A Two-Way Game
SEx-college basketballers bring authenticity to benchwarmer daydreams in Comedy Central’s new animated series By Tom McLean.
itting on the bench may not fulfill the dreams of most college basketball players, but former UCLA teammates Josiah Johnson and Quinn Hawking turned that experience into the basis for the animated series Legends of Chamberlain Heights.
Premiering Sept. 14 on Comedy Central immediately after South Park, Legends of Chamberlain Heights on The Simpsons, and Clements, now an executive with Comedy Central, had created the short-lived MTV animated series Good Vibes and were working on a project for James. While Hawking and Johnson were not the right match for that particular project, Ableson says he saw something vital in the duo’s work.
“It made us laugh, and they talked like real kids and we said we should make a cartoon with these guys,” says Ableson. “We made a five minute little short, went to Comedy Central, pushed play, and they pretty much bought it in the room. They said, this is weird and we don’t understand it, but it makes us laugh so go make a season.”
The show brought on additional talent with a wide range of experience. Showrunner Devon Shepard has credits as a writer and producer that range from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Wayans Bros. through Weeds, the Crash TV series and House of Lies. Executive producer and voice actor Carl Jones worked on the animated series Boondocks and Black Dynamite. The animation is being produced at Bento Box, with a simple look designed by Ableson. “I wouldn’t say it’s like South Park, but it’s got that simplicity,” he says. “The designs are just a mishmash of the way I draw and my childhood influences like from MAD Magazine, like Sergio Aragones and Don Martin. ... The style is so purposely simple that their voices are a perfect match.”
The comedy is irreverent and character driven, with social and pop culture commentary sprinkled in as it fits, says Ableson. “It’s really the perspective of millennials, the way we are now,” he says. “Instant success, instant gratification, instant opportunity — everything is instant with this generation and with these three guys they want instant success and instant legendary status. And how they go about it gets them into a lot of trouble, but it gives us a lot of opportunities to explore certain social, political and pop culture issues — whatever’s out there.” Hawking and Johnson are involved in the writing, and voice main characters — flipping things around a bit. “I actually voice Milk, who’s the white character in the show,” says Johnson, who is black, while Hawking voices a short black character with a big afro hairdo and a high voice. “It gives us a lot of room to be a little raunchy, kind of toe the line a little bit, but always keep it grounded.”
And so far it seems to be working — Comedy Central announced before the show’s premiere that it has ordered up a second season of the show.
“We must be doing something right,” says Ableson. [
Henson mixes digital puppetry and animation to grand educational effect for its MIP Junior World Premiere series By Tom McLean.
Making its world premiere screening at MIP Junior 2016, preschool show Splash and Bubbles has an origin that makes it unlikely to have been made by any company except The Jim Henson Company.
“At the Henson Company, when a puppeteer brings a project to you, it’s very Henson-y,” says Halle Stanford, executive VP of children’s entertainment.
The puppeteer in question is John Tartaglia, who as a teenager started performing Muppets for Sesame Street and since has gone on to create shows such as Johnny and the Sprites. Among Tartaglia’s projects was ImaginOcean, an educational puppet show about ocean habitats that had been performed for kids on cruise ships, and he asked Henson if they thought it could be a TV show.
“We said, ‘Absolutely,’” says Stanford. “There was a lot of excitement about the show in terms of where it came from but also where we could push it in terms of the animation.”
The show features the two titular fish: Splash is a yellow fusilier fish who has migrat- ed all over the ocean before settling down in Reeftown, and Bubbles is a Mandarin dragonet with a colorful personality. In each of the 80 x 11 min. episodes, the pair and their friends Ripples and Puff explore the world’s undersea habitats and celebrate its diversity and importance to the planet’s ecosystem.
“I feel like we really deliver on the awe of the ocean,” Stanford says.
The show uses the Emmy-winning Henson Digital Puppetry Studio, a proprietary technology used on shows such as Sid the Science Kid that allows puppeteers to perform digitally animated characters in real-time, enabling the animation to be more lifelike and spontaneous.
“A puppet for kids feels much more intimate,” says Stanford. “There’s a feeling for kids that these are friends that are real, and we seem to have the same effect with our HDPS characters.”
