As Teletubbies turn 10, creators launch new show

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After sparking a sensation, and controversy, with the Teletubbies a decade ago, the creators of the tiny, colorful TV characters are back with a new, preschooler show--and being welcomed with opened arms.

Anne Wood and Andrew Davenport, whose new show In The Night Garden debuted in Britain this month, admit they were stunned at the negative reaction when the Teletubbies were launched in a BBC children's television series in 1997.

Young children adored the rotund characters who lived in Teletubbyland making toast, playing games, and engaging in other daily routines, but some parents objected to the characters speaking in baby talk.

The controversy escalated when American televangelist, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, suggested that one of the four, Tinky Winky, the purple character who carries a handbag, may be homosexual.

"We laughed when we first heard it, but in the United States certain communities took it seriously to our horror and it damaged the brand considerably in America," Wood told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"Whether Tinky Winky is gay or not is still the most frequently asked question that we get."

So it is with some amusement that Wood and Davenport are sending Tinky Winky, along with Po (the red one), Laa-Laa (yellow), and Dipsy (green) to New York this week to receive the keys to the city from Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Ragdoll Ltd., Wood's company that owns rights to the Teletubbies, will also be launching a new line of Teletubby products, positioning them as retro chic and aimed at teens who grew up with the show.

Wood said the appeal of the Teletubbies, which was sold to about 120 countries and translated into 41 languages, remained although the controversy is over, with at least three university studies on the characters finding the show was actually positive rather than damaging for preschoolers.

Wood and Davenport made 365 episodes of the show, which they finished shooting about four years ago, and have no plans to make any more.

"The Teletubbies are working 10 years on with a completely new audience, so why would we make any more?" she said.

In the last few years they have instead directed their energy toward In The Night Garden, their first project together since the Teletubbies, spending about $27 million making 100 episodes of 30 minutes each. The show is now broadcast in Britain and has been bought by New Zealand.

Each episode opens with a child tucked in bed and sailing beneath a starry sky across the sea to a garden populated by more than 30 characters.

"It is supposed to evoke the sense of a bedtime story ... and it is partly in response to the feeling that we are living in anxious times," Davenport said. "It is about stories and nursery rhymes and those moments of silliness that happen between parents and children at bedtime."

He said they had received an overwhelmingly positive response to the new show.