Phil Vischer, founder of the company that produces VeggieTales, describes three years of financial woes at the children's video firm as "falling down a flight of stairs in slow motion." But he hopes to jumpstart Big Idea Productions this year with the release of three new VeggieTales videos.

The new year brings major changes to Big Idea, which filed for bankruptcy in September 2003. Vischer will retain a creative role but will no longer be responsible for the business side of the company. New York-based Classic Media, which bought Big Idea in December, takes over that role.

Vischer admits that he mistakenly assumed Big Idea could continue its meteoric growth in video sales, from several hundred in 1993 to 7 million in 1999. When sales flattened in 2000, the company started losing money and was more than $40 million in debt by 2003.

"The valuation of the company and everything [it produced]," Vischer told CT, "was based on these forecasts that in hindsight … were just based on bad assumptions—just flat out bad assumptions."

Big Idea sold 5 million videos the first 11 months of 2003, topping sales during all of 2002 (4.8 million).

Vischer said he was relieved to no longer be the "top tomato" at Big Idea. The stress of trying to save the company and the jobs of employees he considered family broke his heart, he said. It also took a toll on his health. He said he got so caught up in VeggieTales' potential influence for the kingdom of God that he "became no good for God."

"I was Big Idea," he said. "I think that's one of the things that God wanted to knock out of my head with a baseball bat. I almost wasn't perceiving myself as an individual anymore—but as a mission, as a ministry, as a corporate slogan or an icon. I don't think that was healthy. I am going to be much quieter going forward."

Terry Pefanis, Big Idea's chief operating officer, will continue to run the company for Classic Media, which owns family-oriented film, TV, and video properties such as Lassie and The Lone Ranger. The creative team of Vischer, Mike Nawrocki, Tim Hodge, and Kurt Heinecke will remain in place, he said.

For now, Big Idea will focus on VeggieTales videos. An Easter Carol, which includes singer Rebecca St. James, hits stores on February 10, followed by A Snoodle's Tale in the spring and Sumos of the Opera in the fall.


Related Elsewhere:

Other CT coverage of Big Idea includes:

Weblog: VeggieTales Sold for $19.3 Million (Oct. 31, 2003)
VeggieTales Creators File for Bankruptcy | Bob the Tomato and friends sold to company that already has Lassie, Lone Ranger, and Rudolph. (Aug. 04, 2003)
Weblog: Veggies for Sale | Big Idea Productions says it's looking for a buyer (Jul. 16, 2003)
Big Idea Loses Suit | Jury says creator of VeggieTales owes $11 million to ex-distributor. (June 20, 2003)
Big Idea Responds to CT Article | Phil Vischer, CEO and founder, issues a statement regarding company's financial status. (Oct. 4, 2003)
Big Trouble at Big Idea | Former workers worry that Jonah could sink the company. (Oct. 4, 2003)
The Top Tomato | Phil Vischer's tenacious campaign to dominate family entertainment. (Oct. 4, 2003)
Runaway Asparagus | Big Idea's Jonah is both wholesome and hip. (Oct. 4, 2003)
(The Voice of) Larry the Cucumber Speaks | "Nobody thinks growing up that they're going to be a cucumber." (Oct. 4, 2003)
The Serious Business of Silly Songs | The director of music for the VeggieTales talks about bringing musical depth to the score. (Oct. 4, 2003)
The Serious Business of Silly Songs | The director of music for the VeggieTales talks about bringing musical depth to the score. (Oct. 4, 2003)
Jonah Bags Boffo Box Office | But Big Idea lays off 30 in 'heartbreaking' cuts. (Nov. 01, 2002)
(The Voice of) Larry the Cucumber Speaks | "Nobody thinks growing up that they're going to be a cucumber." (Oct. 04, 2002)

The Big Idea corporate site has more information on the company.

Christianity Today sister publication Books & Culture discussed Big Idea's video series in "What's Cooking When Martha Stewart Meets the VeggieTales?"

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