Since it first came on the scene five years ago as a new cog in its parentco’s mighty franchise-building machine, New York-based Scholastic Entertainment has been one of those rare birds able to fully finance its shows domestically. But the unit is now facing a drastically different U.S. kids programming landscape in which all the major players have tightened the strings on their commissioning purses. ‘The gatekeepers right now are the broadcasters, and they want to dedicate their best real estate and a large part of their budgets to the things they make and own,’ explains Deborah Forte, president of Scholastic Entertainment and executive VP of Scholastic Inc. ‘There is a willingness to acquire product, but not high-priced product.’
To roll with these market shifts without compromising the quality of its programming, Scholastic Entertainment plans to start delving into international co-production–and the unit has tapped the expertise of former TV-Loonland/Sunbow Entertainment senior VP of creative affairs Ken Olshansky to lead the charge as senior VP of television programming. Before making the switch, Olshansky had been shepherding numerous multi-partner projects–including Kappa Mikey and Skeleton Key–through the various stages of development and production at TV-L’s Sunbow subsidiary.
Olshansky and Forte are already looking for new projects with co-pro potential, with a focus on older-skewing live-action and comedy concepts–genres that are right up Olshansky’s alley since he used to oversee Kenan and Kel at Nickelodeon and also did a stint as director of development for Comedy Central. ‘We’ve got a strong track record for building kids franchises, particularly ones based on children’s books,’ says Forte. ‘Now we want to branch out to develop more original, creator-driven material. We do two major franchises a year now, but I’d like to expand our slate a little bit so that we’re doing three and augmenting these with some one-offs and other unusual projects.’
So what drew Olshansky to Scholastic? ‘I’m hoping to get the new Harry Potter book before anyone else,’ he jokes–and the scope of the company’s undertakings is nothing to sneeze at either. ‘Take Clifford, for example, which is worth US$250 million. The TV show is really nicely produced, but it’s just one piece of a larger puzzle,’ says Olshansky. ‘Being a part of a fully-dimensional franchise like that is what excites me the most.’ He won’t have to wait long since Scholastic Entertainment is working on a new TV extension of Clifford that will introduce new characters and settings.
For all that he’s looking forward to working within a larger structure, Olshansky says he will miss the easy-going TV-Loonland/Sunbow dynamic. ‘I’ve been lucky to work with loosely-structured, entrepreneurial companies that have allowed for a lot of personal exploration and expression. I think I’ll have that here too, but it’s a much bigger and more structured organization, so I’ll have to make sure that what we’re doing works for everyone else in the company.’