Transmedia + Music

The Aquabats: How a Ska Band Became a Children’s TV Show


Once a more common practice, musicians are rarely moving into television programming. A number of bands mixed music and TV in the 60’s and 70’s, but beyond Flight of the Conchords, there have not been any notable extensions recently. Luckily, a quirky new series debuted on The Hub a few weeks ago, called The Aquabats! Super Show! The California ska/rock band The Aquabats, with its long history of mythos and world building, has made the jump to television, with remarkable reviews. How did an eccentric ska band transition into children’s programming?

The Aquabats were founded in 1994 by a small group of friends who met at their Mormon Church. This aspect of their personal lives would go on to influence the family friendliness of their music and presentation. Not long after forming, they began establishing superhero names and origins for themselves, going so far as to hand make costumes and choreograph on-stage battles with villains.

These Aquabats, such as The MC Bat Commander and Crash McLarson, were supposedly from Aquabania, an island known for its human-bat creatures, but had fled from Space Monster “M” and landed in California. Professor Monty Corndog took them in and amplified their super powers, enabling The Aquabats to gain notoriety and support through music. Empowered by their fans, they will one day return to fight Space Monster “M” and reclaim their island.

While the lyrics didn’t always explicitly tell stories (the liner notes and live performances delved into the mythos), the content was still in keeping with the cartoonish and fantastic nature of the band, with songs called “Captain Hampton & The Midget Pirates,” “Powdered Milk Man,” and “Food Fight on the Moon!” The aesthetic was also present in their music videos:

This tone extended to how they interacted with fans, most clearly with their fan club, The Aquabats Cadet Faction. Fan club members, known as Aquacadets, received a membership card with their enrollment number, photo, and chosen Aquacadet code name. Members were also invited to Cadet Summits, held in southern California, which acted as small conventions. There were Q&As, costume contests, autograph sessions, and of course, live performances. The Aquabats extensive career has had its ups and downs, but heavily investing in their community led fans to support them through thick and thin.

During a period of downtime, lead singer Christian Jacobs developed and created the pilot for Yo Gabba Gabba! with his partner, Scott Schultz. The children’s series, a mixture of animation, puppetry, live action, and music, was tremendously successful with kids and adults, leading to a live tour and even a performance at the desert music festival Coachella. Despite previously failed attempts at an Aquabats TV series, this success allowed Jacobs to develop and shop a new pilot to the channel The Hub.

The Aquabats! Super Show! is also a mixture of live-action and animation, with the primary storyline following The Aquabats as they defend humanity from ridiculous villains. There is an animated serialized section of The Aquabats fighting in outrageous situations, as well as another short cartoon of the little Aquabat man in their logo. The look and feel mimics that of the live-action TV series of the 60’s and 70’s (Jacobs specifically cites the Batman series as an influence), calling out to the parents who may be watching, but the plot simplicity and sense of humor is very much for The Hub’s main audience of children ages 6-12.

The TV show should be considered a successful extension of the band’s primary content, that being their music releases. The mythos has easily translated over, with all of the superhero lore intact: costumes, codenames, lingo, origins, etc. Any adult fans who may have strayed over the years would find the show to be instantly recognizable. The Aquabats have also made sure to include music in their series, writing new songs that weave into the episode’s story. Any fan that has enjoyed their music will be thrilled to find new content available in the show.

Most importantly, however, The Aquabats! Super Show! is a great example of fine tuning transmedia extensions of a property so that it is appropriate for the new platform and audience. One of the main purposes of transmedia storytelling is utilizing a property’s multiple appeals to reach out to new audiences. Many potential fans have simply not been made aware of a story before, partially due to the framing of the property and partially due to them being focused on other platforms.

It’s highly unlikely that young children would have had access to music in a way that would have allowed them to find The Aquabats on their own. However, placing the band on an easily accessible platform, a children’s TV network, is the best location for children to discover them. Children also may not have the attention span for a music album, but the reframing of the band for a fun colorful adventure story will immediately appeal to most kids.

Another function of transmedia storytelling is to best utilize a platform’s strengths, which can vary drastically from one medium to another. While the music is present in the TV series, it has been pulled back, allowing the characters and humor to come to the forefront. And while there isn’t large, epic storylines which are too much for younger children, there is a much clearer sense of story in the episodes that is harder to convey on CD or in a short music video. The show also allows for the quirky adventures of their logo character, previously unexplored before. This small act of branding makes the logo more memorable, and attaches good feelings and associations with him.

In order for this to be a true transmedia campaign, The Aquabats would need to have at least one more extension. (Definitions of transmedia vary, but most agree there need to be three or more platforms.) This would be easy to do, with obvious opportunities aimed at their younger audience in mobile games, an interactive web portal, children’s book series, and more. They already have a clear understanding of how to expand their content to fit the medium and audience, a takeaway point that many property owners do not understand, so I have no fear they will continue to expand their world in a fun and successful way!

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