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They have what it takes, do you?

Marcela Davidson Aviles and Blackboard Entertainment
By Ernesto Lechner
Marcela Davidson Aviles is an independent producer who has created a successful business in the competitive field of children's programming. Her Oakland, California-based company, Blackboard Entertainment, produces and distributes high-quality children's shows, most of them geared to a Latino audience. "We are a small studio that seeks to become a leading player in the Latino marketplace," explains Aviles. "We started out producing and distributing programs for the mainstream community, and built a reputation as a studio that represents independent producers." Saludos Hispanos had the chance to interview Aviles when she came to Los Angeles.

Saludos: Are you happy with Blackboard's results so far?
Aviles: I think we've done a pretty good job. We have a nice catalog of children's programs produced by small, independent producers...What we've found in the area of children's entertainment is that technology has gotten us to a place where producers can create programs away from Hollywood that are as good as anything coming out of the Disney studios.
Saludos: Why did you decide to focus on programming for Latino kids?
Aviles: It was for both personal and business reasons. A couple of years ago, when my son Max was a newborn, I began to think about wanting to immerse my two kids into the Hispanic culture. How could I do that? I started looking for product: television programs, radio, records, videos, books - there wasn't a lot out there. And I thought that if I was running into this problem, there must be a lot of Hispanic parents in the United States that aren't finding this and wanting it. Then I did more research, looked at the demographics, and discovered that by next year, 53 percent of the population will be Hispanics 16 years old or younger. And the question is: Who is creating shows for them? They're all non-Latino organizations.
Saludos: What's your company's biggest hit so far?
Aviles: It's a wonderful program produced by the Minnesota Orchestra. They wanted to create a video series for children introducing them to classical music. They secured the rights to some popular children's books, animated them, and combined that with original classical music scores. The series is called Notes Alive, and the most recent title is based on the Dr. Seuss story, My Many Colored Days...Academy Award-winning actress Holly Hunter was hired to do the narration. We expect to exceed the 50,000 copies on that.
Saludos: Has it been difficult to promote a title based on classical music?
Aviles: When you take something that's perceived to be highbrow or elitist and you try to create a mass market for that, it's a very difficult challenge. Fortunately, we just got a deal with Target stores about the Minnesota Orchestra titles. We are going to create a special kiosk in all of their stores, nationwide. This shows that good programming for children will always sell.
Saludos: What are the qualities that separate the independent producers from the mainstream ones?
Aviles: In the children's segment, independent producers tend to wear their production values on their sleeves, because they care very deeply about what they're creating for kids. Yes, they want to make money. They would like to create another Barney. But they're also mindful of the fact that their audience consists of children have to be very careful about what you present to them.
Saludos: Was that a conscious decision to go into a childhood-related business?
Aviles: First of all, I'm very close to my kids. I have an affinity for kids...I wanted to find something in the entertainment community that would be fun to do. And I can't think of anything more fun than spending time trying to create something for children. It's a job where you can have fun, be passionate about it, and also make good money.
Saludos: Does being involved with children's entertainment offer you an escape from reality?
Aviles: Boy, it certainly doesn't. The children's market is the most cutthroat and competitive one I've ever seen...On the business end of's very tough when you have to deal with the large, well-known studios. Nothing can be more real than that.
Saludos: What I find very interesting about good children's shows are how they confront us with the contradictions of human nature. Have you ever thought about this? Have you found an explanation for it?
Aviles: If I have found an explanation for it, I would be fabulously wealthy. (laughs) Yes, I think about it every day. You can't be in my business and not think about it when you are doing what are you doing and then you read the paper and see what's happening in Kosovo, for instance. It's horrible. On the one hand, you think that it's madness, that the people doing those kinds of things are insane. What else could it be? On the other hand, you start to think about it and see than in a sense; those people have lost touch with their inner child. I know it sounds sort of "tofu" or New Age, but I think there's a grain of truth to that. When you have the ability to remember what it's like to be a kid, that can help you break the emotions from your dark side. In some small way, I think that good kids' entertainment can sparkle something in a child, something that he might hold on to forever. Can kids' entertainment be the solution to the horrors of this world? Unfortunately, I don't think so. I think it goes beyond that. It's political, socioeconomic; all those complicated things rolled up into one. My challenge, however, is to fight the good fight for content that at least will not create a spark leading to something like the tragic shooting massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado.
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