An Oscar nomination and a successful 2008 children’s series couldn’t help Ireland-based Cartoon Saloon sell its new kids show “Puffin Rock,” but that didn’t dissuade the animation studio from continuing to work on the idea.
“We didn’t want all that great artwork we’d done to go to waste, or all the storylines, so we made a picture book,” says Cartoon Saloon co-founder/CEO Paul Young. The company, which was nominated for 2009’s “The Secret of Kells,” printed 1,000 books, but never released them. Penguin Children’s saw a copy and expressed interest. “They got involved because they wanted to publish the picture book. We became partners over the entire brand of ‘Puffin Rock,’ and they invested in the TV series as well.”
Richard Haines, London-based acquisitions/new business manager, Penguin Children’s, says the fact that Penguin has a Puffin imprint was a happy coincidence. “It really didn’t have a bearing on us taking the show — it just happens to have puffin in the title and puffins as characters. We fell in love with the characters, the world, the potential storylines, and the look and feel of it.”
Young’s experience underscores how much today’s studios and broadcasters value built-in audiences for child-friendly fare. David Michel, founder/CEO of Cottonwood Media, says the trend isn’t exclusive to the U.S.
“In Europe, (children’s) book adaptations are hot because they’re safe,” says Michel, based in France.
“Producers option rights to classic (children’s) books — 20-, 30-, 40-, 50-year-old properties. In the U.S., they’re taking bets on stories that are very fresh, recent publishing successes.”
Some networks still buy kids shows that are not based on books, but many broadcasters hesitate to invest in untested concepts and characters.
“Good children’s books take more risks than most TV properties,” Michel says. “(That’s because) there’s a lower investment in books.”
Michel typically works on original properties, but loved two titles so much — Diane Kredensor’s “Ollie and Moon” and “Squish” by Jennifer and Matthew Holm — that he secured rights as soon as they were available.
“They’re taking risks I might not have taken with an original property.”
“ ‘Ollie & Moon’ is a preschool show with very naïve looking characters (set) against realistic backgrounds, which is very different. The art direction for ‘Squish’ is flat, black, green and white, and it’s amazing. It’s fun, and it’s something you’ve never seen on television before. Would I have done an original show with a three-color palette? Absolutely not. I would’ve been too scared. But the book exists. It’s sold over a quarter of a million books.”
Most copies of Cartoon Saloon’s self-published “Puffin Rock” still sit in packing crates. But seeing one book was enough to convince Penguin it could squeeze in more alongside its other shows based on classic book series, such as “Peter Rabbit,” “The Snowmen” and “Topsy and Tim.”
“If you look at what makes great TV and what makes great books, there are a lot of similarities,” says Haines.
Michel expects even more children’s books to be adapted once Amazon and Netflix get into the game. “Especially with Amazon, I think there’s a strong interest when people can stream a show and then buy the book.”