April 10, 2012
Wall Street Journal/Speakeasy Interview

Above is a link to a recent online article, and below is the companion piece that ran in the newspaper this weekend, both by Christopher John Farley. Chris is a cool guy who has given Korra some great coverage, starting with his Wall Street Journal piece last year. We did a really long, interesting interview with him while we were in New York last month. It looks like at the bottom of the Speakeasy piece that he’ll be following up with some more articles. Thanks, Chris!

Unfortunately, there was some minor confusion that led to us being misquoted a bit: Just to clarify, Mike and I originally intended for the title of the new series to be Avatar: The Legend of Korra, but the network wanted to drop “Avatar” in the wake of James Cameron’s movie for the sake of branding the franchise.

If we couldn’t have “Avatar,” Mike and I just wanted to call it The Legend of Korra, thinking it would stand on its own just fine and people would make the connection easy enough. But the network wanted to link it to the old series, so that’s where The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra came from. We expressed our distaste for the cumbersome title, and explained it was a misnomer, since there were four Airbenders and a fifth in training in the new series. It didn’t seem like the network was going to budge, and hey, at the end of the day, they are making it possible for us to produce the series, so we just tried to get over it and move on.

Luckily at the last minute, the network came around and agreed that a cleaner, simpler title was best. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that by that time the fervor for Korra was already strong and the need to link it to the old series wasn’t much of an issue anymore. Needless to say, we were relieved.

Anyway, no big deal. Mike and I just wanted to explain that in relation to the article below. Also, I think Mike and I are most excited at the prospect of one day making an original movie of our own creation, preferably animated, whether it is related to Avatar or Korra or not.

Here’s the newspaper piece:

The Next ‘Airbender’ Gets Older, Wiser and Adds a Feminine Touch

The Wall Street Journal /By CHRISTOPHER JOHN FARLEY/ April 8, 2012

The fantasy cartoon “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed shows onViacom Inc.’s VIAB +1.85%Nickelodeon network. Now the creators of the show are back with a sequel series called “The Legend of Korra” that they hope will expand the audience for the program despite a change in the title, a switch in the setting, and a new female protagonist.

"Avatar: The Last Airbender" was set in an imaginary world in which some individuals, called benders, have the supernatural ability to control water, earth, air or fire and one person—the Avatar—has the power to manipulate all the elements. The action-adventure series was inspired by "Star Wars," the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell, and the animé movies of Oscar-winning Japanese animatorHayao Miyazaki. "Avatar" debuted on Nickelodeon in 2005, and the show’s finale in 2008 drew six million viewers ages 2 and up, according to the network. Typically, 1.2 million viewers watch the channel each week.

"Avatar" centered on a 12-year-old boy named Aang, but the new series, which launches on April 14, features a 17-year-old girl, Korra. While in the first series, characters wandered a countryside that often resembled ancient China, much of the action in the new series, which is set 70 years after the events of the first program, takes place in Republic City, a fictional urban center that is a kind of mash-up of Shanghai in the 1920s and American cities like Chicago and New York during the Prohibition era.

Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the co-creators of “Avatar” and the executive producers of “Korra,” said they decided to retool their franchise because they felt that the original series, which ran for three seasons, had told a complete saga. “We loved those original characters like Aang but we wanted something fresh,” Mr. Konietzko said. “It was a creative challenge for us.”

"Korra" has been in the works for years, but Mr. DiMartino said that with the success of "The Hunger Games" movie and the coming Pixar film "Brave," which both feature strong female leads, "The time is right in the cultural zeitgeist for all these female heroes to come out."

According to Nickelodeon, the median age of “Avatar” viewers is 12.8 years old, and the audience is roughly 65% male and 35% female. Mr. Konietzko said Nickelodeon tested the new series and young boys readily accepted the show’s female hero. “You can’t say it’s gonna fail when there aren’t that many things to point to in animation like this,” Mr. Konietzko said. “Luckily, Nick was brave enough to let us do it.”

Given its teenage heroine, “Korra” will explore story lines that are slightly more mature than in the previous series. “But it’s not ‘The Wire,’” Mr. Konietzko jokes. “We didn’t get that mature. But the show will deal less with good versus evil than with conflicting interests. We find that to be more interesting.”

The name of the show was changed, in part, to avoid brand confusion with directorJames Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster movie “Avatar,” which is completely unrelated to Nickelodeon’s cartoon series. Mr. Konietzko said he first heard about Mr. Cameron’s “Avatar” when he was working on the second season of the cartoon series.

"It certainly makes weddings and parties more tiresome," Mr. Konietzko says. "It’s like ‘No, it’s not the blue people. We didn’t have anything do with that.’ "

Mr. DiMartino said that he and Mr. Konietzko pushed to change the name of their series because they felt the word “Avatar” was “not going to work for the branding of it.” Mr. DiMartino and Mr. Konietzko both contend that their fans will be able to find the show despite the name change. “The fans know it as ‘Avatar’ and they’ll probably keep calling it ‘Avatar,’ ” Mr. DiMartino said. “We’ll always call it ‘Avatar.’ “

In 2010, director M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense”) made a live-action big-screen adaptation of the first season of the cartoon series but it was a disappointment at the box office. The film brought in $131.8 million domestically, according to the movie tracking website Box Office Mojo) and it was panned by most critics. “It was based on our series, but we weren’t in charge, we had no leverage at all,” Mr. Konietzko said. “We tried to help and be cooperative, but it had someone else’s name on top of it and it wasn’t ours. It’s very refreshing to be back executive producing something again where we have the reins of our creation.”

Messrs. DiMartino and Konietzko say that they’d like to get a shot at making another big-screen feature based on their cartoon series, though nothing is officially in the works. “Hopefully, when we’re done with the ‘Korra’ saga we can put our stamp on a movie,” Mr. Konietzko said. “I think we’ve been honing our skills towards that for a long time.”

For more on “Korra” and other entertainment news, go to WSJ.com/Speakeasy.

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