Magazine article Metro Magazine

Helena Harris of Kids like Us. (Producer Profile)

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Helena Harris of Kids like Us. (Producer Profile)

Article excerpt

If you've had kids in the past decade or so, there are good odds that at least one of Helena Harris' projects has come into your life. The results will be scattered around the house--on the video shelf, the bookshelf, the CD shelf, hanging in the wardrobe, or piled up in the toy basket.

Harris was the originating producer of Bananas in Pyjamas and is one of two founding producers of Hi-5 (the other, Posie Graeme-Evans, is now Head of Drama at the Nine Network). She helped create Syd, Ollie and Millie, the mascots for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, and has left her mark on Playschool.

Harris' projects are some of the most successful, pervasive Australian pre-school programmes ever to hit the airwaves. Bananas is seen in over seventy countries, and Hi-5 is seen in over sixty and still counting. As live shows and merchandise sales attest, there are legions of young fans.

Harris cut her teeth cutting film. Starting in the 1970s, she worked as an editor--first for a small Perth production company that specialized in documentaries, then for the ABC in Perth and Sydney.

'In 1981, the industry was going through a boom,' recalls Harris.

The ABC decided it needed more directors and producers, and chose eight people from around Australia to train. I was one of the fortunate ones who got to do a producer's course. I came out and went straight into producing and directing documentaries and the programme Towards 2000, which looked at breakthroughs in science and technology. From there, I moved into directing drama.

Having children changes you, and Harris was no exception. 'My head was full of children, so I moved into the ABC's children's area. We did a teenage show called Big Square Eye, which sold its format rights internationally. And then we did Bananas.'

B1 and B2 first giggled their way onto Aussie screens in 1992. To give you an idea of how involved Harris was with the project, two of the three Teddies were named after Harris' two children, and the third after one of their friends. The show became a huge success for the network, and merchandise sales helped turn around the fortunes of the, then struggling, ABC Shops.

Jump forward a few years. It is 1997, and she and Posie Graeme-Evans are working on different projects in Adelaide. 'Posie was one of the other eight people on the producer's course in 1981,' says Harris.

We happened to be in Adelaide together, and decided to have dinner. We saw that we thought very similarly, and decided it was time for us to work together. We started the production company Kids Like Us with a first look deal with Itel, an international distributor, who paid us some development funds. Hi-5 was our first project to get off the ground.

Kids Like Us set its sights high. 'Our philosophy was that we wanted to create quality children's television that has a positive impact on our audience. We wanted to make things we enjoyed, and to work with people we liked.'

The Hi-5 pitch to the Nine Network is one of those 'right place at the right time' stories. Harris and Graeme-Evans were at the SPAA (Screen Producers Association of Australia) annual conference when they saw Kris Noble, then Head of Drama at Nine. They pitched the show as 'Spice Girls do education'. …

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