PBS will add three series to children's service

Originally published in Current, July 8, 1996

PBS is supplementing its children's schedule with three new programs to be offered through its PBS Plus service, which distributes fully underwritten programs to stations. [In June, American Program Service also added The Reppies, another children's show.]

Two preschooler series, Tots TV and Theodore Tugboat have been offered to stations to air this fall. Producers of Wild TV, a nature program for older kids, are seeking underwriting for 13 episodes.

Tots TV is a popular British series featuring three puppets, one of whom speaks Spanish. Ragdoll Productions, which created the series, is revoicing the 8.45-minute episodes and producing additional material to deliver 41 half-hour programs.

Theodore Tugboat is a model animation series about a fleet of tugboats that aired on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC). Andrew Cochran Associates (Life on the Internet) is adapting 15-minute episodes to PBS standard program lengths by adding live-action material, according to Alice Cahn, PBS director of children's programming.

Wild TV may reach the air in spring 1998, according to Fred Kauffman, executive producer for WNET, New York. The series targets kids who are 10 and older with a hip look at the natural world. Producers are seeking National Science Foundation funding.

In addition, PBS Plus is offering a CBC parenting series to Ready to Learn stations. Spilled Milk adopts a "how-to" approach to parenting skills, according to Cahn. She predicted that the 26 episodes will be "entertaining for people, even if they aren't parents," just as Victory Garden is enjoyed by some nongardeners.



Half-reptile cast featured with music and messages

Originally published in Current, June 17, 1996

Boxes containing prototypes of a Reppie plush toy named "Bumba" arrived at public TV stations early this month, marking the beginning of a major marketing campaign to build carriage for The Reppies, a 26-episode children's series.

The show, independently funded through a limited-loss partnership between Northstar Productions and Treat Entertainment, already is airing on more than 40 stations. Brian McBride, marketing director, says 88 have agreed to pick up the show by September. He hopes to boost that number to around 150. The show is being distributed by the American Program Service, the second largest program distributor in public TV.

The frog-like plush toy, with bow legs, big toes and a pink tuft of hair, won't be appearing on retail shelves right away, McBride says. The company signed a licensing agreement for coloring books in April, and is working on a music deal. McBride hopes the Reppies' appearance at the licensing show in New York this month will generate a contract for plush toys, but there's nothing cooking right now.

"There's a huge risk of flooding the market with a lot of products before there's any demand for it," he says. "We want to take it slow and easy and judge the demand."

The Reppies are a band of five "manosaurs," a half-human, half-reptile, almost-extinct species awakened from oceanic hibernation in "rhythm eggs" because of global warming. They impart value-laden messages about the importance of recycling, respectful behavior and teamwork.

The television series is built around original music, which the Reppies perform and mime as a chart-topping band. "We really are producing the finest music," said McBride. "Kids really light up to it." This adds to the series' educational value, he says, because research shows that children learn more through repetitious melodies.

The Reppie's costumes give them varying degrees of mobility, and each has its own look and personality. Bumba, the toddler, asks simple questions that allow adult characters to explain basic concepts. Each episode has a dramatic story line with a lesson to teach. To ensure that viewers get the moral, Miss Summerhayes, a prim, English-nanny type, appears at just the right time to reinforce it.

With so many other children's programs in the market now, McBride says The Reppies already is "rising above the clutter" by identifying a new audience niche between preschool children and early readers. "Plus our great original music. Nobody is doing that, either."

Many people had a hand in developing the Reppies. Canadian animator Wendy Severin Harrison created the characters as a group of ecology-minded animals on a mission to enlighten earthlings about conservation. Executive Producers Patrick and Steven McGonigle are cofounders of Northstar Entertainment and developed the series concept. James "Smokey" Knudson is producer; his credits include projects for Disney and Universal Studios. Jay Mulvaney, a former programming executive for Nickelodeon, is creative consultant. The series educational consultants are John Murray of Kansas State University and UCLA's Gordon Berry.

The show is produced in Tampa, hometown of presenting station WEDU. In addition to the 26-episode first season, producers are developing a holiday special for stations' December pledge schedules, and taking the next 13 shows into development and early scripting.



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