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Keith Chapman: Bob creator starts building

PawPatrolHERO2Bob the Builder creator Keith Chapman is back on the kids TV scene with new Nickelodeon series Paw Patrol. He tells Jesse Whittock about his latest projects, the importance of a US partner and why his former firm, Chapman Entertainment, went under last year.

“I’m back now doing what I did with Bob when I sold it to HIT,” says Keith Chapman of his latest series Paw Patrol. His new venture, Keith Chapman Productions, is working on the show with Spin Master Entertainment and Nickelodeon.

Chapman has been developing on his latest slate of ideas since his former company, Chapman Entertainment, went into administration at the end of last year and Paw Patrol is the first fruit of that creative burst.

The Chapman Entertainment business model was for Chapman (and former business partners Greg Lynn and Andrew Haydon) to finance its shows in order to own the IP, whereas Paw Patrol is put together in the same way as Bob the Builder. The model for that show saw the rights  sold to HIT Entertainment in exchange for a cut of the copyright, a deal that was he says “hugely beneficial to us both”. This time, Spin Master has bought the IP, and licensed TV and ancillary rights to Nick’s stablemate Viacom International Media Networks.

The animated CGI preschooler Paw Patrol follows six heroic rescue dogs led by a tech-savvy young boy that work together to solve problems in their community, Adventure Bay.

“I’ve known the Spinmaster guys for a long time and have wanted to work with them – it was just the case of finding the right project,” says Chapman of the show’s genesis. “I knew they were looking for a boys action show so I pitched Paw Patrol. They loved it and they’re so innovative there [that they thought they could make it work]. They’ve got a great relationship with Cyma [Zarghami, Nickelodeon president] and the team at Nick, delivered an amazing pitch in New York and got the commission.”

Keith ChapmanThe series is boys action but has potential to connect with girls as well. Canadian production house Guru Studios, where the animation was created, has “paid real attention to detail, making the dogs look fantastic”, and that design creates co-viewing potential, says Chapman.

The show launched on Nick in the US on August 12 and has scored well, outperforming another dog-themed series, its lead-in Bubble Guppies, and taking more than two million viewers in its daytime 12pm slot. It launched in Canada on TVO on September goes out on international Nick networks this autumn.

Viacom International Media Networks debuted the show at MIPCOM, where it was a key preschool priority. For an indie producer, this support can be the difference between sinking or swimming, says Chapman, who is a Brit with a lot of experience of working with US partners.

“It’s becoming more and more expensive to produce a show, and then there can be pressure to find another £4 million (US$6.4 million) for another fifty two episode if you’re successful. The BBC might only put in £700,000, so where’s the rest of the money coming from? Unless your toys and books are selling, you’ve got to have a buzz around it or investors give up. That’s where the American machine comes in.”

Emphasising the power of that machine, Nick launched a video poster for the show in Times Square over the summer and created a partnership with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “It’s great to have that muscle behind it. To have a global hit you’ve somehow got to have America involved.” In the future territories such as China will become more important too, Chapman notes, but for now, the US is key.

Camp YetiThe model at Chapman Entertainment was “totally different”, says Chapman. “We owned the IP and would have done well if those brands had gone on, but we overstepped the mark, overstretched on production, got into trouble and went in administration in the back end of 2012,” he recalls.

Chapman Entertainment series including Fifi and the Flowertots (below) grew into strong brands without a Big Three US broadcaster attached, but ultimately the numbers didn’t add up. DreamWorks Classics bought the brands at auction this summer, but Chapman is looking forward.

“We made 325 episodes of top quality animation representing £25 million of production in Britain through British studios; those shows will always be around – Fifi, for example, has never moved from its primetime slot, not once. But I’ve moved on and it’s all about the exciting new projects now.”

Camp Yeti (above) is another of these new concepts. Co-developed with Manchester’s Studio Liddell, the 52x11mins series is set in a world Chapman describes as “an original new world that would be the most exciting place in the world for a child to go to” comprising rollercoasters, river rapids and tree top walkways. It follows three fun-loving young yetis that spend their days playing and taking part in outdoor activities.

“Preschoolers are lacking a bit of confidence these days so we wanted to build a show that include fulfilment and that allows them to express themselves with a bit of freedom,” says Chapman. “The brief was to create a show that has Pixar quality CG fur on a children’s TV budget. That was the challenge and we’ve managed it.” A major coproduction partner has been secured for further development and the plan is for it to hit TV screens toward the end of 2015.

Chapman has nothing but praise for the new UK animation tax credit scheme, which will likely help the project. “The industry has almost climbed Everest to get them, and we’ll use them for Yeti. Quite a few companies have benefited already [from the scheme]; it helps the industry and creates jobs for animation students coming out of university.”

Another project is Marzi Mars, a series following a Martian boy and his friends that come to Earth to explore and find answers to their questions. Chapman is developing the 52x11mins stop-frame show with another Manchester studio, Phil Chalk’s Factory Transmedia.

Fifi-and-the-Flowertots_1Chapman is also working on a puppet series he describes as “Fawlty Towers meets The Muppets”, along with Northern Ireland’s South Sixteen Television. That project brings Chapman and his former director of production and development at Chapman Entertainment Emily Whinnet back together, as she joined South Sixteen as head of development earlier this year.

“I met [South Sixteen owner] Colin Williams and got on well with him,” Chapman says of the unnamed show’s conception. “We’ve got a similar a similar advertising mindset.” Chapman worked in the advertising industry after leaving an earlier role as a product designer at Jim Henson International before getting Bob away, while Williams ran a creative agency before launching South Sixteen in 2008.

Taking a commercial approach to a children’s TV show is now vital to the funding model, says Chapman, a view mirrored by his former Chapman cohort Lynn, who launched his new series, Airside Andy, at MIPTV in April.

“Done properly, L&M should not compromise the creativity of a show,” says Chapman. “The toy industry employs thousands of talented and creative people and the process they go through is just as creative as [creating and making] the show itself. If kids buy a toy, it enhances the relationship with the characters they see on screen. With a company like Viacom attached, the machine will move your project into different areas.”