Articles
Playthings, June 1987

Playthings, June 1987 v85 p63(1)
'No one can disregard the toy industry.' (interview with Lou Scheimer)
    

 

Filmation, with nearly a quarter of a century of providing animation and family programming, is readying "Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night," and "The Legend of BraveStarr" for theatrical motion picture release. This marks a slight departure from Filmation's traditional function of supplying 65 half-hour episodes. This is understandable, however, since animation has undergone several changes in recent seasons as the economic climate shifts and tastes in entertainment continue to evolve. Currently, the company is readying 65 half-hour episodes of "BraveStarr' for nationwide television syndication, with 85 percent of the nation's market sold. Lou Scheimer, as the firm's executive producer, completed production of 65 half-hour segments of the nationally-syndicated "Ghostbusters" series. Filmation was established under the premise of providing programming with socially responsible content with total production done within the United States.

Filmation began to redefine animation in 1983 when it developed "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" for daily syndication by Group W Productions, rather than Saturday morning network scheduling. Filmation then launched 65 half-hours of "She-Ra: Princess of Power' in September 1985. "Ghostbusters" followed in 1986. Its "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" is being seen in syndication with 50 new episodes plus 40 from its dozen years on CBS.

In a recent interview with PLAYTHINGS, Scheimer, founder, president and CEO of Filmation, a division of Group W Productions which is, in turn, a division of Westinghouse Broadcasting and Cable Inc., talks freely about the various changes challenging the animation industry.

PLAYTHINGS: How does Filmation position itself with regard to the toy industry?

SCHEIMER: No one can disregard the toy industry. It is certainly a force to be dealt with. Keep in mind, however, that we don't produce shows because of the toys. Toys and shows maintain different needs. We separate those needs. We try to produce enlightening shows. Developing shows just to take advantage of ancillary rights would be immoral and unethical.

PLAYTHINGS: What kind of financing is needed in today's market?

SCHEIMER: One of the major problems is that shows are expensive to produce. Filmation insists that all its work is done in the United States--right here in the San Fernando Valley--adding a tremendous amount to costs. Shows average between $20 million and $22 million per series of 65 half-hours produced. Word has it that in Japan, it could be done for $13 million to $15 million. We have to make money on our commercial minutes.

PLAYTHINGS: How important is Saturday morning television to the success of a property?

SCHEIMER: There is no definitive relationship between the success of show and the sale of toys relating to the property. "Smurfs" has a successful run but after the initial popularity, the toys disappeared.

PLAYTHINGS: How is the role of the animator changing in today's quick-paced market?

SCHEIMER: It is definitely a fast market but only the quality shows will continue to air. We seem to be headed toward a weeding out of shows. Years ago, there were only three or four half-hour shows available. Now, there are 28-30 half-hours. As a result, the audience has become fragmented. There is so much more to watch and it precludes any chance of having one megahit. But this is expected to change in the next few years. In 1988, there will be fewer shows available. Many of the fringe shows, merely produced to generate ancillary sales, will fall short when they realize there is no longer a fast buck to be made out there.

PLAYTHINGS: What is the expected life span for a show today?

SCHEIMER: Short-term licensing will fade. No matter what the expected life span is, if a show is no good, it will not last. But a well-conceived show will continue long after others have been dropped. The audience is better served with fewer shows. With 30-40 concepts out there, enthusiasm gets diffused when no one show has an identity. After the weeding out in the next few years, there should be only 10-15 concepts.

PLAYTHINGS: How would you define "good entertainment?"

SCHEIMER: Totality of the property. A good show puts forth quality programming. We have a responsibility to offer good entertainment to our young people. To do this, we became one of the first animation houses to retain outside educational advisors to guide the shows' awareness toward pro-social attitudes. We're glad when the child finishes watching the show and is a little better off. Smiling never hurt anyone. We feel good when children are able to realize that problems they think are unique to them are actually shared and understood by others.

PLAYTHINGS: Are there any major changes in Filmation's marketing plan with regard to animation for television?

SCHEIMER: Our 1987 series schedule has already been established. Our 1988 is set. We have an overall schedule mapped out through 1991 including a three-year schedule that we are currently presenting to the stations.

PLAYTHINGS: It has been mentioned that Filmation is involved with the New Classics (Pinocchio and Snow White). Does this signal a major return in general to classic properties?

SCHEIMER: We hope to be leading Filmation into new areas with full animation feature films. We are readying "Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night" and "The Legend of BraveStarr" for theatrical motion picture release. We are all in the business of creating standards, but we must remember that need does not necessarily come from fairy tales.

PLAYTHINGS: What are your comments about interactive TV toys?

SCHEIMER: Concepts such as Captain Power create two classes: those who have the toys and those who don't. It is difficult to defend that concept on creative grounds. I would be upset to see that certain children's parents couldn't afford the toys that interact with a television show. Prices would have to come down substantially on the products. There is a legitimate way to deal with interaction, namely, the VCR. With the advent of video, you have toys and pictures that work together. VCRs are virtually everywhere and provide a great deal of entertainment for children.

PLAYTHINGS: Thank you for your comments on animation.

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