TORONTO – The Teletubbies are headed back to television with the help of a Canadian production company.
After more than a decade’s absence, Halifax-based children’s programming company DHX Media Ltd. plans to resurrect the series that was once a sensation with preschoolers.
DHX Media said Friday that it will produce 60 new Teletubbies episodes for BBC’s CBeebies channel in the U.K., though financial terms of the agreement weren’t released.
“Kid’s television in particular is evergreen and some of the animated titles, in particular, are popular year after year,” said Steven DeNure, president and chief operating officer of DHX Media (TSX:DHX).
Producers say new episodes will feature Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po as characters, but the series will undergo an update with new CGI effects and scenes shot on replica models of the sets.
The original episodes were filmed outdoors at a farm in England, but after the series wrapped production several years ago, the Teletubbies house was torn down and replaced with a pond.
“We thought about recreating that, but dismissed it relatively early,” DeNure said.
“We’ve done some tests and we can recreate that look without actually having to go back to that location.”
Other changes will update the characters too, though DeNure wouldn’t offer many hints. He said the proliferation of touch-screen technology in homes changes some of the dynamics between the characters.
The original Teletubbies had TVs in their tummies.
“For a kid watching that now, it’s no longer a television, it’s a screen you can hold in your hand. We think there are some really interesting creative opportunities on that front as we develop new Teletubbies,” DeNure said.
When it first aired, Teletubbies was one of the rare live-action children’s television shows that crept into the mainstream consciousness with a line of plush toys, a top-selling series of VHS tapes, and a song that reached Number One on the U.K. Singles Chart.
In 1999, Reverend Jerry Falwell accused the character Tinky Winky of being “a gay role model” for children because he carried a handbag and had triangular antenna, which he suggested represented the gay pride symbol.
Falwell’s comments led both the BBC and the show’s production company to issue statements denouncing the suggestions.
Teletubbies is still wildly popular on YouTube where DHX estimates that episodes and clips of the program received about 40 million views worldwide in May through both its official channel and videos posted by other users.
“It continues to be something that parents are showing to their kids and kids are asking for,” said DeNure.
DHX has been bulking up its assets with several popular children’s properties.
The company grabbed the rights to the Teletubbies franchise last year when it purchased Ragdoll Worldwide from BBC Worldwide and other investors for about $28 million.
The acquisition included 365 episodes of “Teletubbies,” the original series produced between 1997 and 2001, and another 52 episodes of followup series “Teletubbies Everywhere,” and 10 other kids series.
Other familiar titles also in the DHX roster include programs like “Caillou,” “Yo Gabba Gabba” and “Arthur.”
DHX distributes shows through traditional broadcasters, streaming video outlets like Netflix and on its own YouTube channel where the company generates revenue through advertisements delivered by Google.
DeNure said YouTube gives the company the opportunity to earn revenue from its properties without the limitations of more traditional media.
“The whole notion of shelf space kind of goes out the window,” he said.
The company also bought the Family Channel from Bell Media, giving it a platform to create and sell more shows globally, and the Epitome group of companies, producer of the hit Degrassi TV franchise.
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