Gen-X dads in Orange County flee the mainstream TV industry and team up to make trip hoppy indie kid's show? DJ Lance Rock looking like he left Fat Albert for Dee-Lite? Clips and trailers pop on the YouTube?
It's driving me crazy because I can't find it, but I swear Yo Gabba Gabba has come up on Daddy Types before they scored their big 20-episode production deal with Nickelodeon. It was after Pancake Mountain, but before Wonder Showzen and that weirded out Japanese TV show with the octopus, Kure Kure Takora.
Anyway, it's old news now, but reading about the production deal in KidScreen, the children's TV industry trade magazine, is half the fun; it's written in a self-consciously esoteric biz lingo, as if the kident execs inhabit just one more fantastical land of imagination:
Upstart preschool series Yo Gabba Gabba! has been turning heads on the international scene, especially since scoring a pick-up from Nick Jr. that will see it hit US airwaves this fall. The urban-inspired variety show created by The Magic Store (helmed by a group of Gen-X dads) puts a fresh spin on retro style and sounds, and co-pro partners Wild Brain and RDF have set the property's licensing wheels in motion to keep up with its momentum on the TV side.After Yo Gabba Gabba racked up a few hundred thousand viewings on YouTube, a Nick Jr/Noggin exec put the creators in touch with Wild Brain, a San Francisco-based animation house with a pre-existing infrastructure and a longer track record. Sounds like a classic tale of indie boys making good.
Managing international distribution and L&M activity, RDF Rights in London, England is working closely with San Francisco-based Wild Brain towards rolling out first-phase products in fall 2008. Deals for two of the program's three anchor categories are inked, with Toronto, Canada's Spin Master winning the master toy license and Nickelodeon Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment taking on video/DVD rights in the US. Wild Brain president and CEO Charles Rivkin says a publishing deal is close to being finalized. Looking ahead, the long-term plan is to expand the brand's CP reach with stationery, apparel, accessories, gift products and packaged foods partners in 2009.
What I didn't know was what Wild Brain's been up to: in 2005, after the small for-hire studio got a $30 million investment from some private equity groups, the company brought in Rivkin, who had been the CEO of the Jim Henson Co. when the family sold it to a German TV company in 2000 for $680 million--and when he helped the Henson kids buy it back after the German company imploded in 2003--for just $73 million. [Of course, all kids TV roads lead back to Henson, from Sesame Street and the Muppets--which the Henson kids finally sold to Disney, where their dad figured they belonged--to Barney and The Wiggles and a dozen other instantly recognizable characterverses, which are owned by HIT Entertainment, originally known as Henson International Television.]
Anyway, last year, Wild Brain took a majority stake in Kidrobot, the indie toy company which makes the Dunny and Munny vinyl dolls, among others. They're counting Kidrobot's revenue and calling it a subsidiary, so "majority stake" here means at least 80%. Kidrobot reportedly did $6.2 million in sales in 2005, and double that in 2006. Depending on whether the multiple was for trailing earnings, Kidrobot founder Paul Budnitz could've cleared at least $10 million--and he's still got some equity and he's still running Kidrobot. Win-win-win. Unless I'm missing something, this is the first hard deal in the indie vinyl toy business.]
What's the so what here? Nothing, really, just that once again, as with the success of David Horvath's Ugly Dolls and whatnot, it can be a pretty short trip from scrappy indie artist to Entertainment Industrial Complex. And in the end, what actually distinguishes one from the other when it comes to the impact on raising a kid?
For a parent trying to manage or mitigate his kid's corporate conglomerate cultural intake, it can create a lot of ambivalence. The idea that by trafficking solely in "indie" culture for your kid somehow lifts you and him above the spoonfed, mainstream consumerist fray--that there's now a moral difference, not just between Target and Kidrobot, but betwen Kidrobot and Giant Robot, for example--seems more like a hipster delusion.
A post this long, I feel obliged to come up with some big conclusion, but all it really makes me do is scratch my head. And head for YouTube to watch Biz Markie again.