Beetles do Beatles on Netflix

Beat Bugs, an animated children's series on Netflix, features songs by The Beatles.
Beat Bugs, an animated children's series on Netflix, features songs by The Beatles.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

NEW YORK• Josh Wakely has quickly become one of the busiest young writers and producers in television - with a little help from The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Motown.

Each of his three new shows uses classic pop songs as inspiration, raw material and organising theme.

Beat Bugs, an animated children's series on Netflix based on Beatles songs, begins its first season on Wednesday. The show features performances of songs such as Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and Help! by Eddie Vedder, Pink and Regina Spektor.

Also on the way, with air dates yet to be set, are two other shows Wakely created: Time Out Of Mind, a dark drama for Amazon with characters based on songs by Dylan; and another animated show for Netflix, still untitled, that makes use of the Motown catalogue. Smokey Robinson is its executive music producer.

As Wakely, 35, described it, his template began with Beat Bugs, which he conceived as a way to extend the current "golden age of television" into children's programming. He created the show and has directing, writing and producing credits.

"I realised that these extraordinary melodies would make sense for children, but also the full level of imagination and visual imagery that The Beatles had in their songs," he said. "What is it to go into a strawberry field forever? What would it be like to actually be inside that yellow submarine?"

The kind of rights that he sought are rarely granted and the deals were all the more remarkable given his relative inexperience. He had just a handful of credits to his name as a writer and director when he began the process half a decade ago.

Securing rights to The Beatles' works - including more than 250 songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney - took three years; the deal is estimated at nearly US$10 million (S$13.5 million).

"I had no idea how complicated or how ambitious an idea it was," Wakely said. "I'm glad I was so naive because I wouldn't have pursued it otherwise."

He grew up in Newcastle, Australia. He said he had been struggling for years as a screenwriter before he decided to set up his own production house, Grace: A Storytelling Company.

He remained well under the radar of the Hollywood press until making the Beatles deal two years ago for Beat Bugs, which features five childlike insects living in the tall grass of an overgrown backyard who learn a valuable life lesson - and a catchy Beatles tune - in each 11-minute episode.

Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which represents both The Beatles and Motown songwriting catalogues, was typically cautious in approving the deal for Beat Bugs.

After an initial meeting, Wakely began to sketch out Beat Bugs in detail and Mr Damian Trotter, managing director of Sony/ATV in Australia, said the result impressed Sony/ATV enough for it to give the green light.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2016, with the headline 'Beetles do Beatles on Netflix'. Print Edition | Subscribe