Up to date information about children’s entertainment – film, TV, DVD and more…. from founder and president of KIDS FIRST! Ranny Levy

Archive for January, 2008

iTunes Offers Movie Rentals

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Starting Jan. 15, consumers may to rent movies through iTunes. Hello digital delivery! Thanks to Richard Bullwinkle, chief evangelist for Macrovision, this technology is rushing into your living room. Apple’s weight in the industry doesn’t hurt either. And, the studios are not going to make the same mistakes that the music industry did by trying to hold back the floodgates. All the major studios have jumped on the bandwagon and more than one thousand films are expected to be offered on iTunes by the end of February. Of course, Apple TV has garnered a corner of all this as well. According to CEO Steve Jobs, “Movie lovers can rent DVD-quality or stunning HD movies from their couch with just a click of a button. No more driving to the video store or waiting for DVDs to arrive in the mail.”

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment announced yesterday that new DVDs will include a digital copy of the movie for use on iTunes. The first release with a digital copy will be “Family Guy Presents: Blue Harvest.” Next up is “Hitman,” which will be released on March 11. Fox says all future two-disc special-edition DVD releases will include the digital copy, which can be moved around to multiple devices, including iPods, after loading to iTunes. Jim Gianopulos, chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, commented: “One of the most requested features DVD buyers have been asking for is the ability to get the movies they bought into their iTunes library.” To access the digital copy, DVD owners need to enter a unique code into iTunes while the DVD is in their computer, and iTunes automatically copies the movie to their library. The code is only good for one use, preventing the digital copy from being shared on more than one computer.

And the beat goes on…

Happy 20th Birthday Barney

Monday, January 14th, 2008

Barney celebrates his 20th birthday this month as one of the most successful shows in children’s television. The show, aimed at preschoolers, features the title anthropomorphic character Barney, a purple dinosaur who conveys learning through song and dance with a friendly and upbeat attitude. Barney was created in 1987 by Sheryl Leach and Kathy Parker both of whom I met years ago just before their successful launch into public television. They had created a series of home videos, Barney and the Backyard Gang, starring Sandy Duncan in the first three shows. It wasn’t until the series was launched on Public Broadcasting Service as “Barney & Friends” in 1992 that Barney hit the big time – becoming phenomenally successful, not just on television but in licensed products as well. Today, Barney & Friends is now shown worldwide – from Latin America to Africa. The Spanish language version is called “Barney y Sus Amigos.”

Barney & Friends was the first TV show to use the word edutainment to describe itself. Blending entertainment with an educational focus, it strives to address a preschooler’s cognitive, social, emotional and physical needs. Most importantly, Barney is known for his unconditional love he offers to his friends, both on-screen and off. Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing none other than Barney himself. Here is what he shared:
RL. I wish to extend my best birthday wishes to you, Barney on your your 20th birthday. You have become quite the TV star, haven’t you. How are you going to celebrate this birthday?

B. (Chuckling) Thank you Ranny. My friends and I arecelebrating by taking a big purple bus tour to travel all across thecountry, visiting Children’s Miracle Network hospitals and Toys R Usstores. We’re going to 20 cities altogether and we’re half way done,with ten more still to go. It’s really wonderful because we get to seeour friends at the hospitals. If we can, we’ll do a show or visit thekids in their rooms. Our next appearance will be at the Big Apple Circus in Stone Mountain Park, Atlanta, Georgia on Friday February 8.

RL. I remember meeting Sheryl Leach years ago when she first introduced you to the world. How has your live changed in the last 20 years.

B. Not really that much. I have lots of new friends. But, one thing I’ve found out is that every generation is pretty much the same – everyone likes to have friends.

RL What have been the highlights of your last 20 years? What is your favorite thing?

B. Every time I get a hug – that’s my favorite thing.

RL. PBS has been a great home for your TV show. To what do you attribute your success?
B. By success, do you mean that I have lots of friends and I am loved and can be loved? I think success is also doing what you do best – because everyone can be themselves. That’s what I do. We’ve had lots of good friends on the show who have talent such as dancing and singing and we like to show them doing those things. But mostly, we just like to get together, have fun and, along the way learn other things like counting and singing.

