Monday, October 09, 2006

Pity the Children

The following press release turned up in my email this morning. For those of you not familiar with the attitudes it expresses, this is how animation and entertainment are routinely discussed within the industry. For me, this release is a summary of everything that's wrong with children's television. It's imitative, it's opportunistic and it reduces childhood to a financial transaction.

Cannes wakes up to Slumber Party
DIC Entertainment marked its 25th anniversary in Cannes last night and introduced the international market to its The Slumber Party Girls (SPG) brand, which will debut on DIC's CBS block in fall 2007. Chairman and chief executive Andy Heyward told C21 about the company's latest development project: a dinosaur-based property from Sega.

DIC Entertainment entered a critical phase just weeks ago as it began its five-year deal with CBS Network to supply content for a three-hour Saturday morning kids block called The Secret Slumber Party, with AOL's kids service KOL. In addition, DIC reaches its 25th anniversary this month and the two milestones were celebrated in style in Cannes last night at the Carlton Hotel, with speeches from Andy Heyward and consultant Robby London, with live performances from teenyboppers The Slumber Party Girls.

"When you get involved with The Slumber Party Girls you're not just buying a series," Heyward said. "We've been shooting these girls from the day they auditioned and their record comes out on the 24th of this month. There's a toy deal already in place, but I can't announce who with. We also have a publishing deal. There are videos and movies included and the 26-episode sitcom in the fall. We'll be doing a big push at the toy fair and announcing everything there."

DIC has teamed up with Christina Aguilera and Black Eyes Peas founder Ron Fair from Geffen Records to create SPG, a group who sing, dance and act and have been likened to The Spice Girls.

In addition to its classic properties such as Strawberry Shortcake, Inspector Gadget and Madeline, DIC has brought three new productions to market: Cake, Horseland and Dance Revolution, all of which are being made in batches of 26 episodes. Cake is a live-action drama centering on a 13-year-old girl who hosts a cable access show with her two best friends. Rather like a young Martha Stewart, Cake shows her audience how to make ordinary, everyday items look interesting with a little imagination. "Her motto is 'You can't buy individuality, but you can make it.' It's designed to give children confidence and help build their self-esteem," said Heyward.

The other two shows are both based on concepts that exist in other spheres. Horseland is a 2D/CGI series based on the online community of the same name, while Dance Revolution is based on the eponymous video game and is intended to encourage young viewers to try out different dance styles. Both Cake and Dance Revolution are produced by the team at Brookwell McNamara (That's So Raven, Even Stevens). Other new key properties include Secret Millionaires Club, a direct-to-DVD animated series.

The shows have been airing for around three weeks on CBS's new Slumber Party block. Heyward admits it started a little slow, but the block is occupying a space previously occupied by Nick Junior, which was aimed a preschoolers, so it is a little early to pass a verdict.

In June, DIC tied up with AOL's kids service to develop online and on-air copro initiatives in conjunction with CBS's block, now called KOL's Saturday Morning Secret Slumber Party on CBS, and Heyward told C21 last night that one of the first development projects is Dinosaur Kings from Sega. "It's based on these electronic cards that you put in video games and the game comes to life with the dinosaurs on them," he said. "Of course we're looking to take the property to TV and a number of other platforms."

Meanwhile, Malcolm Bird, senior VP and general manager of AOL Kids and Teens, told C21 he and Heyward were also in discussions about taking KOL's latest original property Scary Fairies, which it is launching at market, to the CBS block. "It will probably be 26x11' episodes and we'll probably get another animation house that will partner on that side of the business," he said. "We think Fairies has the potential to be a huge global brand."

Following DIC's listing on the London stock exchange, Heyward said the company was cautiously looking at further European acquisitions in the new media space.

8 comments:

Craig D said...

I need a shower to wash the stink off me from reading this article. Special mention to these phrases:

"DIC Entertainment... introduced the international market to its The Slumber Party Girls (SPG) brand."

(What..? BRAND?!?!? Let's enjoy the DaVinci brand of paintings, too, while we're at it.)

