Madison Road Begins 'Christmas' Shopping

Studio eyes DVD for animation special
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Madison Road Entertainment (MRE) is
moving beyond branded integration by bankrolling and producing
Holidaze: The Christmas That
Almost Didn't Happen
. Madison Road will begin shopping
the 60-minute animation special to the networks next week.

The studio is hoping big names from Disney
Channel
will help build a holiday franchise. Highlighting the
show's voicing cast are tween stars Dylan
and Cole Sprouse of The Suite Life of Zack and
Cody
, as well as that show's Brenda Song and Hannah Montana's Emily Osment. Also voicing characters are
John O'Hurley (Dancing With the
Stars
), Fred Savage
(The Wonder
Years
), comedian Paul
Rodriguez
and singer Gladys Knight.
The script was written by MRE's Jonathan
Prince
(American
Dreams
) and Peter
Murietta
(Hope &
Faith
), with music by David
Lawrence
and Faye Greenberg, who
wrote for Disney Channel hit High
School Musical
.

The story focuses on Rusty the Reindeer (Savage), Rudolph's brother,
who is searching for the meaning of Christmas with characters from other
holidays, such as the Easter Bunny (Knight) and Cupid (Rodriguez).

The project marks a break with MRE's background. Managing Partner
Jak Severson says there is very little product
integration in Holidaze. “This represents
our first foray into traditional, true studio financing,” he says. “We are
using this as a platform to say we are not just about branded entertainment.
It's a total departure for us.”

The profitability of the project will not depend solely on the size of a
potential network license fee. MRE has a DVD distribution deal with
Wal-Mart, which will have the show on shelves
in November, prior to any television window.

The studio, which is behind NBC
alternative series Treasure
Hunters
, hopes to use a December network airing followed
by a cable window to drive consumers to buy the DVD. With the
Peanuts
franchise as a model, MRE is looking to develop a cast of characters that can
spawn specials for multiple holidays. “These are very expensive to
produce,” says Prince. “If it's merely for Christmas, you better be able
to sell a lot of toothpaste and toys.”

MRE is covering the cost of the project, which stands to be around $2
million. The DVD is expected to retail for just under $10, with MRE keeping as
much as $6 of that. Severson envisions a minor loss for the first year, which
he hopes will be recouped by year two of DVD sales.

But a network deal would boost DVD sales and could put the project into
profitability in year one. “Since we don't need anything specific from
anybody, everything we're looking at from broadcast or cable is to help us
sell more DVDs,” Severson says. “I'm open to a license fee, barter or
both.”

Prince hopes a fully financed project that's well into production will
be an attractive package for a network. “They don't have to go through the
development process,” he says, “but they do get to give notes on scripts
and production.”

The economics of building a franchise may make sense to the networks,
which are backing off development of one-offs, such as TV movies. “They take
a lot of resources to make and a lot of resources to market,”
NBC Entertainment President
Kevin Reilly said at the recent
Television Critics Association press tour.
“I don't know that we'll go out of the business altogether, but we will
certainly be from here on in much more selective.”

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