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Sprout Plants ‘Fifi’ on Linear Channel

Dec 2, 2007  •  Post A Comment

PBS Kids Sprout, the cable home of such well-known preschool favorites as “Barney” and “Sesame Street,” has acquired the exclusive U.S. rights to a new show from the creator of “Bob the Builder.”
The acquisition of “Fifi and the Flowertots” marks a new phase for Sprout, the joint venture of Comcast, HIT Entertainment, PBS and Sesame Workshop that has until now programmed few shows it could call its own.
“It’s really important for a channel like us to have an exclusive show, something that’s never been seen in this country before,” said Andrew Beecham, senior VP of programming for Sprout. “It’s a big deal for us and we’re going to be making a big splash about it.”
Sprout launched as a video-on-demand service in April 2005, allowing parents to let their kids watch “Teletubbies” and other shows when they wanted to. Its linear channel, launched five months later, has grown quickly to 35 million subscribers.
Episodes of “Fifi,” which is targeted toward girls, will be available almost exclusively on the linear service beginning Jan. 14 as part of the Sunny Side Up morning block that launched in September. A few episodes will be offered as sneak peeks on-demand.
“We have to make sure that the people who are watching on VOD also sample the linear channel as well,” Mr. Beecham said. “We really feel that what we’re offering on the linear is something special.”
“Fifi” is one of the top preschool shows in the U.K., where it started running in May 2005. So far, 104 10-minute segments have been produced.
“I had a lot of mothers asking why don’t you do something for girls,” said “Fifi” creator Keith Chapman, who also created the boy-skewing “Bob the Builder.” Since he had only sons, he did research with friends who had daughters.
“I got them to write down some key words they wanted to see in the show. The word ‘pink’ seemed to be right at the top, which was quite amazing. And they wanted things like gardening, cooking, fashion and music,” he said.
Fifi is a forget-me-not who lives in Flowertot Garden with her friends. Those include boys, to bring in some wee male viewers.
“You can’t sell a specific girls idea into a broadcaster. They want to know that boys and girls will watch,” Mr. Chapman said.
The male characters are insects. “They’re the garden pests that create all the trouble,” he said.
Like “Bob the Builder,” “Fifi” uses stop-motion animation, a laborious process that requires the infinite patience of animators, but creates a three-dimensional image that looks real to kids.
“I think you can see that [“Bob” and “Fifi” are] from the same hand,” Mr. Chapman said.
The shows also share similar values. “She’s a friend to everyone and gets things done at the end of the day despite all the problems, so they kind of have similar upbeat, positive attitudes.”
“Fifi” encourages interactivity with its young viewers. At points in the show, Fifi and her friends look at the screen and ask questions for the viewers to answer by shouting back at the television.
“We look for interactive shows for that block,” Mr. Chapman said.
The show also has a Web site on which kids can play games, download pictures to color and get songs from the show. A U.S. version of the site is being developed.
“Fifi” is available in 164 territories worldwide and is distributed by HIT Entertainment.
Mr. Chapman’s production company has launched another kids’ show in the U.K. called “Roary the Racing Car,” which uses stop-motion and computer-generated animation to convey a sense of speed. Mr. Chapman said HIT is looking for a U.S. outlet for “Roary.”
Mr. Chapman also is working on ideas for older viewers, such as edgy comedies in a “South Park” vein.
“We’re not just staying with preschool,” he said.

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