Richard Rowe joined Turner Broadcasting in 2002 after completing 2 years media production at the university of Surrey, and 2 years of media and information at the University of Brighton. He was hired into the CNUK programming team where he was responsible for putting together the UK schedules for CN, Boomerang and Toonami. In 2004 he moved into Acquisitions and Development as a coordinator, where his main duties were to assist on co-productions and acquisition deals. In 2006 he took the role of Acquisitions Executive and later Acquisitions manager for EMEA, where his role focused on executing deals and commissioning local content alongside the VP of Acquisitions. Recently he has taken the role of Director of Acquisitions and Original Series, covering all content pitches within EMEA. During his time at Turner, he has been heavily involved with the launch of the UK preschool channel, Cartoonito, as well as spending 3months in our Hong Kong HQ, gaining a greater understanding of the Asian market.
By now you must have heard thousands of pitches for new shows. What is it that makes one stand head and shoulders over another?
“I think there are 3 things that can make a pitch really stand out. (in no particular order)
1- If a pitcher knows the story/idea inside out and can look you in the eye through the pitch you know that they truly believe in the idea. Whether it’s a producer/creator/sales person if they don’t believe in the show 100%, then why would anyone else?
2- The pitcher should have a good understanding of the needs of who they are pitching to. Know what’s on the schedule, know what the top shows are, and have an idea where the show being pitched would fit in. A good tip is to put yourself in the shoes of the buyer.
3 – Pitch something that is so wonderfully original that any broadcaster would seriously have to think twice about missing out on it.”
You spent time in Asia, exploring the television market there. Are there cultural differences that must be addressed, or do you find that children are pretty much the same everywhere?
“There are certainly big cultural differences. We see it not just with Asia and Europe, but within those markets too. England and France are 20 miles apart but thousands apart culturally. In Asia one of my colleagues gave me a ‘crash course’ in cultural differences and said that ‘if a show has a dragon in, then it will work in South East Asia, if it has a snake, then it will work in India’!’ So for sure, we need to be aware of cultural differences, but the success of a number of kids programmes show that there are also many underlying similarities with children around the globe. Programmes with strong visual comedy like Mr Bean, Spongebob or The Amazing World of Gumball will work anywhere. I also think that strong preschool properties have a good chance of global success because children are a lot less developed and less exposed to culture at this age. Live action shows can be harder because of dubbing and casting issues, but Disney have showed that global live action success is possible. Finally I think it’s important to state that certain cultural issues can quite literally not be addressed for certain parts of the world. Peppa Pig is one of the best kids shows of all time, yet will almost certainly struggle in Muslim countries. The funniest example I ever encountered was Fireman Sam apparently would never work in Turkey because being a fireman is not a respected profession in that country!!”
In the motion picture industry, they rely heavily on franchises, with conceivably ready-made audiences. Is there a corollary within the world of childrens’ TV with popular book series? Is it easier to launch a show on network that has a built-in fan base, or does that make your job that much more difficult, meeting expectations?
“Launching shows that have a built in fan base is normally a positive in the kids business. It takes some of the risk out of making the decision, and creatively you have less to worry about because so much is already known about the characters. The challenge PAN regional broadcasters have with Book properties is that very often books are only popular in certain markets. Books like Tintin and Asterix were huge in UK and France but relatively unknown elsewhere. Other challenges with book properties can be working with the authors, and in some cases meeting expectations of the fan base too. Live action tends to be the medium that most ‘upsets’ the fans if a show doesn’t live up to the book. We see this a lot with movies, and the same can be said of a few kids TV shows. Animation is a little easier, especially with superhero comics but it’s not exempt from those problems.”
It seems that each new show that comes along pushes the envelope in terms of style and animation – we now have CGI, stop motion, green screen, etc. Will simple hand-drawn animation ever make a comeback? Has it simply become too expensive?
“With any business, price and time are hugely important. Whilst the animation industry will not be exempt from those pressures, you could argue that because it is also a creative industry, that anything is possible. I don’t think we’ll see hand drawn animation making a grand comeback unless people can speed it up and be competitive on price. However it should always have a place… Lupus Film did a wonderful job on the Snowman and Snowdog and I know it got a very large audience on Channel 4. However i think it took nearly 2 years to make a 24min film…and that is probably why a wholesale comeback is unlikely.”
Have you become aware of any fan fiction based on your shows? If so, what do you think of the phenomenon of kids writing their own versions of popular TV fare?
“I’ve not seen any first hand experience of kids writing their own versions of our shows, to be honest. We did sometimes run competitions for kids to draw and write about characters that they’d like to see in their favourite shows and then animate the best one into an episode. Some of those were exceptionally creative.”
Do you watch TV in your off time, or have you had enough by the end of the day?
“I actually watch more TV at home than I do at work! I absolutely love TV, way more than movies, and continue to prove my mother wrong who told me that watching too much as a kid was bad for me! I probably take it to an extreme as I will even watch Netflix on my phone in bed before I go to sleep! When you have shows out there as good as Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Wire, Band of Brothers, 24, Prison Break, Arrested Development, South Park, Seinfeld, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Sopranos, Walking Dead, Dexter, Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Office, All the BBC Nature Programmes, The Premier League, The NFL, The PGA Tour…plus many more and throw movies on top…how could you not want to see all of them! I have a big smile on my face just thinking about it !”