RL. There are so many cycles and trends that influence entertainment. Something that’s hot one year is old the next. How do you deal with that?

B. You know about Riff, right? BJ and Baby Bop’s cousin. He’s with us now and he loves music. He’s in our anniversary show. He makes music out of different things, like the wind blowing through the rain or on the rooftop. And, of course imagination is a very special thing and we use that to visit lots of different places like India.

RL. You’re not just on television, you have live road shows, an internet site, I think you have downloadable programming. how do you keep up with it all. How many people are involved in helping you do what you do?

B. I really don’t know much about that. I pretty much have fun with my friends and have a lot of people around me using their imagination to make things happen.

RL. You are such an upbeat personality. What advice do you have for young people today, some of whom might have some tough things to deal with. How can someone keep such a positive attitude towards life like you do?

B. You know the reason I have a positive attitude is because I know I am so loved. If each child could remember how much they are loved, they would be happy.

RL. So, there you have it, friends: Remember how much you are loved and it will make you happy. From a Dinosaurs’s lips to your ears . . .

Wilbur Moms – Who’s Behind the Show?

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

If you have not discovered “Wilbur” on Discovery Kids, you’re missing something. “WILBUR” is designed to help preschoolers develop early reading skills by increasing their print recognition, their oral vocabulary and their listening comprehension. It shows actual text onscreen which helps kids learn that print on a page symbolizes words, that these words tell a story and that the pictures shown represent what the words say. In each episode, Wilbur (the animated calf star)and his barnyard buddies find themselves in a new situation or dilemma that is solved by searching for solutions in books. Unlike other literacy-based children’s shows, “Wilbur” demonstrates concepts such as reading from left to right across the page and from top to bottom. Wilbur also points out how you turn the page to read the next page and points to the words with his hoof as he reads so you child may read along.

Kudos to the show’s creators, Jill Luedtke, Kim Anton and Tracey Hornbuckle – three San Diego are moms who recognized the need to develop early literacy skills in young children from their own experiences with their kids and were driven to venture into the world of television production – no small feat. Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting with Jill, Kim and Tracey an asked them about their experience and their success. Here’s part of our conversation.

RL: Congratulations on the success of your series, “Wilbur.” I’d like to talk with you more about your show that aired in December, “The Wright Stuff/The Broken Toy” which celebrates the Wright brother’s first flight at KittyHawk. Is this show based on a particular book or story? Why did you choose this?

JKT: Every “Wilbur” episode is based around a particular situation and how to solve the problem. In this one, the issue is “how to fly.” This book is about the Wright Brothers and Wilbur and Dasha represent the brothers. The story also addresses the idea of not giving up and persevering. It is not based on a particular book – all the books we create for “Wilbur” are fictional and it’s our dream that they will be released in book format sometime in the near future. They’re all written in rhyming cadence and beautifully illustrated.

RL: The three of you developed this show which now airs on Discovery Kids. Tell me about your backgrounds. I have read that you’re three moms. Are you educators? Librarians? What is your professional background? What possessed you to develop a TV show? That’s no small feat.

JKT: We have varied backgrounds. Kim has a degree in marketing. She worked in the financial industry for a major bank and had nothing to do with kids’ TV except that at the time we started this except that she had three daughters ages eight, four and one. Tracey worked in advertising and sales. She worked for The New Yorker Magazine selling advertising. This, in the long run helped us to persevere. Jill is an attorney. She didn’t know anything about the children’s business. She helped us to “not be afraid” and to be ready to meet with anyone at any time. One funny thing is that a lot of people would meet with us because they weren’t intimidated by us. After all, we were just three moms with no experience. Then, we hooked up with Andrea Blain, our publicist, about ten years ago and she go us amazing press for our original series of three video titles. What got us into a lot of the children’s entertainment offices was the press that we generated through Andrea’s efforts. I think they asked, “how did these moms get this press?” Jill is an amazing researcher and she took on researching the literacy side of the show. That led us to establishing a relationship with a lot of academics. We think of Jill now as our “preschool teacher” because of all the research she has done. The joy of working with Discovery Kids is that they “got” our vision and allowed us to be involved in every aspect of the series. We feel Discovery Kids is a perfect home for “Wilbur” because Ready Set Learn is commercial free and sponsor free. As we went through the journey, we said “no” to a number of potential partners because we didn’t think they understood our vision. Our lawyer thought we were crazy but, it’s turned out well.

