Saddle Club: articles

Cast and crew saddle up and move on

TELEVISION series The Saddle Club has all but wrapped up filming its third season in the shire.

Porcupine Ridge farewelled the cast and crew of The Saddle Club's third series last week after six months in the region.

A crew of more than 70 has lived and worked in the shire for nine months, providing an economic boost for the district.

The region will also benefit from international exposure as The Saddle Club is screened on 300 channels in the United States and throughout Europe and the United Kingdom.

The show, which began in 2001, centres around the lives of three girls who take care of horses.

Co-producers Crawford Productions and Protocol Entertainment chose to shoot the popular teen series in the shire because of its spectacular terrain; the perfect backdrop for Pine Hollow Stables.

Crawford Productions chief executive officer Nick McMahon, said filming the 26-part series had injected more than $9 million into the Victorian economy.

"Series one and two of The Saddle Club attracted a huge audience in Australia and overseas and we're proud to say that our third series presents another wonderful cast and magnificent production," Mr McMahon said.

"Shooting on location in the Hepburn Shire means audiences in the United States, Canada, UK, Europe and Australia will get to see the beauty of regional Victoria, and will hopefully encourage others to also make the most of Victoria's hospitality."

Mayor Tim Hayes said he looked forward to the production returning for a fourth series.

"We are very pleased to have hosted The Saddle Club in our shire.

"Film making brings many community and economic benefits and our experience with films like Mad Max, Ned Kelly, Salem's Lot, Love's Brother, Ponderosa and The Man from Snowy River has demonstrated this," Cr Hayes said.

Film Victoria chief executive Sandra Sdraulig said The Saddle Club was a part of a long list of productions made in the state.

"They showcase our state to the world and provide excellent opportunities for our practitioners to hone their skills and build their portfolios," Ms Sdraulig said.

The third season features an all-new, international cast including Australian Ariel Kaplan.

June 03, 2008

Saddle Club star Jessica Jacobs farewelled

CHILD television star Jessica Jacobs, who was tragically killed by a train after slipping from a platform was farewelled yesterday.

Jessica Jacobs, an emerging 17-year-old stage and screen actor and musician, was about to meet her mother to go shopping for her brother's birthday present when tragedy struck on Saturday.

The family have been told the teenager tripped from the platform and fell on to railway lines at Cheltenham railway station about midday.

Jessica was farewelled in St Kilda yesterday and a police-led cortegem will lead a horse-drawn carriage from Holy Trinity Church to St Kilda Cemetery.

Jessica, known as Jessie to her friends, was well known in the world of children's television, starring in Saddle Club, Worst Best Friends, Fergus McPhail and Holly's Heroes.

She also appeared in live productions, including The Sound of Music with Bert Newton and Lisa McCune.

Jessica, who was a gifted violinist and bassist, had planned to join the Victorian College of the Arts next year.

Her most prominent role was as Melanie in the hit series The Saddle Club, which was filmed when she was 12.

Producer Lynn Bayonas said Jessica was a breath of fresh air. "She was absolutely gorgeous. She was always in with the jokes, mischievous, just a delightful, delightful girl."

Her brother Adam, 24, said his sister was destined to succeed in the entertainment industry.

But he said the family had been distressed by a Connex station worker who had told people, including them, Jessica's death was not an accident.

Victoria Police investigators, however, have told the family Jessica stumbled as she walked along the platform.

Adam Jacobs said his stepfather and mother visited the station to view a makeshift shrine to Jessica when a woman working at the station told them it was not an accident. "My mum wants an apology. Where is their corporate conscience?" he said.

Connex spokesman John Rees said the company would launch an investigation into the allegation.

"We appreciate this is a terrible time for the family," he said.

"We want to find out what the situation was before we take any disciplinary action."

Mr Jacobs said his sister was in high spirits about a gig at the Espy in St Kilda, had settled on where she would hold her 18th birthday celebrations in November and was planning to move out of home.

"She was planning to move in with me," he said.

"Jessie wanted to be a musician, that was her life. I believed she was going to succeed."

Jessica also had two younger brothers - Seth, aged 14, and Charlie, two.

Bert Newton led the tributes. "Jessie was a lovely kid. She was very talented with a great future ahead of her," he said.

"Apart from The Sound of Music, she also appeared with me on my Good Morning Australia show as a star of Saddle Club. This is so sad."