Tartaglia performs Splash in the series, with Leslie Carrara-Rudolph of Abby Cadabby fame as Bubbles.
Henson is collaborating on the show with Herschend Enterprises, a family-owned attrac- tions corporation that manages events and experiences such as the Harlem Globetrotters, Dollywood and a number of major aquariums, water parks and hotels. The company was looking to get into entertainment media and its aquaria and similar philosophies to Henson made working with them on Splash a perfect collaboration, Stanford says.
Herschend is fully involved in the creative end and leveraging its assets to help promote Splash and Bubbles at its parks and aquariums, she says.
Slated to air in the United States on PBS Kids! starting Nov. 23, the MIP Junior screening will be the first chance for international broadcasters to see the finished product.
Stanford says Henson is confident the show — which many broadcasters have been tracking the progress of since it was first announced — will find an international audience.
“It’s been a unique process to work with the digital puppetry team and also doing key frame animation and melding the two,” says Stanford. [
Produced By: HappyUp Animation Studios [KOCCA Stand] Format: 26 x 3 minutes Target Audience: Infants 0-3 Type of Animation: 2D Cut-Out Synopsis: In this music-driven series for the youngest viewers, each episode comprises a sweet, gentle-hearted fairy tale story. Set on the beautiful Rainbow Island, the series highlights themes of family love, friendship and appreciating nature as it follows main characters Comi the teddy bear and baby Bebe on their journey of development. Selling Points: Newly formed in 2015, HappyUp makes its MIP debut with the first of its original series designed to “happy up” the lives of children. The show’s musicbased short format makes it an easy fit for international broadcasters, while the illustrative 2D animation will appeal to children and their adult guardians. www.happyupstudio.com Produced By: JAM Media [P-1.A84] Inspired By: Alan Shannon’s Badly Drawn Roy (2006) & Roy series Format: 52 x 14 Target Audience: Preschool Type of Animation: Live-Action/2D Hybrid Synopsis: Roy O’Brien is like any other fiveyear-old Irish boy, except for one crucial difference: he’s a cartoon living in the live-action world! When his cartoon abilities and enthusiasm cause a problem, Little Roy escapes into his animated imagination to find a solution. He takes on the persona of “Wonder Roy,” and with his sidekick, Finn, he plays out his predicament of the day, finds a solution and applies it to the real world, although it doesn’t always go to plan. Selling Points: JAM’s BAFTA-winning preschool series, Roy (in turn inspired by Alan Shannon’s IFTA-nominated short film), creating a built-in audience for the new show — evidenced by its presales across the continent. With operations in both Ireland and the U.K., JAM is one of the leading creators and producers of multi-award-winning animated and live-action kids’ content. Delivery Date: Spring 2017 Broadcasters: Commissioned by CBeebies & CBBC (U.K.); RTE (Ireland), ABC (Australia), NRK (Norway), SVT (Sweden), DR (Denmark), YLE (Finland), VRT (Belgium), HOP TV (Israel) www.jammedia.com Produced By: [P-1.B2] Based On: Genius Brands International Book series by Anna Dewdney Format: 15 x half-hours; available in 20 languages Target Audience: Preschool Type of Animation: 2D Synopsis: This storybook adaptation focuses on the innocent joys of childhood moments and adventures, as well as the special connections between the lead character, Llama, his parents, grandparents and best friends. Llama Llama tells heart-warming stories of life in a safe, friendly town seen through the eyes of Llama as he interacts with the amazing world around him. Selling Points: Dewdney’s Llama Llama books have all been New York Times bestsellers, with several titles reaching the No. 1 spot. The animated adaption boasts a stellar creative team, including
