The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on May 21, 2000 · Page 103
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The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia · Page 103

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 21, 2000
Page 103
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.,.1,,,, BIIllaaIBalBaaaIIMIa c 1 & Q BtfeiiBBitatfeiilWa t-TiKIp SDH Gsssiir? Men in funny suits are old hat - these days children like their presenters to look like pop stars. Hi-5 has changed children's TV forever and it's all thanks to two women. By Michelle Griffin PHOTOGRAPH BY STEVE BACCON They won't do nursery rhymes on Hi-5. Channel Nine's hot new program for the under fives has no It'sy Bitsy Spider. No Teddy Bears Picnic. No This Little Piggy. Hi-5 are the pre-fab pre-school pop stars. Their sound borrows liberally from the charts on Video Hits: Stepps, All Saints, the Spice Girls. But instead of singing about lovers and bay-bees, they sing funky songs about stories, playtime and counting to five. There are subliminal messages in the lyrics but they're about spatial awareness, improving coordination, and learning to tell left from right. "We wanted to make programs for children of today," says Helena Harris, one of the Logie-winning show's creator-producers. "Why would we want to make music of yesterday for programs of today? It doesn't make any sense." "We just think we're modern," says her co-producer, Posie Graeme-Evans. "We're not stuck in some old-fashioned 1970s view of the world." Together, Graeme-Evans and Harris form Kids Like Us, a new children's television production company with a lot of clout in a booming industry. And their new show is the latest example of the marketing paradigm known as KGOY: kids getting older younger. They use the latest educational research, pop culture references and marketing practices to make a show for today's "media-literate child". "The show looks the way it does because I have a 15-year-old daughter," says Helena Harris, a well-spoken motherly woman with ruffled blonde hair and a slight trace of English reserve. Harris' two children, teen Amy and 1 1-year-old son Morgan, have influenced her work before. In 1992, Harris created Bananas in Pyjamas as a potential licensing spin-off for the ABC's flagship children's show, Play School. She named two of the bananas' teddy bear friends after her own children. Now Amy and Morgan advise their mother on the latest hits. "I'd doubt I'd ever watch Video Hits if it wasn't for them." Although Harris hasn't seen a cent of the estimated $100 million the Bananas have generated in sales and merchandising for the ABC, Bl and B2 have boosted her new career as an independent producer. . Recognising her keen instincts for cuddly things, SOCOG hired her to create their Olympic mascots, Ollie the kookaburra, Syd the platypus and Millie the echidna (whose cartoon breasts were downsized to avoid offence). In 1997, she joined forces with the ebullient children's drama producer Posie Graeme-Evans, another English woman in her 40s, stout, steel-haired, smiling, with a no-bulls... manner. Almost immediately, they were pitching their latest idea to Channel Nine executive producer Kris Noble: "The Big Gig meets Countdown on Playschool." Two weeks later, Harris and Graeme-Evans had a commitment on the new show. They auditioned 300 young performers to find three girls and two boys old enough to cope with the show's demands but young enough to seem like friends, rather than teachers. They were all professional singers and all except Tim were trained dancers as well. Charli Robinson, a graduate of Home and Away and Heartbreak High, and Nathan Foley, a teen song and dance man, were only 19 when the show first aired in April last year. Charli, the Wriggling Hi-5, presents the Body Move segments on the show. Nathan, Dancing Hi-5, teaches spacial awareness in Shapes in Space. Kellie Hoggart is the oldest at 26 but looks young enough to travel half price on public transport. She was formerly the drummer in Teen Queens, a girl group big in south east Asia in the early '90s. She's the show's Chatty Hi-5, playing Word Play games with a puppet who wears cat's-eye glasses and corn-row braids. Kathleen de Leon, 22, Clever Hi-5, does the maths segment, called Puzzles and Patterns. She was Christine Anu's understudy in Rent and a finalist on New Faces. Tim Harding, also 22, is the show's Muso Hi-5: a multi-instrumentalist with the vaguely familiar face of someone who's been in several commercials. But for the foreseeable future, this freshly famous five are locked exclusively into their kindergarten commitments. "They wouldn't have time to do anything else," says Graeme-Evans. "Their diaries are full." Nobody knows yet what will happen if Hi-5 endures for years, like Here's Humphrey or Play School. There are no plans to replace the team with fresher faces as they get older but it's hard to imagine them all jumpin' and jivin' in their 40s. Will Hi-5 last? It's had a good start. On 1 1 April 1999, Hi-5 debuted in Here's Humphrey's old slot and started rating its cute little socks off. An average of 223,000 kids were watching the show by the end of its first run and it's been repeated twice (its ratings were 32.2 per cent higher than anything Here's Humphrey ever managed). By the end of 1999, Australian parents had bought $5.5 million worth of their videos and nearly $ 1 million worth of merchandise. While they haven't yet made BRWs entertainers rich list (like the Wiggles, worth $9 million last year, or the Bananas, who made another $7.03 million) they're now a successful brand in the hotly contested toddler TV market. It's Machine Week and Hi-5 is singing about robots. The fuzzy synthesisers and doof-doof rhythms wouldn't sound out of place on an '80s compilation. "You're. My. Robot. You make me feel. Safe and sound. You're as strong as steel!" A crowd of 140 children aged two to eight have gathered in the Channel Nine canteen at 9.30am to rehearse the moves. How many? whisper the floor staff. Eighty have been bussed in from mm m 8 SundayLife! SundayLife! 9

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