Media exec puts kids on healthy track


LONDON -- Many a media exec might dream about being a superhero, but few can claim to be one. Lazytown CEO Magnus Scheving, however, is an exception.

As Sportacus, the back-flipping, somersaulting, mustache-twirling, healthy-eating savior of Lazytown -- the imaginary setting for the eponymous children's series -- Scheving has mounted a one-man campaign to transform the eating habits of not just his native Iceland but very possibly the whole world.

Against the psychedelic color palette of Lazytown, all-action Sportacus takes on the forces of complacency as embodied by his arch nemesis Robbie Rotten, the loose-limbed, darkly camp and ultimately thwarted advocate of junk food and lazy living. Assisting Sportacus is Stephanie, the tween heroine of "Lazytown," and an assortment of puppet children.

"I wanted to see if I could find some way of giving kids an incentive to have a healthier life, and I came up with the idea of 'Lazytown,'" says Scheving, whose campaign has claimed to have increased vegetable sales in Iceland by 22%. In the show, kids are encouraged to eat "sport candy" (fruit), drink water and, above all, keep moving.

The former carpenter -- who became a world championship-level aerobics athlete after a friend bet him he couldn't do it -- has spent the past 11 years creating and building the "Lazytown" franchise, which is fast growing into a global hit. It wasn't tardiness that made Scheving take all that time to create the show, it was something more approaching obsessive perfectionism.

"We wanted to test it with two generations of children," he says. "Iceland is a fantastic test market. It's a very small island. All you have is your integrity. If you get it wrong, some parent is going to come up to you and tell you while you're in the supermarket."

Savvy dealmaking has given the show an airing on Nick U.S. and on Nickelodeon preschool nets around the world. But Scheving has held on to the international rights to the show and thus controls the burgeoning franchise. In addition to the 53 episodes in the can, Scheving has plans for a feature film that will be independently financed.

Action scenes are filmed against a green-screen backdrop with a Viper FilmStream camera. With each day's filming, Scheving says he can easily perform 4,000 jumps, flips or spins, any one of which might put the rest of us in hospital.

It isn't cheap, either. Scheving claims the show, shot in ultra high definition in a purpose-built Icelandic studio, costs $800,000 per 24-minute episode, making "Lazytown's" budget comparable to primetime drama on BBC1.

Scheving thinks the expense is justified by his audience's demands. "When I'm 65, I may not be able to see or hear properly, so I won't notice bad quality," he says. "But for children, their senses are alive and everything is immediate."