Oscar-winning director Rob Minkoff ( The Lion King), director Saul Blinkoff ( Doc McStuffins), Emmy-winning writer Joe Purdy ( Arthur), celebratd Disney art director Ruben Aquino ( Frozen) and Emmy-award winning producers Jane Startz and Andy Heyward. GBI also is rolling out a global licensing program to coincide with the series launch. Delivery Date: 2017 Broadcaster: Netflix www.gnusbrands.com Produced By: 2 Minutes, NDR (broadcaster), APC Kids (distributor) [P-1.L60] Created By: Nob Format: 52 x 11 Target Audience: Kids Type of Animation: 2D Synopsis: Set in the 1930s, the show follows 9-year-old Nanette as she moves from the city to a small village, experiencing life in the countryside for the first time. Kind and cheerful, Nanette is open-minded about meeting people, taking advantage of her new surroundings to try her hand at becoming a specialist goat-milker, professional carrot-lifter, expert woodland adventurer and experienced hut-builder. Selling Points: Memories of Nanette promises to capture the adventurous optimism of childhood with its young heroine. The series is being directed by comic-book creator, Nob, who also writes with Sébastien Tiquet ( The Fridge). Delivery Date: Broadcasters: zerland) www.aboutpremiumcontent.com Produced By: DHX Media [R7.A11] Created By: Jeff Rosen Format: 13 x 30 Target Audience: Preschool Type of Animation: 3D Synopsis: Space Ranger Roger is a brave little alien sent to explore a strange, faraway world: Earth! Each day, Roger scans the surface of our small blue planet from his home base, the Friend Ship. If he picks up a distress signal from an Earth creature, he and his team of rambunctious Ranger Bots gear up to help. Though his alien point of view and the bots’ enthusiasm often lead to more trouble, Roger’s determined spirit and creative thinking will save the day. Commissioned just ahead of MIP-TV earlier this year, Space Ranger Roger is yet another highly pedigreed kids’ series from DHX, thanks to creator Jeff Rosen ( Animal Mechanicals, Bo on the Go, The Mighty Jungle, Monster Math Squad). Broadcasters: (Canada) www.dhxmedia.com Produced By: Lupus Films, Walker Productions; distributed by Union Media Based On: Book by Michael Rosen and illustrator Helen Oxenbury Format: 1 x 30 special Target Audience: Family Type of Animation: Hand-drawn 2D Synopsis: Siblings Stan, Katie, Rosie, Max the baby, and Rufus the dog decide one day to go on an adventure in search of bears. Coming up against a host of obstacles, the family ventures through whirling snowstorms, thick oozing mud and dark forests on their ambitious quest. But when Rosie and Rufus become detached from the rest of the party, it looks like bear-hunting might not be such fun after all. Selling Points: From the producers of the widely applauded The Snowman and The Snowdog, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt promises to become another animated holiday classic. The special features the voices of Olivia Colman ( Broadchurch), Pam Ferris ( Call the Midwife) and Mark Williams ( Harry Potter). Global appeal is promised by the success of the multimillion-selling picture book, which is published in 23 languages including Chinese, Russian and Maori. Delivery Date: Holiday 2016 Broadcasters: Channel 4 (U.K.), ABC (Australia), SVT (Sweden), NRK (Norway), Canal+ (France), YLE (Finland) www.lupusfilms.com [
GO-N Productions co-founder and producer Eric Garnet is pretty sure the world will love the new preschool comedy show Simon — based on the book series by Stephanie Blake — as much as he and his crew do.
“Children immediately connect with Simon because he dares to say what children think but don’t dare to express in everyday life,” says Garnet. “He’s very intense sometimes and always full of energy, and in most of his stories he’s learning something, but not in a cheesy way.”
Buyers will get their first look at the little rabbit at MIP Junior, where GO-N will show a couple episodes of the 52 x 5 mins. show, which is co-produced by France Télévisions. The series is now in production in-house at GO-N, with a premiere on France 5 at Christmas. The full series will be completed by spring.
Blake started drawing Simon about 10 years ago and the book — published by l’École des loisirs — was an instant hit and spawned a successful series that has sold more than 3 million copies in France. Simon also has been published in some 20 countries and is popular in Italy, Scandinavia and Japan, Garnet says.
“When we approached her a few years back it was the last preschool property that was very famous in France that had not been adapted,” Garnet says. “It’s very iconic, because Simon the little rabbit is a very realistic character.”
Garnet describes the character as cute, intense and always learning from everyday life. “For example, when his parents say, ‘ Simon, you’re going to go school,’ he doesn’t want to go to school,” he says. “Then, after a few discussions, he’s going to school and then he realizes it’s fun to be at school meeting new friends and doing new stuff. When his parents come back at the end of the day, he has learned his lesson and he is telling them, ‘I don’t want to go home.’”
