia issue. People will get it straight way; you don’t have to explain it.

The other side of that coin is, if it doesn’t work for that person because they don’t like the original form of that show or they’ve got questions, you’ve got to work out a way of explaining and selling the idea that it can travel to a completely new medium.”

Dee cites “Scarlett & Crimson,” an original Coolabi creation that appeared first as a greeting card design and since morphed into a U.K. cosmetics brand that is set to come soon to the U.S. It is being developed for a book series with potential for an eventual TV series.

“You have much greater control over what you’re doing in terms of the look we’ve created around it, but obviously it takes longer to get to market because you’re working twice as hard to get the message out,” he says.

Atlan says Moonscoop’s production slate is made up of about 40% original productions, such as “Chloe’s Closet” and “Code Lyoko.”

It is part of our business to look for new talent and new potential ideas,” he says.

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