Teletubbies Mk II is launched

THE BBC is to try and replicate the worldwide success of the Teletubbies with a new pounds 3m children's programme designed to attract pre-school "Tubby" viewers as they grow older.

The corporation has commissioned an unprecedented 260 episodes of Tweenies, a show aimed at three-to-five year olds which uses a similar formula to Teletubbies.

But this time the BBC has learnt from its experience with the Teletubbies and signed up all the rights to Tweenies programmes and merchandising worldwide. In two years, Teletubbies has made over pounds 50m for the BBC from programme and merchandise sales in over 40 countries. However it has missed out on millions more from sales in the US, where the programme's creator Anne Wood holds the rights to the show. Ms Wood is now estimated to be worth pounds 55m.

Tweenies, which is to begin in September, features four brightly coloured "children" who have actors inside them operating animatronic heads, which react to the actors smiling, frowning or talking. The characters, Jake, Fizz, Milo and Bella are aged between three and five and the action takes place at their playgroup.

"The Tweenies are only one step away from reality and hopefully children will relate to everything they do," said Ian Lauchlan, the executive producer of the series.

The characteristics of theTweenies may lead to the BBC being accused of gender stereotyping. Fizz and Bella, the two female characters are described in the programme publicity as loving ballet and dressing up. In contrast, Jake and Milo like dismantling toys, and are said to be full of "energy, speed and loudness".

Roy Thompson, the BBC's head of children's commissioning, denied the characters were out-dated: "In different programmes the children will do different things - in some the boys may well like ballet."

Mr Thompson has high hopes for Tweenies, which is why it has been given such a long run: "The success of Teletubbies led us to believe it appropriate to do more for slightly older audiences. BBC Worldwide expects to sell the programme abroad as successfully as it sold Teletubbies."