Can Wishbone Sniff Out Barney's Trail?
Can Wishbone Sniff Out Barney's Trail?
Dec. 06, 1994
PLANO, Texas (AP) _ No doubt about it, the star of an upcoming public television series looks heroic playing Odysseus in full classic garb. It shows in his proud posture, his tender brown eyes, the slant of his snout.
The star of ''Wishbone'' is Wishbone, who is portrayed by a Jack Russell terrier named Soccer and three supporting canine cohorts, vegetable-dyed to match.
The children's series is being filmed in Plano by Big Feats 3/8 Entertainment, a new television production company and unit of privately held Lyrick Studios.
Lyrick's other entertainment unit is The Lyons Group of Allen, creator of no less a public television juggernaut than Barney the dinosaur.
It's a cinch that Big Feats 3/8 would love to watch Wishbone nipping at his cousin's big purple heels, sniffing out his own share of the millions of dollars in licensing revenues that Barney has generated.
Rick Duffield, creator and executive producer of the program, says those comparisons are difficult. For starters, ''Wishbone'' is aimed at a more mature age - 6 to 11 - and has a more sophisticated, live action-adventure concept.
The idea is to take a literary classic, boil it down to a half-hour story, and give the dog the elaborate costumes and settings to act out the starring role in his fantasies. Meanwhile, a thematically similar contemporary plot line for Wishbone's family and friends, played by human actors, helps young viewers relate to the classic, Duffield said.
''You've got to pick out the bones of the story, in Wishbone terms,'' said Stephanie Simpson, supervising producer, senior writer and story editor. ''You find those elements and translate them into dog terms.''
''He serves as, I like to call it, a canine bridge between life and literature,'' Duffield said. ''The character Wishbone is sort of the imaginative child in all of us.
''The whole idea is to show that these stories are timeless really, that they have something to say to us today because we're going through the same things today.''
As Sherlock Holmes in ''The Hound of the Baskervilles'' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Wishbone dons a tailored white shirt, bow tie and vest.
Other characters he portrays include Don Quixote, Oliver Twist, Ivanhoe, Rip Van Winkle, Cyrano de Bergerac, even Romeo in William Shakespeare's ''Romeo and Juliet.'' In the latter, Wishbone is taken to the pound and becomes smitten with a beautiful beagle next door, who later is adopted.
''It's a brand-new interpretation of this role,'' said Simpson.
The show is aimed at bringing classics off the shelf and into the lives of the whole family, and to help children recognize the themes and main characters when they later read the books. For Duffield, the Wishbone idea interprets the wishful thinking of a Walter Mitty through a dog's perspective.
''A dog's point of view on life is in some ways like a child's point of view - you know, the underdog, kind of small, facing the world for the first time,'' he said.
Serious though the material may be, Wishbone keeps a goofy touch in his stunts, such as back flips, and in his voice, interpreted by Larry Brantley.
''It's kind of fun being a shepherd or a tour guide through classical literature,'' Brantley said at the show's headquarters, sporting a Wishbone jacket embroidered with the name, ''Dog Boy.''
The show is being produced on its own 50,000-square-foot sound stage and 10-acre backlot north of Dallas. Work began in August, and it will take about a year to make the 40 shows that will debut next fall and be broadcast over some 300 public television stations nationwide, during weekday morning and afternoon children's slots.
Under terms of their agreement, the Public Broadcasting Service will receive unlimited broadcast rights for three years, as well as a share of any income earned by Big Feats 3/8 through the sale of Wishbone program-related merchandise.
PBS pays a license fee to Big Feats 3/8 for the right to broadcast the show, but it doesn't cover expenses, said Duffield, one of the Big Feats 3/8 partners.
He won't say how much money the shows cost to produce, but he admits it's considerably more than the average children's program.
''We're currently looking for underwriters to help us defer the cost of production, and we are exploring a marketing plan for the future for bringing Wishbone to children and families in other forms. We have not made any specific plans yet,'' Duffield said.
''We believe it's an investment for the future.''