Monday, February 13th, 2012

Cynopsis: Kids!

Good morning. It’s Monday, February 13, 2012, and this your first early morning briefing.

Answering a few of our questions this week is Carol Greenwald, Senior Executive Producer of Children’s Programming at WGBH.  Greenwald is co-creator and executive producer for the first eight seasons of hugely popular PBS series Arthur.  She also served as executive producer of Postcards from Buster also a PBS series, and Time Warp Trio, which ran on the Saturday morning Discovery Kids block on NBC. Greenwald partnered with Universal to launch Curious George, based on H. A. and Margret Rey’s classic books. Greenwald is the executive producer of Martha Speaks, based on Susan Meddaugh’s book series. Greenwald also helped to develop kid-targeted programs including Between the Lions and Peep and the Big Wide World. She was one of the original creators of Long Ago & Far Away, and additionally held several other roles on that series, including project director, series editor and producer. Prior to her tenure at WGBH, Greenwald was a freelance producer on radio projects, documentary films, and multimedia efforts.

You have helped bring many popular books to television. What is the most exciting and/or challenging part of adapting an already popular or beloved property and character to another format?

The initial development process on these projects is just about the most fun we get to have. On the television side, we have had the opportunity to work with terrific writers and artists who really understand how to stay true to the vision of the original books but at the same time expand the world so that it is comprehensive enough to build it into a media property.

When we do have the opportunity to collaborate with the authors and illustrators (like Marc Brown and Susan Meddaugh), the creative sparks fly. Susan insisted, for example, that Martha had to always, always act and think like a dog and never cross the line into human behavior. That was a great guideline to start with.

In the case of Curious George, we had to dig deeply into the books for clues about how to create his world. Joe Fallon, who was the head writer for the first several seasons of that series, scrutinized every page of the original books. He noticed, for example, that the Reys (Hans and Margret, the author/Illustrators of those books) clearly had a fondness for dachshunds because there was one who kept showing up in the illustrations as a background character. That inspired him to create the character of Hundley, who has become one of my favorite characters.

One of the missions of Martha Speaks is to help kids develop their vocabulary. What comes first, creating a storyline and then selecting a word within the arc of that episode to support that theme, or the other way around? Is there a full curriculum built around each episode?

The goal of Martha Speaks is to support the development of oral vocabulary for kids. So it’s not about decoding, or phonics, but about making sure kids get introduced to the words they need to know to succeed and become literate.

Educational research is pretty definitive that there is a strong correlation between kids who enter school with a good stock of vocabulary and their success in school, all the way up through high school. And that makes sense because as you transition from learning to read to reading to learn, even if you have the best phonics and decoding skills in the world, you’re going to have problems if you keep bumping into words that you have never heard. So Martha Speaks is chock full of vocabulary, and we aren’t afraid to include words that are challenging because we know kids actually really love to have those kinds of words roll off their tongues!

As to what comes first  the words or the story — it goes both ways. In some cases, writers will pitch us a story and then we will work with our advisor, Dr. Rebecca Silverman, to come up with a group of vocabulary words that works within the story. But we’ve also done it the other way  Rebecca will tell us that kids really need more support on directional words or science words and we’ll go back to the writers and ask them to dream up a fun story that incorporates those words.

Jon Hamm and Jennifer Westfeldt will appear with their dog Cora in the season four premiere of Martha Speaks on February 20. How did this episode come about and what was it like working with them?

Ken Scarborough, head writer for Martha Speaks (who also had that role on Arthur and is currently on Curious George) and his wife, Raye Lankford (who also writes for all three shows) were on an elevator with their dog, Ruby, in New York and bumped into Jon Hamm and Jennifer Westfeldt. Jennifer started petting Ruby and mentioned how much she was missing Cora who lives on the West Coast. Raye and Ken immediately realized that this was the basis of a great Martha story and suggested that we could make Cora a guest star on Martha. They reported the conversation to us and we jumped on it. And when they said yes, we were thrilled.

It has been reported that Marc Brown, who wrote the Arthur books, was originally reluctant to turn his eight-year-old aardvark into a TV character. What changed his mind?

I know that Marc had already turned down many very attractive offers to turn Arthur into a TV series when I first approached him in 1994. But I think what resonated with him was the idea that we could use Arthur as a vehicle to motivate kids to read. Some new research had just come out from Action for Children’s Television which showed that kids were more likely to read books if they saw them adapted into a TV show. And that once they connected to reading the books they saw on TV, there was a real opportunity to get them to continue reading. So we took our cue from that research and, with Marc’s enthusiastic support, designed Arthur as a series that would motivate reading. In fact, at the time, Arthur had no last name and we decided that we might as well just be right out there and call him Arthur Read.

