Tag Archive: Sportacus


Saying goodbye to Sportacus

To match feature FINANCIAL/LAZYTOWN

It’s the end of an era. Magnus Scheving has announced he will no longer portray Sportacus, the heroic character he created many years ago. LazyTown will continue, and another actor will step into the role. But for multitudes of fans, Magnus will always remain the definitive realization of the blue-suited hero.

As Head Writer for LazyTown, I’ve spent hundreds of hours with Magnus, brainstorming, revising, tweaking – endlessly manipulating story and dialogue in order to create a blueprint for our technically complex production. We have worked around the clock – in offices, at his home, in cars, on planes, and in many countries.

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Magnus insisted on change after change, never settling for what he felt was only good – he wanted great. That didn’t mean we agreed on everything. But at the end of the day, he was the man who had to carry the larger burden of transforming the script into a television show. There were so many moving parts involved, and his responsibilities didn’t end on the last page of the scripts, as mine did.

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One of the more impressive things I witnessed was in watching Magnus give epic recaps of our long story sessions. We would work on script beats for three, four, even five hours. Mind numb, brain exhausted, all I wanted to do was go listen to music or otherwise clear my head.

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But Magnus would say, “Okay, let’s go through it again.” And he would launch into a microscopic breakdown of every single detail – even elements that were only mentioned casually or tossed around as asides. What I wrote down to remember, he kept in his head. And he did this for dozens of scripts simultaneously. It wasn’t unusual for him to bring up an element of a script six months later, that had been considered but rejected at the time. He was able to keep that detail in his data base for future reference – after I had long since deleted it from mine.

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Another important skill he possesses is an ability to maintain a constant connection to the big picture. By that, I mean as the creator of LazyTown, Magnus had plans in mind for live shows, movies, props – even theme parks – that our script writing needed to support. If we threw around an idea about a new gadget, he considered its use in the context of what our needs might be, brand-wise, three years down the road.

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Sportacus is a superhero and thus, a man of action and not necessarily words. The last thing a superhero needs to do is talk endlessly about what he’s going to do. He simply needs to do it. So his character wasn’t always given the most interesting lines of dialogue. Still, a quick review of past episodes will demonstrate that Magnus always instilled his on-camera time with energy, superhero savvy, and kid-relatable wisdom.

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The most challenging aspect of writing for Sportacus was in coming up with the opening sequence of the show – Sportacus alone in his airship. There, he would go about his home life, preparing food, cleaning out his sports closet, etc. But our mandate was to create mini-stories that would show how inventive and sports-related his actions were. So we would turn a Christmas tree decoration into a manic gymnastic display. Making fruit salad became a master class in juggling and vaulting.

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For every story idea that eventually became an episode, we pitched dozens that were rejected. Some of them even made their way to script stage but for one reason or another, they were deemed unworkable. And some scripts needed dozens of rewrites – the most being 47 drafts (I won’t mention which show required that many revisions). We created tales of dragons, moon landings, snow monsters and birthday parties. Sportacus has been made invisible, sent into sugar meltdowns, trapped in a trash compactor, and he has come face to face with a menacing robot. In bringing these stories to life, Magnus has done thousands upon thousands of jumps, spins, kicks, flips – and he has done his “signature” Sportacus move uncountable times.

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So while he will no longer wear the costume of Sportacus, Magnus’ time as the blue elf will endure. The other Sportacii that will take on the role will be amazing and entertaining, no doubt. They will each bring something unique to the character, and will find a way to make it theirs. LazyTown will continue, in one form or another, for a long time.

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But there’s only one first of anything. In creating and defining the role of Sportacus, Magnus Scheving has given kids around the world a role model for good health and fair play. His efforts will resonate for years to come – wherever there are kids who love to laugh and play, along with a slightly above-average superhero.

 

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2005: Iceland – It was another long day of production on the LazyTown sound stage. In fact, it was the start of the next day, as we continued our creative brainstorming session past midnight. Everyone was packing up their belongings and heading home for a few hours’ sleep. There would be yet another early call for the crew and cast to assemble for that days’ shoot.

The phone rang. Usually, the answering machine would pick up the call, but for some reason, this time it didn’t. A colleague, Dean Koocher, picked up the phone.

On the other line was a gentleman named Rob Stock, calling from Belleville, Illinois. Rob didn’t know it was the middle of the night in Iceland. He had tracked down the office number and simply called, hoping to connect with someone. He said that his young daughter, Jenny, was a big fan of LazyTown. He had scoured the local stores, and had checked online, but was having a hard time finding any merchandise for sale. In particular, he was trying to find a “Stephanie” costume for Jenny to wear.

Dean knew that my home in the US wasn’t far from Belleville, and he put me on the phone with Rob, thinking I might be able to help.

