They’re big babies, they are. Four big babies with unfailingly huge eyes who roll around in their romper suits repeating nonsensical baby talk.
They’re big indeed. Some 2 million Britons sit down every day to watch them. And the people behind those babies hope they’ll be big with viewers in the United States and other countries, too.
They’re the Teletubbies, four babies - adult actors in suits, really - who have become hugely successful on British television since debuting in the spring.
The Teletubbies, wearing bright colored space-type suits with antennas sprouting from their heads and TV sets in their bellies, inhabit a make-believe world filled with fanciful technology.
Created for the often ignored audience of children under age 5, the Teletubbies have entranced older viewers as well with their simple, innocent adventures.
Each one is strongly individual: Tinky Winky, in purple is big and gentle, keen on dancing and falling around; Dipsy, the green one, tries being cool - and has a special song, “bptum bptum bptum bptum.”
That’s not to be confused with the song by Po, the smallest and in red, which goes, “Fi dit fi dit - ma ma ma ma”; or the one by Laa Laa, in yellow, which is, yes, “la la la.”
“We always knew it would be very successful because of the way in which we researched the program - all done with children,” says Chris Bates, spokesman for Ragdoll Productions, which produces the series on the British Broadcasting Corp.
Researchers filmed sample audiences - children under 6 representing various population segments - as they watched footage of the four babies singing, dancing, and bouncing around in Teletubbyland, a green meadow filled with flowers, hills and fun.
“We take note of how the children respond,” Bates said. “If they are enchanted by the program, it stays. If they turn away and their body language tells us they are not interested, it goes.”
Ragdoll Productions was founded in 1987 by a former schoolteacher, Ann Wood, 60, who got into TV with a program aimed at encouraging children to read for pleasure.
A recent Ragdoll Production, “Tots TV,” already is attracting a big American audience, airing on 238 PBS stations.
Promoters are negotiating U.S. sales of “Teletubbies,” but it’s all top-secret until the deals are signed, says Eileen Potrock, spokeswoman for a New York-based entertainment company called itsy bitsy, which is handling the American rights.
BBC Worldwide, in charge of other foreign sales, has sold to a South African network, M-Net, and expects many more buyers.
Alongside with epic dramas, such as “Tom Jones,” Henry Fielding’s classic set in 18th-century England, BBC Worldwide is offering “Teletubbies” as a top attraction to foreign buyers.
“Teletubbies” started out with a respectable audience of 500,000 viewers during the school term. This has soared in the summer when older children are home to watch.
The estimated viewership of 2 million doesn’t count youngsters, since Britain’s independent ratings authorities assume those under 5 aren’t the ones switching channels.
Part of the secret of the show’s success, Bates said, is the way the Teletubbies say most things twice.
“This is an educational program designed to prepare children for more formal learning,” he said. “The repetition is because our evidence suggests that, unlike adults, young children find it difficult to watch and listen simultaneously.”
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.