The ABC has ceased production of its iconic children's television program, Bananas in Pyjamas. The last of 156 episodes of the animated version of the original 1992 live-action series will air on ABC2 at the end of the month, one month before the Bananas turn 21.
The ABC's head of children's content, Tim Brooke-Hunt, said that even though the program is watched by an average of 380,000 viewers nationally, and is the public network's biggest-selling children's product on the international market, screening in 130 countries, Bananas in Pyjamas does not generate enough revenue to justify a fourth season.
“It is a matter of money. Although we have been nicely treated by the government in the context of funding of our school-age channel, ABC3, the reality is that ABC4Kids (on ABC2), is funded from the previously existing, general allocation for the ABC,” Brooke-Hunt said.
He said international merchandise sales, rather than screening rights, were key to the program's longevity, and that overseas sales of toys, books and DVDs connected with the current series were disappointing compared with the “millions of dollars a year” in merchandise profits generated by the original series at the height of its fame.
The animated series, in which the ABC invested an estimated $100,000 per half-hour of screen time, will continue to be repeated on ABC2. Brooke-Hunt said the network would not consider commissioning another season for at least two years, and that overseas merchandise figures would be a deciding factor in any future decisions to renew the program.
Children saw the Bananas as their friends who made them laugh.
Executive producer of the current series, Barbara Uecker, the former head of German children's television channel, KiKA, said the ABC's decision not to commission a fourth season was a “sad moment” for the production team.
“It was a huge responsibility to work with these iconic characters. We were very careful to keep the essence of the original series that made it so popular, and to keep the values. These Bananas are just adorable characters. They want to help everybody. Of course we introduced a few new characters. We didn't want to just produce a ninth season.”
Four hundred episodes of the original series were produced from 1992 until 2001, and repeated over the following nine years. Creators Claire Henderson and Simon Hopkinson refused to comment on the animated version, with which they are not involved, but attributed the characters' enduring popularity to their vision for non-educational children's entertainment; a radical concept in what Hopkinson described as the socially conscious children's programming landscape of the early 1990s.
“Everything else (at the time) had a heart-on-the-sleeve attitude that if you were doing preschool television, you had to be teaching children social values. Our pitch was to come up with five-minute funny stories,” said Hopkinson.
Inspired by a song submitted to the producers of PlaySchool by lyricist Carey Blyton (nephew of English children's author, Enid Blyton), and incorporated into that show with a short animated sequence, the Bananas got their big break in May, 1991, when, according to Hopkinson, the ABC was required to increase local content and dispense with unspent funds at the end of the financial year. What began as a low-budget show with actors in suits performing on studio sets soon became a hit with children all over the world.
“It was entertainment first, that's all we were concerned with,” said Henderson.
"From the very beginning, when we talked to children about the program, the words that would come up were, 'It's funny, it's silly'. They saw the Bananas as their friends who made them laugh. It's like how adults might relate to somebody like George on Seinfeld. We got the humour right.”