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September 2006 | Vol. V - No. 9




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TDmonthly's Hollywood ToyBoy

Forget Education — We Want Funny


“They are doing less education and more comedy – and that’s going to change merchandising.”
Parents want their kids to do well in school. Fact. Unfortunately, most kids would rather watch TV, play video games, or hang out with their friends goofin’ off than study. Another fact.

So rather than try to make school more captivating (maybe by giving the school systems more money for better books, smaller classes and salaries for more and better teachers), parents demanded that televisions show and media do the teaching for them. For years, “edutainment” swept the networks, some successful, some not so — none of them a No. 1 show.

Finally, the media moguls are getting a clue: If it ain’t funny, kids won’t watch anyway. They are doing less education and more comedy — and that’s going to change merchandising.

“We get our hands tied trying to put in a certain amount of facts-per-minute,” explained a studio exec who has successfully guided her company to five No. 1 time-slots in the past six years. “No kid cares. They want to see Spongebob, not Nerdbob. No matter what the FCC or the PTA says, we’re not a classroom. Nor should we try to be.”

A well-respected multiple award-winning writer who was busy polishing his Emmys shook his head: “I remember being on a show where I got a memo explaining that the production company — a well-respected one, you’d be amazed — cared more about getting grant money than about their audience. Didn’t care if it did well, only that they got their funding. I kept that memo for years — it was astounding.”

Everyone from Disney to Cartoon Network is now doing an about-face. Oh, they’ll still have educational content, but first and foremost, they need it to be top-notch entertainment.

At lunch in Hollywood, I ran into a cartoon producer who said, “Gone are the days of talking heads and spouting facts. It’s ten times harder now. You have to be as entertaining as the Simpsons, and muscle in the content invisibly so the kids don’t know. It’s like combining Groucho Marx with Albert Einstein. It’s really hard.”

So how will that affect toys?

“I think we’ll see less chimera products that shove a little education into a little branding and do badly at both,” hypothesized a slightly tipsy exec I ran into later that evening. “Because the delivery systems are changing — VOD, cable, network, cell phone, pod-casting — merchandise will change to reflect that. There will be ‘stealth’ toys that combine educational content in ways we can’t foresee. Google Earth is a great example. Who would have thought geography could be so much fun, or that kids would spend hours doing it? It caught the globe makers by surprise, that’s for sure.”

“Bottom line is: If kids don’t watch it, it doesn’t matter how many facts it has in it,” reiterated the studio exec at the top of the article. “And if kids don’t watch it, the toys won’t sell. Expect to see less ‘edutainment,’ more entertainment, and leave the teaching to the teachers.”



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Writer's Bio: Mark Zaslove is an entertainment industry veteran in developing content (writing, directing and producing television and feature films) for the major studios, including Disney, Universal and Warner Bros. A two-time Emmy Award winner for writing and recipient of the Humanitas Prize (for writing uplifting human values in television and movies), Mark is also Head of Content Development for Nice Entertainment. Read more articles by this author

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