Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Dave Edwards on selling SuperTed to the US

The catalogue for the 1985 Cambridge Animation Festival printed in article by Dave Edwards (co-founder of Siriol, the company behind SuperTed) called Selling in the States: The Case of SuperTed. This was the time when British cartoons such as SuperTed, Dangermouse and Bananaman were appearing on American television, and Edwards' article provides a first-hand account of the hurdles that these series had to overcome.
British animation has had a tough time selling to the American television market. The breakthrough came when Disney bought Siriol's SuperTed in 1983 (and later Cosgrove Hall's Dangermouse) for showing on Nickelodeon.
Edwards discusses the problems faced by British cartoons on US TV:
We persisted with the Networks, only to be told time and time again that they don't buy English programmes - 'they are too soft and too intellectual.' The only real British success in the Networks has been Benny Hill, which I had to admit is neither 'intellectual' nor 'soft'. But even then, they added, 'it shows at some very odd hours'.

'Don't you know how creative the British industry is?' I insisted. They weren't all that bothered. They didn't need to be, for the major producers - DIC, Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, Ruby Spears and Marvel - are all clamouring to get Network commissions. Later this year Disney will be adding to this list with two series, The Wuzzles and The Gummy Bears [sic], produced in Japan. Yes, even Disney are in the Saturday morning league - and with a confectionery product at that!

The programming directors admit that their children actually like SuperTed. 'Yes, it's doing very well on the Disney Channel,' they concede, and 'OK, so it's selling enough videos to get into the top ten in the States.' But... 'It's English.' The Americans looked for strong moral values in our stories, while we watched The A Team and felt perhaps we were missing something.
The article touches upon the issue of tie-in merchandise ("Animation is booming in the States, but less as a form of entertainment than as a medium for the merchandising-crazy toy trade. Very big budgets are available in you are to turn a toy into a television star") before concluding that
What is needed if British animation is to make an impact on American television is a more rigorous attention to questions about the financing, exhibition and merchandising of a series right from its conception. Our present objective at Siriol is to see our series in the all-important Saturday morning Network slots. Hence our policy of seeking co-production deals to ensure we have proper financing and effective merchandising. But, unlike the old days, we intend to retain the real control over the actual production process, and not to become sub-contractors. If it can be done, we are going to do it.

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