Her agent of 10 years, Jacki Jenkinson, said Jessie was one of the most talented young actors she had seen: "She was just a vibrant young girl, quirky and amazing. It's absolutely devastating."

A report will be prepared for coroner.

By Anthony Dowsley
May 17, 2008


Rail tragedy ... Saddle Club cast members Kia Luby, Lara Marshall, Jessie Jacobs and Janelle Corlass-Brown back in 2003

Saddle Club star Jessica Jacobs killed by train

A YOUNG Melbourne actress has been killed by a train on her way to buy her brother a birthday present.

Seventeen-year-old Jessica Jacobs tripped and fell on railway lines at Cheltenham railway station on Saturday, May 10, and was struck by a train, family friend Jeff Joseph said today.

She was heading to buy her brother Adam a birthday present, he added.

Jessica, known as Jesse to her friends, was well known in the world of children's television, starring in Saddle Club, Worst Best Friends, Fergus McPhail and Holly's Heroes.

She also appeared in live productions including the Sound of Music with Bert Newton and Lisa McCune.

Mr Joseph said Jesse, a student at Sandringham Secondary College, was a tenacious, popular and bright girl.

Her funeral will be held tomorrow at the Holy Trinity Church in St Kilda.

This comes after another person involved in the Saddle Club series, Canadian rock musician Carl Dixon, was critically injured in a car accident.

Dixon was recording an album for the series, in which his daughter Lauren is also a star.

Jessica also featured on that album.

Dixon suffered broken bones, head and facial injuries in a head-on smash at Ballan, west of Melbourne, on April 16.

He remains in hospital but has posted a letter to fans on his website, saying while his extensive injuries are a challenge, he is upbeat about the situation.

May 15, 2008
The Daily Telegraph

Saddle Club star's dad critical after crash

The father of a young actress from hit kids' show The Saddle Club is in a critical condition in hospital after a crash in Ballan on Monday, Canadian media reports say.

The Toronto Star reports that Canadian musician Carl Dixon, whose daughter Lauren plays the role of Stevie in an upcoming series of The Saddle Club, was involved in a head-on collision.

He was airlifted to The Alfred hospital.

His official website says Dixon was travelling back from a recording studio where he was working on a project for the television show.

"Our Hearts, Love and thoughts go out to him and his family at this tough time,'' a statement on the website says.

Dixon was a member of Canadian band Coney Hatch, and has played with other acts including The Guess Who and April Wine.

"He really just needs all the support he can get and all the love of his fans," Dixon's daughter Carlin reportedly told The Toronto Star.

Dixon was reportedly visiting Australia for two weeks and was due to return this week.

Victoria Police have said a 40-year-old Canadian man was left in a critical condition after the head-on crash, which occurred in Ballan about 7.45pm on Monday.

The driver of the other vehicle, a 32-year-old man from Jan Juc, was taken to the Royal Melbourne Hospital with serious injuries.

A spokeswoman for The Alfred hospital said the man was in a critical condition.

By Matthew Burgess
April 16, 2008

The Saddle Club Rides Again

Protocol Entertainment Inc. and Crawford Productions Pty Ltd. Announce New Adventures for the Hit TV Series.

Series to be filmed on Location in Australia & Casting scheduled for Toronto and Melbourne

TORONTO August 13, 2007—The Saddle Club™ heroines Stevie, Lisa and Carole - are getting back in the saddle for 26 new half-hour episodes of fun, friendship and horses. The popular live-action TV series about three 12-year-old girls and their horses, based on the best-selling books by Bonnie Bryant, has captured the hearts and imaginations of kids around the world.

A book, television, licensing and merchandising success story The Saddle Club™ is a global brand with a loyal following. “Millions of fans of The Saddle Club™ have been eagerly waiting for this moment,” said Nick McMahon, CEO of Crawford Productions. “They will be thrilled that their favorite series is going back into production with new stories and new stars.”

The live-action series follows the adventures of Stevie, Carole and Lisa the girls who formed the Saddle Club at Pine Hollow Stables, The Saddle Club members seem to have it all a great riding stable, amazing teachers, beautiful horses, acres of trails to ride and loyalty to each other. But added to the excitement of the horse world, learning to ride and caring for their horses are the challenges each girl faces on her individual journey of self-discovery and growth.