But LazyTown had only debuted on Nickelodeon a few months earlier, and there was simply no merchandise available at the retail level just yet. Rob asked if there was anything else we might have – photos, or possibly even autographs.

Rob explained that Jenny had been diagnosed with leukemia. She was in the middle of long months of chemotherapy sessions. They were prolonged and brutal, and young Jenny’s energetic, normally upbeat personality was being drained.

One of the few things that made her smile – a bright spot on chemo days – was watching episodes of LazyTown. She was charmed by the stories, the silly humor, its can-do spirit. Most importantly, it gave her something to look forward to. Instead of dreading the hours spent having toxic medicines course through her body, she could find some relief by focusing her attention on the antics of Sportacus, Stephanie and the LazyTown gang.

As it happened, I was due to make a trip home, which was fairly close to where Rob and his wife Greta took Jenny for chemo treatment. I gathered autographs from the cast members, took tons of photos, and found some props that the production graciously allowed me to have. And I took the whole package to Jenny.

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She greeted me with a tremendous hug that belied her fragile physical state. The smile on her face lit up the room as her parents and nurses watched her unwrap one-of-a-kind mementos from her favorite show. She thrilled at the personal notes from the cast, and she seemed to gain energy not from the gifts themselves, but from the kindness of those who had given them.

Rob and Greta beamed, filled with joy at seeing their daughter so happy. They had been through grueling months, and there would be many more to come. But in that moment, their weight seemed lifted.

Eventually, Jenny’s strong will and her unbreakable spirit – along with top-notch medical care and the loving support of her family – beat back the leukemia. Jenny grew healthy and was even able to travel to Iceland where she met her heroes on the very sound stage where the episodes were produced. Jenny returned to school and, last year, she graduated from high school with top honors, well on her way to what will surely be an amazing life.

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Because of the persistence and dedication of Rob Stock and her whole family, Jenny found the strength to survive her illness. And LazyTown played a small part in her recovery, thanks to a Dad who wouldn’t give up until he found a way to make his daughter smile.

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No doubt there are many stories of children connecting to their favorite shows during times of crisis. But this one feels special; it’s almost unbelievable the good that came from what might otherwise be considered a run-of-the-mill kids’ TV show. A production shot in the middle of a lava field somewhere in Iceland went halfway around the world, into the heart of a little girl with a desperate illness. That, combined with a very determined and loving father, produced something that feels an awful lot like a miracle.

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Writing for Robbie Rotten

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A rubbery face. Physical grace. Comedy gold all over the place.

That’s Stefan Karl, the gifted actor who plays Robbie Rotten in the global hit series LazyTown. Stefan is a classically trained actor who has appeared on stage in dozens of serious roles, as well as performing the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, in sold-out theatres all over the United States.

But he’s best known for his antics as the lovable villain, Robbie Rotten, whose only goal is to return LazyTown back to its formerly lazy ways. To accomplish this, Robbie employs a menu of outrageous, Snidely Whiplash, bad guy behavior – from sending his nemesis, Sportacus, into outer space in a rocket, to hauling the town’s apple supply away in the belly of a flying dragon.

But Robbie must never be seen as evil. Toddlers watch the show, and so whatever trouble he causes, it must be comedic, first and foremost. In lesser acting hands, that could easily produce cliched mugging to the camera and repetitive (and boring) faux-menace. But Stefan possesses an extraordinary capacity to find those details that transform a silly monologue into a thing of beauty.

As head writer for LazyTown, I’ve been lucky to create many fun disguises for Robbie. And the real satisfaction comes from knowing that, whatever I come up with, Stefan will bring it to life with panache.

One role in particular is a good illustration of his talent: in 2004, we produced over 30 episodes of LazyTown. Each show contained choreographed action sequences, a music video, dance numbers, special effects and puppets mingling with live actors. There was barely time to breathe or think straight. Our schedule was brutal, and the actors were asked to learn scripts that were constantly being revised – often at the last minute.

We found ourselves in the uncomfortable position of having to cancel a planned shoot for the following week. After spending the entire weekend attempting to solve our problem, we realized that we had no material to shoot on Monday morning. An entire crew, assembled and waiting, would have nothing to do. That’s an expensive dilemma.

I came up with a quick solution – one that could only be realized with Stefan Karl on the team. I stayed up all Sunday night writing a new script called Miss Roberta. By 7 a.m. on Monday, the script was copied and distributed. The costume department designed a fast – and brilliant – disguise, transforming Robbie into the very proper and very funny Miss Roberta.

Stefan quickly digested the script, found its core, and proceed to play the hell out of that part. If you ever get a chance to watch the show, you may have a greater appreciation for his skills, knowing how little time he had to prepare. It’s a delightful, hilarious turn, and it’s a role I hope we can one day revisit.

Here are some classic images of Robbie Rotten in his various disguises, as portrayed by Stefan Karl:

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