When FremantleMedia Enterprises introduces an entertainment property, it has the potential to change the landscape of television programming worldwide.
That's exactly what FME has done over the last ten years. One of the world's largest creators, producers and distributors of entertainment, FME has delivered award-winning programming that includes "American Idol" and "The X Factor."
Now the company is focused on a new category: kids and family. Founded in 2009, the FME children's and family entertainment division has developed original shows that are about to hit TV screens worldwide.
"As part of our business plan and strategy, we have consciously gone out to cover the four major sectors of children's and family entertainment: kids' comedy, boys' action-adventure, preschool and tween," says Sander Schwartz, executive vice president of children's programming and family entertainment at FME. "We intentionally come to market with a balanced portfolio. To be the leading supplier of kids' content, we must hit every segment of the market. We have been working diligently to find the best show in each sector."
The first season of FME children's programming is rolling out this year, and the properties that have been chosen to represent each category are impressive.
In kids' comedy, FME is presenting two unique shows. Schwartz considers the brand new show "Strange Hill High" FME's strongest entry in the comedic genre. The stop-motion, CG-animated puppet comedy for children aged 6-11 is co-produced by FME, CBBC and Chapman Entertainment, in association with Factory Transmedia.
The half-hour comedy follows a team of three students who investigate all of the bizarre and other worldly mysteries that happen at Strange Hill High, an all but forgotten inner-city school. Creative talents associated with the show include U.K. puppet makers Mackinnon & Saunders and lead writer Josh Weinstein from "The Simpsons" and "Futurama."
"The licensing potential for this show is particularly strong," says Schwartz.
FME will manage worldwide distribution for the series (excluding the U.K.), as well as brand licensing and home entertainment rights. Key licensing categories include vinyl toys, gaming, mobile, online and live events.
Also launching for FME Kids is "The Aquabats" which Schwartz describes as "The Monkees" meets "The Banana Splits." Band leader Christian Jacobs, one of the co-creators of the popular kids series "Yo Gabba Gabba!," also stars in this quirky, imaginative music-based show targeted to children aged 6-11. The live action, sometimes animated adventures of a real-life alternative rock band will come to life on Hasbro's The Hub network this fall.
"It's very unique, fresh and different," says Schwartz.
FME's boys' action property "Monsuno" is already exercising its licensing potential. The property grew out of internal development in the offices of toy maker Jakks Pacific, according to Schwartz, who then brought in Dentsu Entertainment and FME.
"'Monsuno' is traditional 2D animation that blends Western storytelling with Japanese animation," says Schwartz. "The style is anime, but the story is very Western."
Jakks Pacific's toy line for the property is targeted to boys ages 6-11, and should hit shelves to support the U.S. series premiere next spring. The property has already signed two international toy partners: The Giochi Preziosi Group for Europe and Hunter Products for Australia. In addition, Topps has signed on to develop trading cards and confectioneries for the property.
FME's preschool offering "Tree Fu Tom" is another completely unique property that's more than just entertainment. The show itself can be used as a form of movement therapy, helping children grow up healthy and strong.
"If kids do not form basic motor skills, they will not learn to crawl at the right time, which means they will not learn to walk at the right time," says Bob Higgins, senior vice president of children's programming and family entertainment at FME. "This can lead to a condition called 'dyspraxia' which affects children's attention and learning abilities."
In an effort to help children develop these motor skills, FME and CBeebies In House Productions designed the multi-platform action animation series.
"'Tree Fu Tom' encourages kids to get up off couch to cast magical spells, which are a series of very specific movements," says Higgins. "Through the repetition of the movements, kids develop the fine motor skills that they will need over their entire lifetime."
True to its word, FME is delivering high-quality tween content as well. In fact, FME inked a distribution deal with Disney Channel at this year's MIPTV for Fresh TV's adventure comedy "My Babysitter's A Vampire."
In the vein of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the Twilight saga, this show allows early tweens to enjoy what older teens and adults are watching right now.
"'My Babysitter's A Vampire' is the first show we've taken to market since the division was established in 2009, and we are very pleased with its success," says Schwartz.
FME has acquired another tween show from Fresh TV titled "Really Me." It's a fictional format about a 15-year-old who wins a contest to star in a reality television show.
"Really Me" has already premiered in Canada, and FME plans to bring Fresh TV's latest format to the rest of the world.
"When FremantleMedia Enterprises finds great producing partners, we tend to stick with them," says Higgins. "We think Fresh TV is at the top of their game."
Even though this show-stopping roster of programming is hitting screens this year, the children and family programming team at FME aren't just resting on their laurels. They are continually scouring the globe for talent and content they can develop and distribute.
Last June, FME partnered with Australia Zoo and Terri, Bindi and Robert Irwin to develop new opportunities and original content across multiple platforms. The deal covers a wealth of material including all existing footage of the Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin and its brand, Bindi Irwin's past and future media projects, Robert Irwin's past and future media projects and the intellectual property of the Australia Zoo.
"We're developing both fiction and non-fiction content," says Schwartz. "Some of the shows are non-fiction, some are challenge shows, some animated and some scripted. Over the next year we will see which will rise to the top as the best brand extensions for our company and for Australia Zoo."
In October, FME entered into a co-production deal with Sticky Pictures to develop a TV series starring Bindi Irwin, star of Free Willy: Escape from Pirate's Cove and daughter of the late Steve Irwin. The programming that comes out of FME's agreement with Australia Zoo is certain to be innovative and unlike anything they've brought to the marketplace yet.
"If you go into the marketplace more heavily weighted in any sector, you start to cannibalize yourself," Schwartz says. "If you launch more than three properties in the same segment in one year, you won't be able to maximize value of the individual properties. Having a mixed portfolio enables us to be in all the segments, including the one that's hot."
By delivering highest-quality entertainment in every category, Schwartz explains, FME lets clients know that they are a dependable content provider. In fact, Schwartz is determined to establish FME as the world's pre-eminent independent provider in the kids and family space.