RL. Discovery Kids has a great online site that describes the educational goals of “Wilbur” which I’m going to recommend to our readers. Tell me, do you think the program has been successful? How you gauge the program’s success.

JKT: A lot of people contact us through our website and we have yet to get a negative comment! They tell us that their two- or four-year-old loves it and carries books around the house. Discovery Kids tells us that with “Wilbur” in the Ready-Set-Learn block, they’re seeing an increase in viewership. It also airs in Canada on CBS, and in Latin America in Spanish and Portugese. Our biggest cheerleader is Amy Sprecker who we met prior to signing with Discovery Kids. She and Erin Wanner are executive producers. Marjorie Kaplan, who’s in charge of Discovery Kids and is the executive in charge of production is amazing and bought into it right away.

RL: Tell me more about your future plans are for “Wilbur.” Are the three of you, either together or separately working on any new shows? Is there anything you can tell us to look for?

JKT: Yes, we are planning “Wilbur’s” second season. In February, Discovery Kids (distributed by Genius Products) is coming out with a compilation DVD that will have “Wilbur” included with other titles. We have some other things in the works but it’s too early to talk about. The one thing that is certain is that whatever we do will promote literacy. We feel that we just got a little bit of a breather; we just finished the first 26 episodes in the summer then jumped into the PR and publicity.

RL. What advice would you give to producers who are yearning to pitch a show to Discovery Kids or any network? What did you and your team find out that you wish you had known before you started?

JKT: We’ve been asked this before. We attribute our success to the four G’s – a Great idea, Girlfriends, Guts and God. Faith in God helped us through a lot of it. We did a lot of research such as watching the credits at the end of all the preschool shows on TV. Then, we’d try to contact them. There was a common thread. We would read a KidScreen Magazine and see that Nelvana had three of the top four shows listed. Then, we say, let’s go talk with Nelvana. And, we would. Every time we met with someone, such as the creators of Barney, we’d always ask them if there was anyone else they would recommend. People who we talked with ten years ago are in great places now. If you are passionate about your idea – you can find a way. A lot our “no’s” made us assess our idea and we learned to stay true. We would try to analyze and take little bits of wisdom from every meeting and go forward. If you don’t have the money yourself, finding an added value partner who can do the production and can fund it themselves can be a huge help. Raising the money is the single hardest thing. We’re glad we didn’t know when we started that it would take ten years. Sometimes you don’t need to know how hard the work is or you wouldn’t even start it. When you look at contracts and all the legal stuff you need – it’s just so hard. We got a great entertainment attorney early on. That helped us a lot. David Mitchell, the creator of Jay Jay gave us that advice when we asked him, in hindsight, what was important.

The players are so big because it’s all about the bottom line. But, like Don Quixote, you have to focus and persevere. We haven’t tapped into it yet, but I believe there are ways to build a business like this on the internet. But, if you want to participate in the broadcast world, then you have to play their game. The Canadians are very helpful, they subsidize shows.

RL. Where are the three of you based?

JKT: San Diego, CA. http://www.wilburtv.com/

“WILBUR” is a production of Mercury Filmworks, in association with Chilco Productions, EKA Distribution, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Discovery Kids.

READY SET LEARN! is an award-winning, commercial-free programming block with a curriculum that acknowledges preschoolers’ innate curiosity and is designed to foster optimism and resilience in their expanding exploration of the world. It airs on both the Discovery Kids Channel and TLC. Discovery Kids Channel lets kids of all ages (from preschoolers to tweens and teens) explore their world from their point of view. This 24-hour digital cable channel provides entertaining, engaging, and high-quality real-world programming that kids enjoy and parents trust. Every day, kids can learn about science, adventure, exploration and natural history through documentaries, reality shows, scripted dramas and animated stories. Garnering multiple Emmys as well as awards for quality children’s television, Discovery Kids is committed to satisfying kids’ natural curiosity about… well… everything.

