Small size, not small vision
S.C.-based syndicator offers Southern charm, animals and wrestlers
By Susanne Ault -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/14/2001 7:00:00 PM
Litton has been making shows since 1988, but the South Carolina-based company, headquartered far away from showbiz capitals New York and Los Angeles, is considered a secondary player in the television industry.
Probably best-known for overseeing long-running weekly series Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures, Litton is confident it can make a bigger name for itself. This fall, it will add two weekend half-hour shows to its program portfolio: Chicken Soup for the Soul, based on the popular book series, and Urban Latino, based on the New York magazine of the same name. In total, Litton will be offering seven series, a respectable number for any studio, large or small.
Founded by Dave Morgan, who is still the company's CEO, Litton started out producing regional sports programs, including packaging Southwest college football and basketball games for ABC, ESPN and local TV stations.
Then in the early 1990s, the FCC told stations that they should try to produce three hours a week of kid-friendly content. And that was Morgan's signal to start growing his studio.
"With Jack Hanna, Litton figured out how to make pro-social programs," Morgan says of the show, launched in 1990, which stars Hanna educating kids about the mysteries of animal life. "We're going into our 11th season. I get 250 letters a week from kids who say they want to be zookeepers when they grow up."
Morgan adds, "There's richness of talent in sitcoms and drama, but, as far as pro-social programming goes, I don't think a lot of real talented people see that as a place where they want to focus their time."
Next season's Chicken Soup for the Soul- a fresh spin on Pax's two-season-long series, which featured celebrities re-enacting moral lessons from the book series-is Morgan's new attempt at FCC-acceptable public-service programming.
But besides Chicken Soup, which pieces together all the series' segments for young adults, stirring in teen-geared host Scott Whyte, Litton will also be shopping a second season of WWF-style sports/entertainment weekly hour Thunder-box, not exactly educational programming. Plus, Litton houses FX's brawl fest Toughman, which probably wouldn't score many brownie points with the FCC.
However, Litton wants to expand, eventually offering a variety of shows. As Morgan sees it, "I love doing Thunderbox, I love doing Toughman, but I also love being able to lay my head down on the pillow and say I do Jack Hanna."
Also scheduled for launch next fall by Litton is magazine weekly Urban Latino, which will feature Latino-themed sports, entertainment and political stories, including segments on hot personalities such as Ricky Martin, Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Lopez.
In other developments, the company opened a production branch, Litton Studios, last February in Los Angeles. The studio is developing several projects, including Pet-athalon, a TV special "that's going to be like the dog Olympics. We'll take the people out of Sydney and put the dogs in."
Yet the company, which currently employs just 21 people, is happy with its small-town image, even though not working under a larger corporate parent means having fewer resources to invest in shows.
"Our independence isn't something that we wear on our sleeve, but it's something that has allowed us to prosper and keep us innovative," says Morgan. "We don't have layers of corporate mandates to do programming that doesn't fit the marketplace."
Morgan adds that, on a smaller scale, Paramount doesn't have anything on Litton. "My vision, like other studios, is to find the best talent and shows."
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