“The Saddle Club™ appeals to young girls because they see the series heroines as role models for a positive self-image, loyalty to friends and an active lifestyle,” said Steve Levitan, CEO and president of Protocol Entertainment. “The kids in the series confront real-life situations and no matter what adventures come along the Saddle Club members believe: Together, they can do anything! We think that’s a great message to send to all kids.”

Since the publication of Horse Crazy, the first book by children’s author Bonnie Bryant, more than 16 million books in the 110-title series have been sold worldwide. The success of the books inspired the hit TV series, licensing and merchandising. The TV series first premiered in 2001 on the ABC Network in Australia, YTV in Canada and followed by the Discovery Kids Channel in the U.S.

The Saddle Club™ is currently seen in over 14 countries. Eaton Films ltd. (UK) has been a partner and international distributor for The Saddle Club™ franchise beginning with the first two series and will be for Series 3 The Saddle Club Rides Again. “We are extremely proud to be associated with a high-quality global children’s brand that inspires positive values and a love of horses,” said Judith Gordon, CEO and proprietor of Eaton Films.

In 2006, Girl Power Meets Horse Power, the first 26 half-hour adventures of The Saddle Club™ were launched on public television stations across America through American Public Television (APT Exchange) in association with Connecticut Public Broadcasting, Inc. (CPTV). The second series The Girls Are Growing Up will premiere on public television stations on September 1, 2007. In Canada, The Saddle Club™ is currently available on TVO/Ontario and Knowledge Network/BC.

Protocol Entertainment, Inc. is one of Canada’s most celebrated producers of popular and critically-acclaimed children’s entertainment television programming.

The company is recognized worldwide for producing high quality, audience and award-winning series for kids and families based on best-selling book properties. The company that produced the smash hits Goosebumps™, Animorphs™, Dear America™ (with Scholastic Productions, Inc.) and co-producer of The Saddle Club™ television series, Protocol Entertainment, Inc. is based in Toronto.

Crawford Productions Pty Ltd. is Australia’s most established and respected television production company. Part of the WIN Group one of the most significant and diverse privately owned media organizations in Australia today, the Crawfords name is synonymous with high quality, locally-produced entertainment. Crawfords Australia pioneered television in Australia, with programs ranging from police dramas, sitcoms, mini-series and children’s drama.

Based in Melbourne, the company has produced over 4,000 hours of television programming, including the internationally acclaimed The Flying Doctors.

Press release
August 13, 2007

The Saddle Club Series 3 in development due to worldwide demand

Crawford Productions Australia and Protocol Entertainment Canada, are pleased to announce they have commenced development of the next series of the popular girls television series, The Saddle Club.

Steve Levitan, President and CEO of Protocol Entertainment said, 'We are really excited about the gathering momentum behind The Saddle Club television series. It's the most popular and highest repeated show on Discovery Kids and GoodTimes Entertainment is about to release the first of two new video movies that are sure to increase the popularity of the franchise.' Levitan said that it is gratifying to produce a show that fills in a distinct gap in the spectrum of programming available for tween girls.

Nick McMahon, CEO of Crawford's said, 'Following the overwhelming audience response to Series 1 and 2, this is an obvious progression of The Saddle Club brand which has been widely embraced by young girls all over the world. Eagerly awaited by fans and broadcasters alike, Series 3 promises to continue the classic, much loved themes of friendship, horses and adventure established in Bonnie Bryant's best-selling books.'

In Australia the show has spawned a successful children's brand with categories including fashion and accessories, toys, website, live events, music, publishing and DVDs. Besides Australia, The Saddle Club is broadcast in Europe and North America, and is the longest running and most rotated show on the USA's Discovery Kids TV.

Crawford Productions press release
April 13, 2005

Heli Simpson with fan, Chloe Baker

MEETING the fans‧ Heli Simpson signs a poster for Chloe Baker, 6, of Mango Hill, at the launch of her debut album at Toombul shopping centre yesterday.

Saddle Club bad girl has something more to sing about

THEY are the young stars who live out every little girl's dream of horsemanship and friendship – and yesterday the Saddle Club team breezed in to Brisbane.

For actor Heli Simpson, yesterday's appearance at Toombul shopping centre, in Brisbane's inner northeast, marked a significant point in her young career—the launch of her debut album as her Saddle Club alter ego.

