File puptcrit/puptcrit.0803, message 374

Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2008 04:55:49 -0700
Subject: [Puptcrit] Uconn grad creates hit on Disney,0,5354870.story

University of Connecticut puppetry grad David 
Rudman returned to the state recently, presenting 
his show "Bunnytown" to focus groups in 

No matter what those test groups said, the show 
is already a hit on the Disney Channel, where it 
begins a daily time slot with new episodes starting today at 10 a.m.

Though it's part of the Playhouse Disney lineup, 
it's made with the idea of being more than a kids' show.

"It's a preschool variety show, really," Rudman 
says between test sessions. "We really want it to 
be something parents will enjoy, too. We 
definitely think about that when we're writing it and shooting it."

The show is the latest product from Rudman and 
his brother Adam, who, with Todd Hannert, run 
Spiffy Pictures, a Chicago studio that previously 
produced "Jack's Big Music Show."

Like that show, "Bunnytown" relies on cute 
characters and lots of music. It also has 
something unusual for puppet shows: live-action 
segments and snippets from Peopletown that look 
like updated slapstick from silent comedy classics.

"We're big fans of silent movies," Rudman says. 
"Laurel and Hardy and 
Keaton were big influences on us. But it's kind 
of a new thing for kids =AD they've never seen that 
before. So we wanted to present that physical 
comedy and old-time silent movies and put it in there in a new way."

Often, the skits tie into a show's themes. Themes 
this week will include the benefits of healthful 
food this morning and preparations for King 
Bunny's Birthday on Tuesday. They're part of a 
new season that will introduce such fresh 
characters as resident game-show host Hoppy 
Funtooth, the bumbling Inspector Bunny, magician 
the Amazing Harold and the Bunnytown Clowns.

"Bunnytown" is something new for the Disney 
Channel =AD an international production. Though the 
Spiffy Pictures headquarters is in Chicago, where 
"Jack's Big Music Show" is made, "Bunnytown" is 
shot entirely in London in the Elstree Studios, 
where the original "Star Wars" was shot.

It makes for a lot of trans-Atlantic travel for 
the 1985 

Rudman, 44, says he was attracted to 
because of its puppetry department.

"I was working with Frank Ballard =AD he was the 
whole puppet department, an amazing man, 
unbelievably talented," Rudman says. It was there 
he learned what he called "puppetry as an art form."

But even before he went to college, Rudman had 
experience in the puppet world, landing a job as 
a teenager with the Jim Henson Company in 
York after years of pestering them.

"I was interested in puppets since I was a little 
kid," he says. "In high school, I was building 
puppets, doing local TV in Chicago. I kept 
calling them to get an interview. They finally said, 'Come on out.'"

He got hired there in 1981, before his first semester of college.

"It was like a dream come true," Rudman says. "I 
was 18 years old and working for this company I 
idolized; it was just overwhelming."

He was ready to quit school altogether, he says, 
"but the first thing they told me was don't quit 
college, work for us during summer breaks and 
vacations. So every vacation there was something for me to do."

One time it might be working on the movie "The 
Muppets Take 
the next would be working on "Labyrinth" in London at age 20.

Upon graduation, he went to work full time at 
"Sesame Street," where he also left his mark, 
earning Emmy nominations for his work taking over 
Cookie Monster from Frank Oz, and coming up with 
his own memorable character in Baby Bear.

"It was a one-time character," he says of the 
bear with a pronounced speech impediment. "I went 
in and did the voice and everybody loved it, so he was back next season."

He left to start Spiffy Pictures with his brother 
and Hannert in the mid-1990s. "Jack's Big Music 
Show" caught on soon after it started, with the 
same kind of fuzzy animals and tuneful songs they'd later use on "Bunnytown."

Both embrace the use of handmade characters, and 
on "Bunnytown" there are a raft of them, 
including Superbunny, Li'l Bad Bunny, Space Bunny 
Sue, Professor Doodlebunny and the Bunnytown 
Band. It's their colorful floppy look that make them stand out.

"After awhile, computer-animated stuff on TV all 
feels the same," Rudman says. "There's something 
about 'Bunnytown' that we do not do any computer 
characters or computer set or any bluescreen. 
There's so much bluescreen on TV. We wanted 
everything handmade, even the effects."

BUNNYTOWN begins its run on daily time slot today 
at 10 a.m. on the Disney Channel.

Contact Roger Catlin at

Steve Axtell
Axtell Expressions, Inc.

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