Despite probably being best known in the current market for its smash hit TV series Numberjacks, Open Mind Productions is in fact steeped in TV production history and its team has a strong pedigree in the industry.
Founded by Roland Tongue and Chris Ellis, the company was one of the first indies to specialise in children’s educational programming and celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, with the two founders still at the helm.
Prior to setting up Open Mind, Tongue was a film editor at the BBC and following a stint as an English teacher, Ellis had also been working at the BBC as a writer, and was one of the original writers on Grange Hill.
Over the last 20 years, Open Mind has made over 500, mainly for the BBC, Channel 4 and Discovery Kids. The firm has won numerous awards for these shows including a BAFTA and several Royal Television Society Awards.
Chris Ellis, creative director, says: “Open Mind has always believed that educational programming can be fun and entertaining, and believes that you can engage the mind by first engaging the heart.”
To this end, the firm has produced shows including The Number Crew, which brings maths to life for five to seven year-olds, in 70 episodes taking place aboard an unusual cruise ship. Paz is a series of 80 pre-school programmes for Discovery Kids USA with puppets and animation produced with King Rollo films.
Other properties include Rat-a-Tat-Tat for Channel 4, which encourages young readers to regard books as a source of pleasure, bringing literature to life through animation, wordplay, rhyme and music. Six series were produced between 1993 and 1999.
Still airing in the UK on CBeebies is The Shiny Show. A quiz show for three to five year-olds, The Shiny Show was one of the first programmes to air when the channel launched six years ago and still airs today.
The Shiny Show features three main characters who put on their own quiz show that children are encouraged to join in with at home.
And of course, Numberjacks, which has arguably been one of the most successful brands for Open Mind so far. Ellis explains: “Numberjacks is unique in being a creative show focusing on maths. No-one before made numbers the stars of their own show and children engage very closely with the characters, and therefore with the maths that underpins the show.
“Numberjacks has been a great success because it combines delightful characters, adventure, comedy and learning in a package that children find highly engaging.”
Nick Underwood, commercial director, adds: “We’ve had a great platform and creative support on CBeebies and the show continues to perform excellently in terms of ratings and viewers’ appreciation.”
The firm is still very active in developing Numberjacks as a property, as it feels it has the potential to become an evergreen brand in an area of the market with few competitors.
Underwood continues: “We’re interested in taking Numberjacks in a new direction, including as a live show and as an online experience. We are exploring the potential of products for the formal education market, such as nurseries and schools, where Numberjacks is being used more and more.”
Numberjacks, along with many of the firm’s other productions, covers all of the main areas that make for a successful brand in the licensing market. Underwood explains: “The characters that do succeed are often the ones that children really care about, that reflect the children’s world back to them in a way that they find true and exciting.”
This is what the firm is hoping to achieve with its next project, Letterjets. As the name suggests, the show looks at how letter interact with each other and form words and how those words have different meanings.
Ellis explains: “Once again, Open Mind will use a mixture of live action and animation to bring the Letterjets to life and to create a world where real life children can interact with the show’s characters and help them to solve literary problems.”
The series will comprise 52 x 11 minute episodes and will have a strong English as a second language (ESL) throughout it. Letterjets is scheduled for production in 2010 and early 2011 and will be ready for transmission in autumn 2011.
The firm also has an adult game show project called Neverendings that is in development, as well as a new project called Choosey, which is for children just above the pre-school age.