Licensing the Dragon

June 4-5, 1994.

Dudley the Dragon appeared at the PBS National Convention in Florida, his debut in America.  By then, 150 PBS stations had committed for 25 episodes.  The list continued to grow, and why not?  For them, the show was free.

Executive producer Peter Williamson explained:  “Dudley is underwritten by Vail Associates [a ski resort] in Colorado.  So, it’s a great deal for public TV. We are able to offer the program free. And we offer a partnership deal with our merchandising. If you buy a Dudley toy part of what you pay goes back to the stations.”

Additional funding for the second season came from Good Times Video, which had procured the home video rights.  Other contributions came from provincial educational networks, several federal ministries and Telefilm Canada.  The show’s end credits names Natural Resources Canada, Health Canada, Environment Canada, Canadian Heritage, Rogers Telefund and the Ontario Film Investment Program.

Dudley needed all the financial help he could get.  The show’s budget ranged from CAN$150,000 an episode (Peter Williamson in The Press-Enterprise, June 26, 1995) to CAN$200,000 (Financial Post, December 22, 1994).

June 10, 1994.

The Wall Street Journal previewed the Licensing Expo to be held the following week.  The article compared Dudley favorably to Barney the Dinosaur, a preschool smash at retail stores.  Licensees covered “video, toys, towels, bags and rainwear, bedding and children’s apparel” featuring the green dragon.

Was Dudley the next Barney?  The Wall Street Journal seemed to suggest that.  At the Expo, Breakthrough was besieged with 250 people clamoring for licensing rights to the character.  Executive producer Ira Levy reported 45 licensees had signed.

September 1994.

In America, The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon premiered on nearly 200 PBS stations.  Good Times introduced videos of the first two episodes, “Dudley Finds His Home” and “Dudley’s Tea Party,” on September 15.  Noting the show’s high ratings on WNET, and the interest of their own kids, Macy’s Department Store executives contacted Rob Stone of Meridian Direct, Dudley’s American licensing agent.  Would they be interested in Dudley appearing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?  Stone spent $85,000 to get Dudley on a float.  The dragon would be exposed to 45 million TV viewers.

October 1994.

About 24 Canadian licensees had signed.

November 1994.

Dudley merchandise started appearing at retail outlets.  Happiness Express flooded stores with 250,000 plush Dudleys. They budgeted $300,000 for TV commercials airing through spring 1995.

Stone predicted, “By next Christmas, if you were Dudley nuts, you could get everything from a Dudley plush that talks, with 250 sayings, to a talking placemat.  Then we’ll have storybooks, and clothing, and slippers and backpacks, and school supplies and all the Hallmark cards and gift wrap and party goods, so that every child can have their birthday party this summer with a Dudley theme.”

Sources: Kevin Goldman, Wall Street Journal. (Eastern edition). New York, N.Y.: June 10, 1994, “Marketers Search for Successor to Barney and the Power Rangers,” p. B3; Craig Shapiro, The Virginian-Pilot, September 13, 1994, “Kidvid: No Case is Too Thorny for the Olsen Twins to Crack,” p. E1; Tony Atherton, Kingston Whig – Standard, Kingston, Ontario, December 20, 1994, “Ex-Civil Servant Likely Next Hit: New PBS Star Dudley is a Do-Right Canadian-Style Dino,” p. 26;  Gayle MacDonald, Financial Post, Toronto, Ontario, December 22, 1994, “Watch Out Barney, There’s a New Reptile in Town,” Sec. 1, p. 5; Bob Sokolsky, The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, CA, June 26, 1995, “Dragon’s Show is Taken Off Endangered List,” p. B5; Norman Vanamee, New York Magazine, vol. 28, no. 49, December 11, 1995, “Miracle on 34th Street II,” p. 22; Jill Gambon, Crain’s New York Business, vol. 10, n. 37, September 12, 1994, “Dragon Could Breathe Fire into toy Firm’s Bottom Line,” Section 1, p. 15.