Young viewers who tuned in to kiddie-cabler Sprout at holiday time in recent years would likely be treated to a special featuring the famous kids’ character Caillou or an animated film all about the Gruffalo, a made up half grizzly bear and half buffalo from a favorite book by author Julia Donaldson.
Starting this week, they’ll see a more typical cast of characters.
In the NBCUniversal network’s latest bid to promote its own original programming over acquired content, Sprout will for the first time stock its holiday programming with special shows based on five of its newest series. Starting November 25, Sprout will debut “Terrific Trucks Save Christmas,” “Ruff-Ruff, Tweet and Dave: A Christmas Adventure” “Noddy Toyland Detective: The Case of the Snow Mystery,” “Dot: The Holiday Tree” and “Nina’s World: Hanukkah Adventure.” The last will feature a voice cameo by actress Mayim Bialik, known for her roles in “Blossom” and “The Big Bang Theory,” among other programs.
“We are fully committed to originals for all sorts of reasons, including the fact that they are financially better for us,” said Amy Friedman, senior vice president of programming and development for Sprout, in an interview. “We took five fan favorites and really invested in these premium holiday specials, which we think will serve us for years to come.”
Although Sprout launched in 2005 as a joint-venture cable network owned by PBS, Comcast, Sesame Workshop and Apax Partners, it is just now really starting to forge a more definite identity. The network had subsisted on some old PBS shows, a few hand-me-downs that once ran elsewhere and a few originals, including “The Good Night Show” and “The Sunny Side Up Show,” featuring a playful anthropomorphic chicken named Chica. In the past two years, however, the network – now owned outright by NBCUniversal – has worked to develop programs it also controls outright. The strategy has had a payoff, said Friedman, citing an 8% increase in viewership by kids between 2 and 5.
In one of the five specials, “Terrific Trucks Save Christmas,” the titular vehicles fight back against a local businessman who wants to ruin a hundred-year-old Christmas tree-raising tradition. In “Nina’s World: Hanukkah Adventure,” Nina and friends learn about the Jewish holiday and its traditions. In “Ruff-Ruff, Tweet and Dave: A Christmas Adventure,” the show’s three protagonists set off to return a hat to Santa Claus. In “Noddy Toyland Detective: The Case of the Snow Mystery,” Noddy examines how to make it snow on Christmas Day. In two special episodes of “Dot,” the young heroine sets off to replace lost holiday decorations and write a holiday song that will appeal to people of all denominations.
The specials start Friday, November 25.
In tandem with the specials, Sprout will launch an on-air campaign to call attention to being present in the moments that families spend together. The “Be Present” initiative will show live-action spots depicting funny and touching moments among real people. The campaign begins Thanksgiving weekend and will run through New Year’s Eve.