Saban Brands plots Christmas special

Paul Frank characters cornerstone to new smallscreen endeavors

Saban Brands is poised to launch a TV franchise built upon characters from the Paul Frank brand, starting with a December 2012 Christmas special that has begun pre-production and will mark the smallscreen debut for the characters.

Mike Reiss (“The Simpsons,” “Ice Age: Continental Drift”) and Erik Wiese and Cynthia True (“The Mighty B!”) will produce the project under the supervision of Saban Brands production and development head Brian Casentini.

“Mike (has) a tremendous eye for how animated content can be brought to a broad audience through smart writing,” Saban Brands prexy Elie Dekel told Variety, “and Erik and Cynthia are yet another A-level talent who understands the quirkiness and unique voice that can be achieved. It’s a tremendous collection of talent that is experienced with comedic and broad appeal animation.”

The initial special will feature Paul Frank character Julius the Monkey’s efforts to make sure his friends have their best holiday ever, while showing one the true meaning of Christmas. Saban sees it as the prelude to more holiday specs — Easter and Halloween are envisioned for 2013 — as well as a possible series down the road.”The richness of what we’re developing has legs, shall we say,” Dekel said. “And we’ve been working with our team to make sure that in our early development we’re keeping that in mind.”

Saban Brands was formed last year with an eye on assembling a portfolio of consumer brands that would yield content media, licensing and retail opportunities. The company then acquired Paul Frank Industries, which joined the Power Rangers brand (the former Saban mainstay that was reacquired from Disney) as Saban Brands’ initial two properties.

“(Paul Frank) fit our criteria of what we’re looking for in this business strategy,” said Dekel, who reunited with Haim Saban to launch Saban Brands after having previously teamed with Saban for 13 years. “It was an authentic brand, literally started in the garage of its founder 16 years ago, and has grown to be globally recognized. We see it very much as a fashion and pop culture-relevant brand.”

Nickelodeon, which has been airing the rebooted “Power Rangers: Samurai” series, may seem a natural outlet for the Paul Frank specials, but Dekel isn’t ruling out broadcast networks.”Nick is a tremendous partner for us on ‘Power Rangers,’ ” Dekel said. “We certainly will be talking to them about all of these plans. We also see this as not intended for (only) a kids audience. We see this very much playing as a perennial like the ‘Charlie Brown,’ ‘Rudolph’ and ‘Frosty’ specials — those tend to air on broadcast networks.”

The Paul Frank characters have been in animated Web shorts dating back to 2000.

“What started humbly in my garage in the mid ’90s is now in the hands of the entertainment industry’s finest,” said Paul Frank chief creative officer Ryan Heuser. “It’s incredibly exciting for me to see our cast of characters brought to life for the world to enjoy.”

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