Keeping the look of the books’ simple art style was very important, Garnet says. The show is being produced using Flash in-house in Paris to have close supervision of the look and control of the writing process. Garnet says Blake is very collaborative and helped find stories to tell with the character beyond those she’s told in the books.
For animation, the environment Simon lives in had to be created in Blake’s style because the books have few backgrounds.
New policies at the CNC benefitted the production and allowed it to stay entirely in France. While the extra support and tax credits helped offset the extra expense of labor and overhead in Paris, having the production in-house allowed GO-N to focus on keeping the quality of the animation high. “We also save a lot of time in retakes and everything, doing it in house,” he says.
The series has made a few presales — to Télé-Québec in Canada and YLE in Finland, for example — which had an immediate impact, Garnet says. “We saw there was a lot of interest but we wanted to make sure we had the right partner in each country,” he says.
The buzz for the show began at Annecy, when a bus was wrapped with imagery from Simon, with France Télévisions planning more promotions leading up to the December debut.
“If we handle it well and carefully, we have a chance to do something nice, a real international hit,” Garnet says. [
France’s Millimages turns 25 with strong sales for its established shows and plenty of promise for new ones being pitched at MIP Junior and Cartoon Forum.
TTricon Kids & Family’s push into animation pays dividends with a strong slate of shows coming to Cannes. By Tom McLean.
ricon Kids & Family is a relative newcomer to the animation business, having in 2014 hired industry veteran Frank Saperstein to lead the Toronto-based company into the world of toons. Only two years later, Tricon has developed a solid slate of animated projects for children and a track record of success it expects buyers at MIP Junior and MIPCOM will take a shine to.
The company’s top-performing toon is Counterfeit Cat, a Canada-U.K. co-production with Bristol-based Wildseed Studios; Atomic Cartoons in Vancouver does the animation. With half of season one delivered and the rest on schedule for spring delivery, Counterfeit Cat has done well on Disney XD in the U.K., where it rivals a Marvel program for the net’s top-performing series; and in the U.S., where it ranked in the net’s top 10 shows in its initial June run, which is slated to repeat in September.
It’s also aired in English in Singapore and is coming to Canada’s Teletoon in November.
“Everything is geared toward finishing up season one and pushing toward season two,” says Saperstein. “We are looking at potentially building out a larger platform and potentially looking at licensing and merchandising and other buildable elements from the series as we’re moving forward.”
Tricon also has partnered with Corus on Go Away, Unicorn!, a girls-skewing animated series for Disney Channel in the U.S. Developed with Mercury Filmworks, the show is in the focus-group testing process and Tricon is working out production plans for the show. Saperstein says it may be a full Canadian production, but the company also is exploring a co-production with an E.U.-based studio, possibly in Ireland.
On the boys’ side of things, the company is in a similar spot with the animated comedy My Big Red Head. Tricon is working with Lupus Films out of London and it is going through focus groups and production planning processes, he says.
Going in a digital direction, Tricon also has Me, Myself and My Selfie, a 104 x 2 min. nonverbal digital short series. The company has partnered with Savoir FER and Reaz on the project, for which financing is being assembled from broadcasters and digital platforms in North America and France.
“We’re looking at much more of a digital play,” Saperstein says. “There will be some traditional broadcast partners, potentially, but we’re just looking at different ways of putting it together and how we would monetize it. ... The show is basically developed and ready to go, once we know who we’re catering it to.”
Additionally, Tricon is distributing a Singa- pore-Canada co-production called Shutterbugs, produced by Amberwood, Big Jump and Infinite Frameworks and airing in Canada this fall.
Saperstein says the success of animation at Tricon is a testament to the overall company, which was founded in 2000 as an independent producer and distributor.
“Tricon offered a great existing infrastructure,” he says. “If we do one or two really strong shows a year or two shows every three years — not that I’d turn away other work — that’s what we want to do, and we want to make them well, like we believe we’ve done with Counterfeit Cat, by picking the right partners and properties.” [