Arthur lives in Elwood City, home of the Elwood City Grebes baseball franchise. How is the team doing?

Sadly, the Grebes still haven’t been able to get a winning season going. But, as we in Boston know only too well, there’s always next year!

You’ve been developing shows for more than two decades. How has digital media changed the way you approach a project.

In 1997, a guy named Howard Cutler, who was one of the people at WGBH thinking about what this new technology meant for public media, told me that we should get ahead of the curve and develop a web site for Arthur. Frankly, I was pretty skeptical but when we rolled out our first, very simple prototype several months later and started getting about 1000 emails a week, I realized he was right.

Now, of course, we look at everything we do across every possible platform. Our Martha Speaks app (Martha Speaks Dog Party) has been incredibly effective at teaching kids vocabulary and Arthur’s Facebook page has nearly 825,000 fans. We view ourselves as content providers, and our goal is to be able to deliver this content to kids wherever they might be and to figure out how we can best take advantage of all of the affordances each platform offers.

You also have the premiere of two new episodes of Postcards from Buster airing February 18 and 25. Where is Buster traveling and how can families learn about these countries?

Buster travels to Chennai, in India and to Santiago and its environs in Chile. Of course these two places couldn’t be more different, which is part of what makes these two programs so great. In India, Buster learns a lot about how important extended family is to the culture. In Chile, he’s impressed by the adventurous spirits of the kids he meets.

What was your favorite book when you were growing up? Do the characters from that book (or series) still live in your head as you create your projects?

My mother was an English teacher, so I caught the reading bug early on and spent a lot of time (probably too much!) reading things like The Little House books, Nancy Drew, and the Chronicles of Narnia, to name a few. But where my mother really influenced me was to encourage me to start reading the classics at a very young age, from Greek myths to Dickens, from The Call of the Wild to Jane Eyre. Those books have staying power  I still go back and re-read them now. What I think all that reading did for me was teach me what makes a good story, and that is probably the thing that’s most important to me as I work on these shows.

Can you tell us about what is new on your current development slate?

Without getting too specific, there are two projects I’m very excited about. I’m developing a new book based project  which, of course, is something I love to do, and I’ve also been working on another project in collaboration with Angela Santamero from Out of the Blue. It’s been great fun for me to be able to learn from her unique approach to getting kids to interact with their TV sets!

There are those in Congress who continually target cutting funds to public TV and radio stations and programs provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. What do you say to lawmakers who advocate those cuts?

The small amount of money that the federal government invests in public broadcasting creates amazing resources for all kids. The programming is free, easily accessible and proven to help children learn. There’s plenty of research to support this, for example the research we did on Martha Speaks ( that demonstrated how the show and the iPhone app, as I mentioned above, had a significant impact on increasing vocabulary for kids who watched the show and played with the app.


SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment dives deeper into the world of kid and family programming content by entering into a TV deal with Litton Entertainment.  Under the deal, SeaWorld’s new animal-centric family TV series will air as part of Litton’s Saturday morning programming block on ABC in the US. Stay tuned for further details on the project. Scott Helmstedter is the Chief Creative Officer of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro have launched a new franchise entitled Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters. Targeted to kids and families, Kaijudo is a multiplatform entertainment property featuring an online game, trading card game (TCG), and a television series produced by Hasbro Studios and will air in the US on The Hub. Based on the Duel Masters TCG, extremely popular in Japan with boys 8-12 over the last 10 years, Kaijudo ( follows a young hero, Ray, who has the ability to befriend and duel alongside creatures from a parallel dimension.  Ray must master the ancient art of Kaijudo to protect both worlds. Wizards of the Coast is a subsidiary of Hasbro.

Canada’s Smiley Guy Studios teams with UK-based Whole Hog Creations (Skatoony) to develop the new crime solving mixed live-action and animated game show, What a Croc! (26×30). The series follows three real life kids on a adventure where they seek out the “whodunit” while concealed inside the famous detective, Croc Monsieur.


Ruckus Media Group and Sinking Ship Entertainment enter into a digital partnership that grants Ruckus the worldwide English language rights to develop interactive Dino Dan e-books, enhanced e-books, interactive storybooks and story-based applications for kids 4-8. The CGI animated Dino Dan TV series is designed to teach kids about dinosaurs and how to use scientific methods to identify and solve everyday problems. The new Ruckus digital storybooks aim to expand kids’ knowledge of dinosaurs and develop their scientific thinking and problem-solving skills as they build their literacy skills. The first three Dino Dan storybooks will be available for mobile devices in April 2012.

