Dove Audio to release sci-fi audio drama series

NewStar Publishing has reached an agreement to release the Sci-Fi Channel's Seeing Ear Theatre, a series of science fiction full-cast audio dramatizations, on NewStar's Dove Audio imprint.

Launched two years ago, Seeing Ear Theatre until now has been available only at the Sci-Fi Channel's Web site, Visitors to the site listen to the productions using RealAudio, a free software program that streams audio in real time, so users don't have to download the sounds to their computers. The series has become increasingly popular at the site, according to producer/director Brian Smith. In October 1997, Seeing Ear Theatre productions averaged 560 listens a day. By October 1998, that number had grown to 1500 a day, he said. In addition, for the past two years the troupe has done a live radio show on Halloween that is broadcast on 100 commercial radio stations around the country, and in April, some of the shows will be broadcast on National Public Radio.

"We felt that the next logical step in terms of brand extension would be to offer these stories as audiobooks," said Jason Korfine, the Sci-Fi Channel's director of consumer products.

"They'd been receiving a lot of inquiries from fans, asking 'Where can we buy this?'" said Stefan Rudnicki, executive producer of Dove Audio. "We were intrigued by the idea."

The synergistic partnership offers Seeing Ear Theatre the opportunity to use some of Dove's celebrity readers in future productions, and enables Dove to release its own science fiction products with the Sci-Fi Channel logo. "We're tossing around ideas," Rudnicki said. "We're developing a fairly strong science fiction line, with titles by Ben Bova and Orson Scott Card, and we also have a strong backlist of science fiction story collections, so we may re-package those." The companies hope to extend the familiar brand name of the Sci-Fi Channel to a line of science fiction audiobook products.

Most of the marketing and publicity for Seeing ear Theatre will be done by the Sci-Fi Channel. The network is running 60-second direct response commercials, which allow viewers to order by calling a toll-free number. The station is also putting full-page ads in its own Sci-Fi Entertainment magazine. Customers can also order the title from the Sci-Fi Channel's online store. "We'll do some Internet-based banner advertising, and we're looking at doing other print ads as well," said Korfine. "We have a few more Seeing Ear Theatre products coming out in the next year, so we may wait until we have an arsenal [before putting print ads in other publications]." NewStar, meanwhile, will place the title in bookstores, audio-only stores, and audiobook clubs.

The first volume in the series, released in November, is an anthology of short pieces containing a mixture of comedy, action and thought-provoking dramas. The authors include Gregory Benford, Terry Bisson and John Kessel; actors lending their voices include Star Wars' Mark Hamill, Marina Sirtis (of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame), and Michael O'Hare. Some of the stories are originals, written specifically for the series; others are adaptations of published stories.

The second volume, due in February, is a two-hour audio drama by Clive Barker called The History of the Devil, to be followed in the spring by another anthology. Each volume in the series will be 2-3 hours long and retail for $18.

In its move to retail, Seeing Ear Theatre follows in the footsteps of Leonard Nimoy's popular Alien Voices series, published by Simon &Schuster (PW, Nov. 4, 1996). Smith sees Alien Voices as beneficial to his project, rather than as competition. "Right now, it's such an uphill battle to sell radio theater, so anything [like Alien Voices] that comes out with name talent and high quality raises the awareness of what radio theater is," Smith said. "If someone likes Alien Voices, they'll be interested in Seeing Ear Theatre, and vice versa."

Britain's Talkies Talk of the Town
Legendary comedian Spike Milligan, Monty Python's Michael Palin, and veteran actor Derek Jacobi were among the award winners at this year's Talkies, the fourth audiobook awards ceremony presented by Britain's Spoken Word Publishing Association, held Nov. 6 in London. Hosted by comedian Steve Punt, the event presented 28 awards and hosted 300 attendees.

The top award, Talkie of the Year, went to the BBC Radio Collection recording of Tom Wolfe's Ambush at Fort Bragg, read by veteran American narrator Frank Muller. U.S. observers wondered why the BBC hadn't simply arranged to release BDD Audio's recording, read by Ed Norton, which came out in the U.S. last year. But Jan Paterson, publisher of BBC Radio Collection, explained, "The program was being broadcast [on BBC Radio] in 10 13-minute installments over two weeks, so we needed to re-record it with breaks every 13 minutes. We actually did approach Ed Norton initially to do our recording, but he wasn't available at that time." The BBC also won six other Talkie awards.

Among the other Talkie winners were the following:
Abridged Classic Fiction:Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, read by Hugh Laurie (CSA).
Abridged Modern Fiction:Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene, read by various readers (BBC).
Unabridged Classic Fiction:Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, read by Liza Ross (Isis).
Unabridged Modern Fiction:The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, read by Carole Boyd (Isis).
Nonfiction:Culloden by John Prebble, read by David Rintoul (Penguin).Children's Book-and-Tape:Sophie Is Seven by Dick King-Smith, read by Bernard Cribbins (Cover to Cover).

Derek Jacobi was named performer of the year, and Alan Bennett received the award for outstanding achievement as a writer and reader. Milligan won in the comedy category for The Last Goon Show of All (BBC). Palin's Full Circle (BBC) shared the award for best TV/film adaptation with Graham Greene's The Third Man, read by Martin Jarvis (CSA, published in the U.S. by Audio Partners). Peter Sallis, the voice of popular claymation characters Wallace &Gromit, picked up Hodder Headline's award for best audio production for Wallace &Gromit: The Lost Slipper.