'Thomas' makes new friends in China

CCTV to air four seasons of children's series

SHANGHAI -- Four seasons of British children's TV series "Thomas and Friends" will debut on China Central Television this year, paving the way for tie-in storybooks and toys, according to producer and franchise owner HIT Entertainment.

Previously called "Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends," the preschool show about talking trains airs in 185 countries and 45 languages and has spawned the sale of 200 million books and 80 million DVDs worldwide.

Though made-in-China toy "Thomas" trains were dragged through the mud last year after a U.S. recall over concerns about poisonous lead paint, China is an important growth market for HIT.

The CCTV deal is a longterm strategic partnership, Alison Homewood, HIT's executive vp worldwide TV distribution, said this week.

A range of "Thomas" toys will be sold inside China for HIT by Hong Kong-based Promotional Partners Group via its offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Qingdao.

HIT also plans 12 TV tie-in storybooks in early 2009.