Warner Bros. Consumer Products (WBCP) names The Bridge Direct as the master toy licensee for the iconic Looney Tunes and the new animated TV series, The Looney Tunes Show. Under the deal, The Bridge Direct will develop a comprehensive collection of products based on the Looney Tunes characters including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester, Tweety, Taz and Road Runner, among others. The multi-category product line will include plush, figures, figure playsets, vehicles, and role-play items, and will be available at retail in fall 2012. The Bridge will debut the new Looney Tunes toy line at the American International Toy Fair this week in NYC.

TCG (f/k/a The Canadian Group) launches its new worldwide tween boy-targeted ROXX game property this week at American International Toy Fair in NYC. TCG teams with Imperial Toy to launch the ROXX brand in the US for summer 2012. A competitive skill game, ROXX includes collectible game pieces featuring art in different themes, including skate, hip hop, grunge, humor, super heroes, action figures and others.  Rooted in the old school New York City and Philadelphia street game, “Skullies,” ROXX is all about collecting, trading and playing to win through two levels of play.  Freestyle play features open-ended, easy-to-learn games using only the ROXX Pieces, while Trixx play utilizes launchers, play sets and other accessories to enhance game experience. There is also an online component for ROXX game play via Helping to add to the collectability portion of ROXX, the game will feature numbered proprietary and licensed designs for each series. Licensed assortments to include, Marvel Super Heroes, Spiderman, Avengers and more worldwide, with TCG also launching the NHL in Canada later this year.  Each package will feature an Official ROXX Nation seal, and similarly limited editions will be verifiable and authenticated. In addition, ROXX pack will include Collectible Game Play Cards and a Collector Series Checklist.

V&S Entertainment, producer of the HD CGI animated preschool series Everything’s Rosie, partners with John Toys for a line of Everything’s Rosie playballs featuring characters from the CBeebies series. A variety of the playballs of different sizes will debut at UK retailers this spring 2012. A third season of the show is currently in production and will air in the UK this year.

Bart Simpson gets a fashion makeover by fashion designer Jeremy Scott, under a licensing deal with Fox Consumer Products.  Scott is featuring his limited edition Bart Simpson Collection this week as part of New York Fashion Week. Known for some outrageous creations, Scott has designed for the likes of Madonna, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga. The 500th episode of Matt Groening’s The Simpsons, ok, sure it’s not really for kids but 500 episodes is huge, will premiere on Sunday, February 19, at 8p on Fox.


Universal Partnerships & Licensing (UP&L) teams with Stonyfield‘s, an organic yogurt maker, newly launched YoKids Greek brand in a promotion to support the release of Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment‘s new 3D CG feature film Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax with an online campaign featuring the environmental message of the animated adventure. Additionally, a Lorax-themed game, coupons, and a sweepstakes will be featured on the new YoKids ( The new YoKids Greek yogurt, the first organic Greek yogurt specially created for kids, is available in two flavors, raspberry and strawberry, and contains extra protein that kids need. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax opens nationwide on March 2, 2012.


Cartoon Network picks up a fourth season of its animated series Regular Show.  Currently in production, the new season will debut later this year. Additionally, the network will air a special Valentine’s Day episode of Regular Show, entitled Butt Dial, tonight, Monday, February 13, at 8p.  The love-themed episode features a big moment for Mordecai, the six-foot-tall blue jay star, and his crush Margaret, when he accidentally leaves an embarrassing voicemail on her phone saying exactly how he really feels.

In other news, Cartoon Network, Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment will launch the hour-long, kid-targeted DC Nation programming block on Saturday, March 3, at 10a. Anchored by Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Young Justice, DC Nation will also feature animated specials and shorts based on DC Comics characters, including some that have never been seen before. Characters such as Plastic Man and Doom Patrol will get the star treatment right along with Wonder Woman and Teen Titans. These projects will be produced the help of several well-known animation companies and designers, including Aardman Studios (Arthur Christmas, Wallace and Gromit), and the direction and character designs of Lauren Faust (The Powerpuff Girls, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic). Other animated content will include animated interstitials, exclusive behind-the-scenes looks at theatrical motion pictures and an insider look into the world of all things DC Comics.

The BBC’s preschool channel CBeebies for Latin America and the US Hispanic communities will celebrate Valentine’s Day with friendship-themed episodes of the series Grande y Pequeno, Finley el Camioncito de Bomberos, Ave y Tres and Zigby. The Valentine’s Day Special will air tomorrow, Tuesday, February 14, 10a-8p.