The Melbourne 16-year-old plays bad girl Veronica in the television series inspired by the children's books written by Bonnie Bryant.

She is the first member of the Saddle Club team to produce a solo album, even though a singing career had never been part of her plans.

"I'd never considered it. I never thought of it as an opportunity, a possibility," she said yesterday.

But when the chance came her way early last year Simpson went hard to work, even co-writing two of the tracks on her album Princess Veronica, which joins Saddle Club's three top-selling cast albums on shelves this week.

For Simpson, the album is the latest in a line of achievements in her relatively short career.

"When I was six my mum decided I was a drama queen so she put me in a drama school," Simpson said.

After appearing in several advertisements, Simpson went on to star in Blue Heelers, Stingers, Halifax fp and most recently Fergus McPhail.

But while her calendar was fairly full last year, Simpson does not yet know where her career will take her this year.

"It's the first time I've felt unsure about what's up next," she said.

"But auditions will come up and if they don't I've got school to do."

The Saddle Club team will appear at the Logan Hyperdome from 2pm today.

By Emma Chalmers
Picture: Vanessa Hunter
January 12, 2004
The Courier Mail


In the saddle… From left, Lara Marshall, Sophie Bennett, Keenan Macwilliam and Kia Luby.

Join the club

The teenage stars at the centre of Saddle Club mania are taking it all in their stride, writes Christine Sams.

My first indication of the extraordinary popularity of The Saddle Club happened at Christmas. I went to an ABC shop in Sydney to check out some Saddle Club merchandise, because my two nieces—aged nine and seven—talked endlessly about the show.

Inside the store there was a large crowd of parents elbowing each other near The Saddle Club display: checking out products ranging from journals and clothing to colouring books.

After casually inspecting a plush toy horse—based on the real-life horses in the series—I was distracted by a sweaty, nervous gentleman nearby.

I put the $40 toy back on the shelf momentarily, only to have it whisked from before me.

The man, now breathing heavily and almost shaking, clutched the horse to his side andpunched a number into his mobile. "I've found it, thank God," he whispered into the phone. "Yes, yes, it's the one she wants. It's the last one."

Welcome to Saddle Club mania. If you've never heard ofthe ABC series, or its accompanying album, ask any friends with children aged between four and 12 and they'll happily fill you in.

"There isn't a TV show like it in the whole world," said 14-year-old Sophie Bennett, who plays Stevie on the show.

"It's really one of a kind, because there's nothing else based on friendship and horse riding. There are so many young girls who love the idea of spending time with horses andponies."

The Saddle Club is primarily based on the horse riding adventures of three friends, Stevie, Carole and Lisa (played by Bennett, Keenan Macwilliam and Lara Marshall respectively), based on a book series by Bonnie Bryant. But the TV show also features a range of characters and their riding exploits, including spoilt rich girl Veronica (played by Heli Simpson) and her friend Kristi (played by Kia Luby).

More than 5000 children and their parents crammed into Warringah Mall to meet four stars from The Saddle Club last week, during their promotional tour in Sydney. The same numbers were repeated in Parramatta and Pagewood.

"It's such an enormous feeling to get up on stage and see all those little kids that love you," said 14-year-old Marshall, after a shopping centre appearance last week. "It's something I'm going to look back on one day, and say 'that was one of the best things that happened in my life'."

The Saddle Club features a mix of Canadian and Australian actors, because the show is a joint production between Crawfords Australia and Protocol Entertainment in Canada. In Australia, the second series was viewed by nearly 500,000 people, with the ABC winning a 74.4per cent share of the target market: viewers aged between five and 12.

To find the stars of the show, producers held auditions in Canada and Australia, with the key criteria that actors should not be allergic to horses. They ultimately chose two versions of The Saddle Club cast: an older set of teenage girls, and a younger group aged about 11.

In the end, a show based on theyounger girls was given the green light.

Two of the biggest stars from the show, Bennett and Macwilliam, are Canadians. Both 14-year-olds have impressive acting resumes—such was their start in life—and they relocated to Victoria in Australia (at the age of 11) to film the show.

"I've been acting since I was six months old," said Bennett, with all the breezy confidence of a 30-year-old. "I've had an agent since I was very young, and I've ridden horses since I was five. We did have some family in Australia, so I thought it was a really cool idea to come out here."

