Bio-Man and his squad were in danger. This time, however, their fate was not resting in the hands of Zadar, the evil half-human, half-robot thug who wants to conquer the world, but in those of two actors unions and a coalition of television producers locked in tense contract negotiations.
If the actors struck, Saban Productions of Studio City probably would have blown its deadline for producing the pilot program for its proposed "Bio-Man" space adventure series about five kids with identical "biorhythms" who defend Earth against Zadar's attacks.
Luckily for Saban, if not for mankind, the tentative contract settlement reached earlier this month allowed shooting to start as scheduled last Wednesday. Now, all Saban and Bio-Man have to watch out for are impatient television executives, hard-to-please sponsors and fickle viewers.
Such are the hurdles faced by Saban, one of the two or three biggest suppliers of cartoon music in the United States and Europe, as it moves into producing offbeat television shows.
Saban's first show, "Kidd Video," a combination of live action, animation and music videos, has been a hit for NBC in its two seasons. Made by Saban and the DIC Enterprises animation company in Encino, the show, which portrays the adventures of a young rock band, consistently ranks in the top 10 among children's programs in weekly ratings.
Along with "Bio-Man," Saban is developing a children's game show pitting siblings against one another; a program in which couples argue about petty matters before a referee, and another featuring friends of movie stars who tell stories about the celebrities' private lives. Also in the works is Macron I, a Japanese cartoon adventure series being dubbed in English and scored with hit songs that Saban is touting as animation's "Miami Vice."
None of the shows in development except Macron I has been picked up yet for syndication to local television stations or by any of the three major networks. NBC executives, however, said they watched a trial run of the children's game show last Wednesday night and are interested in it.
Two Formed Partnership
The shows are primarily the creation of Haim Saban, 41, who handles business negotiations, and his partner, Shuki Levy, 40, a musician who develops the music. The two have built their partnership into a $10-million-a-year operation with headquarters in a small set of offices and studios on Ventura Boulevard, where 36 full-time employees work. The partners, who also have a record company in Paris and a concert-promotion agency in Tel Aviv, hope to build their production company into a business surpassing $50 million a year.
The Egyptian-born Saban said he believes the transition from composing music for television to making TV shows will be reasonably easy, adding that developing television music was not nearly as difficult as he expected it to be.
"This isn't brain surgery," he said. "If 'Bio-Man' dies, maybe I'll go on and work on something that becomes the next 'Wheel of Fortune.' "
But others are skeptical. Saban "has lofty ideals, and I wish him luck in reaching them. But there is a substantial difference in being a producer of music and being a producer of entire television programs," said Karyn Ulman, vice president of music for Taft Entertainment, owner of the animation companies Hanna-Barbera Productions, Ruby-Spears Enterprises and Southern Star Productions.
Became Top Producer
Saban Productions' rapid growth has a lot to do with the close relationship it developed with DIC, the animation company, while supplying music to the firm. DIC in the past four years has grown from a kitchen-table operation in Westwood to a top producer of animated television shows, including "Heathcliff" and "Inspector Gadget."
Saban also has been helped by having friends in high places, among them Phyllis Tucker Vinson, vice president of children's programming at NBC. She said that she met Saban four years ago at a time when she was fed up with what she describes as too much "Wrigley's chewing-gum"-style music in cartoon shows. Saban, she said, has given her a more contemporary electronic rock sound with heavy use of synthesizers in such programs as "Punky Brewster" and "Mr. T."
Saban also benefited from entering the cartoon music business when demand for animation programing was exploding, largely because of the deregulation-inspired rise in the number of television stations. From 1980 to 1985, the number of operating TV stations nationwide rose 36% to 1,493 from 1,094. The increase opened up a vast market for syndication, the highly profitable means by which producers sell shows directly to stations instead of going through the networks.