Phase 4 Films acquires the US and Canadian rights to director Nick Moore’s family comedy Horrid Henry: The Movie from UK-based sales agent Protagonist Pictures. Based on the popular Horrid Henry kid’s books by Francesca Simon, the movie stars Theo Stevenson, Anjelica Huston and Richard E. Grant. Rupert Preston and Lucinda Whiteley served as producers on the project, with Allan Niblo and Mike Watts executive producing. The film is a Vertigo Films/Novel Entertainment co-production. Phase 4 is tentatively planning a day-and-date theatrical and VOD release for the film, which has already grossed USD $10.5 million at the UK box office. Phase 4 will release the film under its kids and family label, kaboom! Entertainment.

eOne Family inks a deal with Lagardere Active to air the animated preschool series Peppa Pig on its free terrestrial kid-centric network Gulli in France. Beginning this month Peppa Pig will air daily at 7:30a on Gulli, and will also be available on the on demand service Gulli Replay. Peppa Pig also continues to air on Lagardere Active’s preschool cable channel TiJi, which has just acquired the fifth season of the series.

Distribution360 signs a TV deal for marblemedia‘s kid/tween-targeted game show Splatalot (26×30) with Disney XD Eastern and Central Europe, Middle East and Africa.  Under the deal, Disney XD acquires the UK version of Splatalot, hosted by comic duo Dick and Dom, and will debut in spring 2012 in 100+ countries in Easter and Central Europe, Middle East and Africa.


Weekend Box Office Estimates for kids/tweens/teens rated G, PG or PG-13; February 10-12, 2012:
The Vow (Sony) PG-13                                                      Opening Weekend $41.7m
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (Warner Bros.) PG                Opening Weekend $27.6m
Star Wars: Episode I  The Phantom Menace 3D (Fox) PG          Opening Weekend $23.0m
Chronicle (2012) (Fox) PG-13                                              $12.3m-2 wk total $40.2m
The Woman in Black (CBS) PG-13                                        $10.3m-2 wk total $35.5m
Big Miracle (Universal) PG                                                   $3.9m-2 wk total $13.2m
Red Tails (Fox) PG-13                                                        $2.4m-4 wk total $45.1m
One For The Money (Lionsgate) PG-13                                  $2.3m-3 wk total $23.7m
The Artist (Weinstein) PG-13                                              $2.3m-12 wk total $24.0m
Hugo (Paramount) PG                                                        $1.8m-12 wk total $64.5m
Source: Rentrak (


On the heels of Lionsgate’s acquisition of Summit Entertainment, the company names Summit’s Erik Feig as President/Production, Lionsgate Motion Picture Group. Feig will report to Lionsgate Motion Picture Group Co-Chairmen Rob Friedman and Patrick Wachsberger. In his new position, Feig will oversee all development and production of films from both the Lionsgate and Summit labels. He will also work closely with Jason Constantine, President of Acquisitions and Co-Productions for Lionsgate, on co-productions and acquisitions intended for theatrical release. Feig most recently served as President/Worldwide Production and Acquisitions at Summit overseeing all of Summit’s in-house productions, co-productions and acquisitions, as well as its involvement with films of its client companies. The films and franchises developed and produced under Feig include Red, Knowing, Source Code, Letters To Juliet, and the movies in The Twilight Saga franchise. Films developed, produced, or acquired by Feig include; The Hurt Locker, 50/50, and A Better Life. He also served as an executive producer and a producer on Summit’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith, In the Valley Of Elah, and the Step Up movies. Prior to Summit, Feig packaged and produced the I Know What You Did Last Summer movies, and produced the teen-targeted comedy Slackers. He also had an overall producing deal with Artisan Entertainment, a Summit client at the time.


Cynopsis: Kids! 2011 Year In Review eBook
*** Now available for purchase ***

Compiled by Cynopsis: Kids! Editor, Gwen Billings, it’s a great reference guide and must read for anyone who is new to the Kids industry, and a valuable reference for seasoned professionals as well. The eBook is easy to navigate and can be utilized as a search catalog of the production, development, licensing, and marketing deals covered in Cynopsis: Kids! 2011 daily editions.

  Visit the webpage to view a preview and download today!

Answer to Yesterday’s Trivia Question: On Little House on the Prairie, what was the original name for the school teacher? Miss Beatle. Russ Camlet-NBCU/NY.

Today’s Trivia Question: What two new characters are introduced to the Winnie the Pooh gang in My Friends Tigger & Pooh? (Email [email protected] with your answer and be sure to include your name, company, city and time zone. Unofficial rules: Only the second four correct answers from each time zone will be mentioned; and once you’ve been mentioned in any of the Cynopsis editions, you can’t be mentioned again that calendar week.)

Later — Gwen
Gwen Billings for Cynopsis Kids!

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