"Probably the worst part for me is having friends in Australia, and friends in Canada, so I'm always missing someone," said Macwilliam. "But I get to travel, which is my favourite thing."

The girls on The Saddle Club are always decked out in very sensible riding clothes: buttoned-up shirts, jodhpurs, riding hats and sensible skivvies. But in real life, the four teenagers seem about 17, with their funky outfits and careful make-up.

"Sometimes the story-lines might seem a bit corny to us because we're a little older," Marshall said.

"But we're playing kids, and really we are kids, so it's a lot of fun," Bennett said.

During breakfast at Bills 2 cafe, in Surry Hills, the girls showed an obvious bond of friendship -giggling about working together on set, and telling amusing stories about seeing the cast members from Strip Search inside their hotel. (Now there's a TV combination, Saddle Club meets Strip Search!)

Apart from plans for a third series of the show, there are rumours of a possible Saddle Club movie. The horse riding gang might be the next children's stars to hit the big screen in Australia.

"We know they're thinking about a Saddle Club movie, which of course is very exciting," said Macwilliam. But even at 14, the girls seem wary of being stereotyped as The Saddle Clubforever.

"We're always looking at other projects, auditioning for other things," Bennett said. "We do hope to work as actors outside The Saddle Club as well."

But for the moment, all their energies are focused on a marketing extravaganza: singing, dancing and horse riding.

The Saddle Club's album, which was released through Shock Records, has produced another successful marketing avenue for the performers, asidefrom their strong TV viewing figures.

During their shopping centre appearances last week, the girls danced, sang and faithfully answered questions about their experiences at Willowbrook Stables.

"We do sometimes have a very busy schedule," Macwilliam said, "but we're happy that people are enjoying the show, and that parents like the message we're sending."

After three years of being in The Saddle Club, the actors are becoming increasingly confident as riders, and are willing to perform more stunts on the program. (They have an array of stunt doubles and stunt horses, for scenes that involve horses rearing up, or injuring their riders.) "But we never get hurt by horses, we only get hurt by trees," said Bennett, with a laugh.

And with thousands of Australian children eager to join the club, they will keep on riding.

By Christine Sams
Photo: Fiona-Lee Quimby
July 21, 2003
The Sun-Herald

Lara, Sophie and Keenan

Riding high: Lara, Sophie and Keenan's hits have gone gold.

Pre-teens saddle up for more

MOVE over Kylie, the real superstars of the pre-teen set have arrived.

Lara Marshall, Sophie Bennett and Keenan MacWilliams—who star in The Saddle Club—were greeted by screaming fans and scenes of mayhem during appearances in Melbourne this week.

The joint Australian/Canadian series, which screens nightly on the ABC, has hit a nerve with younger viewers.

Shot at Hurstbrige, outside Melbourne, it follows the adventures of three young girls Carole, Stevie and Lisa, as they learn not only about riding, "but also what true friendship means".

The three stars, who were picked from thousands of young hopefuls in Canada and Australia, are also making waves in the world of pop.

Two Saddle Club albums, On Top Of The World and Fun For Everyone, have gone gold in Australia.

The girls were in Melbourne shooting videos to accompany their next three singles.

Keenan, who plays Carole, said she had been amazed by the show's popularity in Australia.

"It is just taking off in Canada, but here we cannot walk down the street without people stopping and pointing at us," she said.

"I have always had an interest in Australia because my dad always wanted to come here to see all the different animals.

"We haven't been Outback yet, but hopefully one day we will."

The Saddle Club girls appear at 11am today at Highpoint Shopping Centre and at 3pm at Westfield Fountain Gate.

By Paul Stewart
Picture: Karen Dodd
July 13, 2003
The Herald Sun

Sophie, Kia, Keenan, Lara

The giddy-up girls… Sophie Bennett, Kia Luby, Keenan MacWilliam and Lara Marshall take time out from adoring fans yesterday.

Tween queens are riding high

They are an Australian entertainment phenomenon who have been swarmed by legions of pre-teen fans during live appearances in Sydney this week.

The Wiggles? Hi-5? Maybe Kylie Minogue? Try the girls from The Saddle Club.

They are the cast of an Australian-made television series of American author Bonnie Bryant's book series about three friends who share a love of horses, and have found themselves surprise superstars with the nation's five- to 12-year-olds - the demographic known as "tweens".