NAPPA Awards for 2007

Monday, January 7th, 2008

National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) 2007 winners of its Children’s Products Competition for the best DVDs, music, toys, books and magazines, software and video games and storytelling CDs have been announced.

All 95 products earning the coveted NAPPA Gold Award, and 171 products earning the NAPPA Honors Award, have been published in a holiday gift guide checklist, Great Gifts for Kids, now available at http://www.nappa.parenthood.com/.

I and several of our senior KIDS FIRST! jurors evaluate for NAPPA’s DVD awards. This year was, without a doubt, the most difficult year ever as we received an overwhelming number of outstanding titles. For the first time, we separated major studio titles from independent titles, giving the independents an opportunity to compete with their peers.

The 2007 NAPPA Gold Medal DVD Winners Are

For Infants and Toddlers

Baby Einstein: My First Signs
Classical Baby 3-Pack: Music, Art & Dance
Phonics 4 Babies: Baby’s First Words
Way to Go, Juno

For Preschoolers
Angelina Ballerina: Angelina Follows Her Dreams
Caillou’s Playschool Adventures
Disney’s Little Einsteins: Legend of the Golden Pyramid
Maggie and the Ferocious Beast: Somewhere in Nowhere Land

For Ages 5 & Up
Arthur and the Invisibles
Eloise Goes to School
Gustafer Yellowgold’s Wide Wild World
Suzi Shelton Live at Southpaw

For Ages 8 & Up
Flight 29 Down: Vol. 1
Going to School in India
Hannah Montana: Pop Star Profile

For more information, visit: http://www.parenthood.com/articles.html?article_id=9887

DVD Gold Winners:
http://www.parenthood.com/articles.html?article_id=10857

DVD Honor Winners:
http://www.parenthood.com/articles.html?article_id=10863

Report from American Academy of Pediatrics on Early Exposure to Movie Smoking

Monday, January 7th, 2008

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a report today suggesting that exposure to images of smoking in films early in life influence children’s choice to smoke when they become adolescents. In “Longitudinal Study of Viewing Smoking in Movies and Initiation of Smoking by Children,” researchers at Dartmouth Medical School interviewed children, ages 9 to 12, from 26 schools in New Hampshire and Vermont on what movies they had seen. Results from the baseline interview showed that each child already had seen an average of 37 out of 50 popular movies they were asked about, exposing them to an average of 150 smoking occurrences. About 80 percent of the children’s exposure was due to smoking images portrayed in youth-rated movies. Follow-up surveys assessing new exposure to movie smoking and smoking initiation were then administered to the children at two subsequent one-year intervals. By the second follow-up survey, 9.6 percent of the children had initiated smoking. The results indicated that the baseline measure of movie smoking exposure was as important as exposure measured at follow-up in predicting children’s smoking initiation, suggesting that the process which leads children to initiate smoking begins much earlier than adolescence. Overall, movie smoking may contribute to future tobacco use in at least one-third of elementary school-age children. For more information, contact Linda Titus-Ernstoff, PhD, at 603-653-3696, linda.titus-ernstoff@dartmouth.edu ]

In a related study, “Exposure to Smoking in Internationally Distributed American Movies and Youth Smoking in Germany: A Cross-cultural Cohort Study,” researchers found that smoking in internationally distributed U.S. movies predicted the likelihood that German adolescents would try smoking. The results mirror similar studies linking smoking in movies with U.S. adolescent tobacco use.

Netflix to Deliver HD Movies Through Broadband

Saturday, January 5th, 2008

Have you hears that Netflix is partnering with LG Electronics to develop a broadband enabled set-top box that will deliver HD movies from the PC to the TV. Netflix, with 7 million subscribers who collectively watch more than 10 million movies and TV shows via Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” is destined for to success. Similar set-top boxes offered by Apple Inc., Vudu Inc. and Akimbo have not been successful. We will see…