talked to Patricia de Wilde, senior vice president, Zodiak Kids Consumer Products, Paris, and David Michel, managing director, Marathon Media, about just what makes "Totally Spies" such a pioneering show, poised for major international success.
"Totally Spies" can be described as a traditional action-comedy featuring female heroines with a Japanese anime aesthetic. It's broadcast on Cartoon Network in the U.S., but is commissioned and produced in France. A French show masquerading as an American action-comedy is unusual enough now, and it was certainly pioneering 12 years ago when Vincent Chalvon Demersay and Michel formed Marathon Media.
"The backdrop was the emergence of girl acts like Britney Spears
," says Michel. "We looked at the market to see what was trending and where the gaps were. It was very obvious, as it still is today, that there was a gap for a girl-led show like this."
France was one of the few territories in the world exposed to Japanese anime and there were many precedents of successful female-led shows in Japan.
"We thought, 'let's blend
with James Bond and see what comes out,'" adds Michel.
French broadcaster TF1 commissioned the first (and all subsequent) seasons of "Totally Spies," and the show has aired in France every day since, with top performing credentials in all its other territories worldwide. One million children watch the show in France each week. There have been five seasons of "Totally Spies" and one film to date.
"Totally Spies" charts the adventures of Clover, Alex and Sam, three Beverly Hills college students who become, against their will, spies for the international WHOOP organization. The characters are equipped with state-of-the-art gadgets and are whisked away at any moment to save the world, while still managing homework and busy social lives.
According to de Wilde, "Totally Spies" has always had a presence, particularly in France where it still ranks among TF1's top five shows. Consumer products include 29 chapter books with Hachette, 15 comic book albums and a magazine that is still published in France, the Nordic region, Poland and the Middle East, says de Wilde. The brand has also had at least one QSR promotion in France each year since launch, and three multi-territory deals with McDonald's. Early toy ranges were challenged by a string of timing and broadcast issues–Cartoon Network's content strategy shifted heavily to target boys, for example, and when the show stopped airing in the U.S., it left the toy range without vital support. Successes for the property included the role play category and a console game done in conjunction with Ubisoft, says de Wilde.
The international re-launch of "Totally Spies" will begin once the new season has launched in France. There will be new style guides, and as soon as there is an indication of international TV launch schedules, de Wilde's team will start re-introducing the brand.
"Publishing will be important, particularly illustrated books to start with, to help us re-establish the brand. A toy consultant is helping us move towards a new toy deal, very much with the U.S. market in mind," says de Wilde.
Zodiak Kids Consumer Products, Paris, will work with a network of local agents to represent the brand, as it did before. Social media and online components of the new "Totally Spies" content and brand strategy will be important and will build on new media projects the company has been testing in the last few years, including a popular "Totally Spies" social media game in France. Zodiak Kids will also target the 20-somethings with a capsule fashion collection in its strongest markets.
"Totally Spies" endures because, says Michel, its characters are powerful and "defeat baddies, but do it in a feminine way." The show also appeals jointly to boys and girls, with a consistent 50/50 gender split around the world. Girls watch it for the comedy and the girl factors, while boys love the James Bond-style story lines and gadgets.
After time spent working on boys' action series "Gormiti" and "Redakai," de Wilde says it's good to be talking about "Totally Spies" again.
"The girls are back and the team here is very pleased," says de Wilde. "We always hoped there would be additional seasons of 'Totally Spies,' so the production of season six is no surprise. These spies can have a busy day saving the world and still worry about their boyfriend. Since 'Charlie's Angels,' there has been nothing like it. If one show deserves to live on, it's this one."
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