Thousands of youngsters have turned up to live appearances by the 14-year-olds in shopping centres this week, desperate for autographs and eager to become involved in the bond shared by the main characters in the show.

A CD featuring songs sung by the characters has achieved gold status - for sales of 35,000 copies - and a second release is also selling strongly.

"I think the show connects with young fans because they understand the concept," said Keenan Macwilliam, who features in the series, which has been screening on the ABC for two years.

"They look up to us because we are older girls and we ride. A lot of them say, 'We play Saddle Club in the playground'."

Filmed in Victoria and made jointly by Australian and Canadian production companies, The Saddle Club is centred around the fictitious Pine Hollow Stables and the lives of three friends, Lisa, Stevie and Carol.

The cast is made up predominantly of Australians and Canadians.

Before the most recent series ended in June, the ABC said The Saddle Club was attracting 463,207 viewers nationally, drawing almost three-quarters of girls aged five to 12 who are watching TV in that timeslot.

Buoyed by the success of the show's CDs, its three principal stars are all considering singing careers. "I'd like to be like Kylie Minogue," says Lara Marshall, who plays Lisa Atwood. "She's one of my idols, the same as Nicole Kidman."

Neer Korn, the director of the social and market research company Heartbeat Trends, which tracks the opinions of young people, says the success of the show may stem from its theme of friendship.

"A tween's greatest fear is loneliness," he says. "Having friends is absolutely pivotal."

By Daniel Dasey
Photo: Dallas Kilponen
July 17, 2003
The Sydney Morning Herald

The Saddle Club - the tween TV brand phenomenon gallops ahead

The Saddle Club, a Crawford Productions (Australia) and Protocol Entertainment (Canada) co production, which has mesmerised the viewing of young Australian girls since its inception in 2001 returns to ABC-TV on Monday evenings, 5.30 p.m. from September 15.

With the second series, The Saddle Club is established as one of Australia's hottest tween brands. The Australian brand franchise now includes the smash TV series, home video series, Gold soundtrack albums, book series, toys and accessories. The Saddle Club Magazine and the hugely popular website, are top youth performers while the new Saddle Club fashion range, just launched in major Australian department stores is one of the fastest growing girls fashion brands in this market. The property also features some of the most sought after toys, games and manchester for girls 5-12.

Combining the universal elements of friendship and adventure and featuring contemporary multi-national girls and their love of horses and riding, the show delivers a wholesome, fresh and aspirational lifestyle. The Saddle Club , which is shot in Melbourne and the Yarra Valley in Victoria, has been quietly racking up a string of successes including:

The Saddle Club Ratings: delivered an average 75% share (peaking at 95% in the Sydney market) of all 5-12 y.o. "The Saddle Club continues to be one of the strongest programs in the ABCKids schedule on ABC TV in 2003. The show has a unique ability to attract a broad audience from 5 to 15 years and surprisingly not all of them are girls!" said Deirdre Brennan, ABC Kids Programmer ABC TV (Australia).

The Saddle Club Website: 5.8 million hits (August 03) positioning it as one of Australia's top tween/youth performers.

The Saddle Club Video: The best-selling tween video of 02 and ABC TV stores No. 1 video for 02 (extraordinary figure given it was only launched in Oct. 02). Video series launched in the US in 02 has sold over 400,000 units.

The Saddle Club CD: 1st single, 'Hello World' (released Oct 02): Platinum after 36 weeks in Australia's Top 50. Album 'Fun for Everyone' (Oct 02)—Gold with 35,000 sales in 2 months. New Album 'On Top of the World' released May 03—Gold within 6 weeks. Single 'On top of the World' now in the Top 20 ARIA (Australia) charts.

The Saddle Club Book: 110 titles; 16 million copies sold worldwide. 450,000 units sold in Australia since March 2001.

The Saddle Club PC game: Currently Australia's No 1 selling PC game.

The Saddle Club apparel range: Launched in Australia exclusively to Target, the range has been a major success with repeat and new style orders rushed through within days of launch.

The Saddle Club Merchandising Program (Aust.): More than 20 licences with over 120 product ranges launched mid 03.

