Sony Pictures Entertainment’s new kids and family division has picked up worldwide rights to develop an animated series based on Underwhere, a popular book series by Kevin Eastman. The acquisition represents the first project for the new SPE entertainment group, which launched last month, with the goal of developing proprietary animated characters for exploitation across a variety of mediums, including TV, video and feature film.
The new arm will be spearheaded by president Sander Schwartz, formerly exec VP and GM of Columbia TriStar Children’s Television. Schwartz also plans to mine franchise opportunities from SPE’s current library to drive the family entertainment entity, which will be given a name that doesn’t contain the words ‘Columbia’ or ‘TriStar,’ but will be unique to the new SPE kids brand, says Schwartz. ‘Sony will be making a substantial commitment of more money [to the kids brand],’ Schwartz notes, adding that final budgets will be set this month.
Although the new division spans several mediums, no consolidation of current entertainment groups will occur. For instance, executives at Columbia TriStar Home Video and Columbia TriStar Motion Pictures Group will continue to develop new properties and report to the same people, yet will work hand-in-hand with Schwartz on family and character-based properties. Schwartz will add new execs to his staff in months to come. The new division will be housed in Sony’s existing Santa Monica location.
New cel-animated and CGI characters sought by the group will target two primary demos that Schwartz feels are underserved: younger kids and preschool, and young teens. To hit with this last demo, Higgins says the kids division has signed comedian Wendy Liebman to develop a prime-time animated series. The series will mirror the Liebman’s off-beat outlook on life, which was previously highlighted in her own HBO Comedy Half Hour series. Schwartz also notes that the success of another recent prime-time animated series, Dilbert, by Columbia Twister, spurred SPE’s interest in expanding its animation slate into non-tube areas such as video, direct-to-video and feature film.