First off, you can’t beat an event that comes with SWAG and Cat in the Hat swag to boot! So thanks in advance for the nifty activity books. I thought about doing this post all in rhyme. Then I thought about my sanity. But see if you can spot the random rhyming throughout!
WiCM’s first TV 360 event of the year was with the creators of PBS hit The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That. We sat down with Kate Klimo, VP, Director Creative Development at Random House Children’s Entertainment; Kerry Milliron, Random House Children’s Brand Management; Alice Jonaitis, Sr. Editor Books for Young Readers and Lynn Kestin Sessler Sr. Producer of New Media Marketing to find out how a classic children’s book becomes an educational television show.
To get this series started we have to go way back to when the world was graced with the wonderfully talented Ted Geisel aka Dr. Seuss. The doctor was always interested in making movies and TV shows. He approached NASA (yes – THE NASA) about writing rhyming non-fiction that would help kids be more science literate. Though the doctor passed away in 1991 before the books came to fruition Random House launched the series in 1998 helmed by writer Tish Rabe. Children’s television goddess Linda Simensky approached Random House about doing a Dr. Seuss show for PBS. Awesome! Magic. Done. Right? Nope.
The Dr. Seuss estate had to give the a-okay before a series could be created. The good news is they said all right and it would only cost a cool mil. The bad news is they were not willing to grant any merchandising rights. For those of you who produce shows for a living you know that in our world of low budgets and penny-pinching merchandising is key to getting a property off the ground. It seems that the estate was very upset with how Universal dealt with the Cat in the Hat and Grinch live action movies so they decided to pull the plug on further merchandising.
What on earth what on earth would they do?
Before it was started the project was through!
Then Random House acted and without fuss or derision
They started a children’s entertainment division!
That’s right, Random House decided to fund the show in the hopes that they could defray some of the cost with book sales. They wound up with a co-pro with iTV and Treehouse TV in Canada. There were certain advantages to having a show based on an already beloved property. Like, since they already had the books they were able to market the show upfront, 6 months before the official launch. And it worked! Book sales doubled when the show launched. On the web side, they were able to do a rework of seussville.com a month before the show launched and then with the show came the official PBS site (which was a KidScreen award finalist by the way, not too shabby). And now TCITHKALAT (sounds like a demon on Supernatural, doesn’t it?) is a big hit and the Random House Children’s Division is pitching many more new shows!
Random Aside*: In sharing materials with us we saw a glimpse of a marketing doc that called the show highly animated. Was anyone else there thinking this:
Lt. Kaffee: Would you say the show was animated?
Col. Jessep: Yes.
Lt. Kaffee: Highly animated?
Col. Jessep: Is there any other kind?
No? That’s what I thought.
Main takeaway: Where there’s a will there’s a way. All challenges lead to new opportunities. If not for the trials and tribulations of getting the Cat to the small screen, Random House might never have started their entertainment division.
The team believed in the show
and that was the thing they most needed to know.
Personal takeaway: The show could only get off the ground financially by doing the ever-popular Canadian co-pro. Dear United States: How about some tax incentives for your animated programs? Kids are people, too.
Inappropriate takeaway: Did you know termites use spit and dirt to build their houses? Three-bedroom apartment here I come!
*Random Aside is not affiliated with Random House or any of its employers or production partners and is the sole invention of Melinda LaRose’s addled brain.