International Sales: The television series based on the international best-selling novels by Bonnie Bryant has been sold to the following markets: ABC Network and Foxtel (Australia), Discovery Kids (USA), YTV (Canada), TV 3 (NZ), TPS Jeunesse (France), Alter Channel (Greece), NRK (Norway), SVT (Sweden), YLE (Finland), Tohokushinsha (Japan), TPS Malta TV (Malta), CBC (Cyprus), Cable Television (UAE) Underpinning the international success of the show is its global context—cast members include an African American [African Canadian?—tz], Canadian, Australian, Irish and French.

About Craw fords Australia

Crawford Productions is Australia's most established and respected television production company. The name of Crawford Productions has become synonymous with high quality entertainment for over 50 years. Crawford Productions pioneered television in Australia, ranging from police drama, sitcoms, mini-series, telemovies and children's drama, including the internationally acclaimed All the Rivers Run, The Flying Doctors and The Sullivans. Now part of the WIN television group and under the proprietorship of Bruce Gordon, Crawford Productions' eight-acre studio complex in Melbourne remains the centre for more film and television production in Victoria, Australia.

About Protocol Entertainment

Protocol Entertainment Inc. (a member of The Comweb Group) produced the highly acclaimed, audience-winning series Goosebumps, the children's chiller TV series based on the books by R.L. Stine. Goosebumps won the number one ratings spot for it's demographic in the U.S. on the Fox Kids Network, in its first season. Other Protocol series include Police Academy: The Series, and Code Name: Eternity, Spencer for Hire (ABC/Lifetime) and the feature film Pocahontas: The Legend.

released by Crawford Productions
September 01, 2003

Saddle Club rides away with the hearts of the tweens

Before she sat down to write the first in her series of "tween" girl novels, The Saddle Club author, Bonnie Bryant, set out to understand her market.

She talked to girls aged five to 12, and soon discovered some patterns. Most young girls relate to being in a group of about three great friends orbited by someone they think of as "a bit of a bitch—and her friend".

The New York author stumbled on a surprising gap in the reading market. For generations, young girls have eaten up books about horses, but modern publishers weren't putting out good pony material.

Now Bryant's careful homework—inspired by the former book editor's need to boost her income after her husband's death—is merchandising gold.

First, the books became the TV series—brought to ABC-TV by Nick McMahon, chief of Crawford Productions (working with partners Protocol Entertainment of Canada). Shot in the Yarra Valley in Melbourne's east, the co-production about a bunch of horsey girls and their ponies aired in 2001, and quickly became for pre-pubescent girls what Sex and the City had been for their mothers. Unmissable.

The TV show was just the beginning. Saddle Club toys, stickers, board games, drink bottles and clothes, among other items, hit the shops only a few months ago but have quickly become must-haves among "tweens", the emerging retail power demographic.

Last month, one of the 120 tie-in items, the metre-high Saddle Club horse, sold all 9000 units in 10 days.The second run of the horses, which occupied a tiny advertising spot in a Target catalogue, sold out in five days.

In Australia, fans have so far spent $30 million of their pocket money—or their parents' money—on Saddle Club stuff.

The program had almost no early marketing, yet the video of the first series became the ABC shops' top seller last year. And in the US, where the show screens on cable TV, the video and DVD sold 400,000 copies.

Nick McMahon, the executive producer, says a strong part of the success is Bryant's insight into girls. He hears all the time about how girls are playing Saddle Club scenarios with their friends—taking turns to be the baddie. In the series, the bitch is rich girl Veronica, an utter snob who thinks she is too good for the little club formed by the three "nice" girls.

Veronica is played by the now 16-year-old Melbourne actress Heli Simpson. In real life, she's delightful, but admits the first question anyone asks her friends is along the lines of "What is she really like?" She is an eloquent spokeswoman for the show—the second series of which goes to air from September 15. "Being a horse person myself, and being obsessed for a time with horses, I would have adored to have been watching a show like that," she says.

What role she and the other young stars play in the mooted third series is under discussion. Crawford Productions has asked fans via the show's website if they think the girls are getting too old for the original scenario.

There is a movie in the pipeline that would give producers a chance to introduce new, younger characters. The success of the program is one bright spot in an Australian TV drama scene recently painted as challenged. This week Channel Seven reversed a decision to proceed the country-life series Always Greener, and Channel Ten's promising new series, Crashburn, is struggling.

But everybody loves The Saddle Club, even the parents who, McMahon says, complain it "has cost me a fortune". Another drawback is that they are no doubt battling to get the catchy theme out of their heads.

September 6, 2003
The Age