"...the company's latest development project: a dinosaur-based property from Sega"

(Again? When do we get shows based on cell phone ring tones?)

"Cake is a live-action drama centering on a 13-year-old girl who ... shows her audience how to make ordinary, everyday items look interesting with a little imagination. "Her motto is 'You can't buy individuality, but you can make it.' It's designed to give children confidence and help build their self-esteem," said Heyward."

(I'll bet there'll be an avalanche of "CAKE" brand crap to BUY for the target audience! You can't buy indivuality - but you can sell it!)

"The shows have been airing for around three weeks on CBS's new Slumber Party block. Heyward admits it started a little slow, but the block is occupying a space previously occupied by Nick Junior, which was aimed a preschoolers, so it is a little early to pass a verdict."

(Geez, I actually liked some of those shows. They were nice and gentle and suitable for my pre-schooler daughter. The hell with the tots - the 'tweens are where the money's at! BRATZ RULE!!! Oh, and screw little boys who might want to watch something on CBS.)

Of course the above is simply a visceral reaction from a non-industry goof-ball on the internet. Thanks for sharing, Larry. Well, I gotta hit the showers.

Craig D said...

Larry?!?!? I meant "MARK!" As in Mayerson! (I zoned out and thought I was on Larry Tremblay's blog...)

David Gerstein said...

I'm convinced that there's an entire class of animated/children's TV product that one might term "marketer-friendly." These programs are the B movies of our world: they'll never make a big splash, but they're formulaic and cliched enough that one marketer can always convince another marketer that they'll go over big.
Of course, neither party has actually bothered to watch the programs (you know, that kids' stuff is beneath them).
And of course, when actually aired, the programs never make a really big hit. They do well enough to survive, that's all. They're trend-followers, not leaders.
But by then long-term contracts have been signed and all the involved parties have moved on, their jobs secure.
DIC and the former Saban strike me as most likely to create these "marketer-friendly" shows. It was a marvelous coup for this kind of thinking when DIC successfully locked CBS into a multi-year contract.
Of course, it was also a crying shame, not least for CBS' bottom line. Now they're stuck.

David Gerstein said...

Another point I forgot to add—
"Marketer-friendly" shows are often targeted at only one gender, and absolutely filthy with frankly sexist clichés.
"Marketer-friendly" girls' shows drip with tea parties, slumber parties, ponies, and fashion shows.
"Marketer-friendly" boys' shows tend to feature commando forces out to battle evil, albeit as preachily as possible.
Not surprisingly, it's just these kinds of girls' shows that Kim Possible tromped in the ratings, and these kinds of boys' shows that Tom and Jerry Tales is beating now. Could it be that real kids aren't interested in being patronized? Or that a series with actual crossover appeal might be the best way to go?

Mark Mayerson said...

David, I agree with you completely. These projects are not created, they're assembled. The producers simply pull items off a list of previously successful show attributes and combine them into something "new." Their sales pitch is exactly that the elements are proven successes. Broadcasters who don't care anything for the programming they air are reassured by the careful "thought" that's gone into the shows and sign on.

As failure is omnipresent in TV, broadcasters are more interested in justifying why they bought a failure than in taking a chance on an untested idea. DIC and CBS deserve each other but the audience deserves neither. Hopefully, they'll vote with their remotes.

Steve Schnier said...

"...broadcasters are more interested in justifying why they bought a failure than in taking a chance on an untested idea."

BINGO! That's it in a nutshell. Broadcasters want bulletproof programming. When a show fails, "it wasn't my fault - it looked like a hit."

Craig D said...

Check out THIS blog entry.

QUOTE: "...Risks are "risky" for a reason, and in the long run, it's better to have 5% of a sure thing than 100% of something that may or may not pay off. Right?"

Sadly, the above-quoted piece is meant as satire, but kind of isn't...

NARTHAX said...

Lest we forget the evergreen words of the late genius Bill Scott:

"It always amazes me that the very people who built a (children's television) ghetto are surprised to find themselves living in it!"