Although it’s been stealthily acquiring shows and partnering with creative talent for the past year, National Geographic Television & Film’s Kids Programming and Production arm is still looking for more content to round out its slate.
The unit’s goal, says president Donna Friedman Meir, is to have 15 to 20 concepts on the go at any given time, including two or three preschool projects, three to five animated comedies, three to five live-action dramedies and a couple of family-oriented prime-time shows. Friedman Meir will also look at DTV and feature film pitches, but right now, she’s really interested in animated comedies and action-adventure series for six- to 11-year-olds, as well as tween live action.
NGT&F Kids isn’t in a position to fully fund shows yet, but it does have some money earmarked for development. Its level of involvement on projects will be determined on a case-by-case basis and can include idea development, finding co-pro partners, licensing and merchandising, marketing and distribution to broadcasters. ‘We’re incredibly flexible in terms of how we work with people,’ says Friedman Meir.
Every project that NGT&F Kids gets involved in must be grounded in some way to its mission statement, which is to excite children to explore their world. According to Friedman Meir, that means she has the freedom to do almost any style and subject – from nature-themed shows like The Wild Thornberrys and action-adventure like Jackie Chan Adventures, to reality series along the lines of Survivor – but it’s just enough of a guideline to give her focus and a sense of purpose. The team is especially keen to partner with international producers who may not be familiar with the global market or who may not have access to the resources a North American or European company can tap into.
The most important element that NGT&F Kids brings to the table is its connection to the Nat Geo brand, which instills instinctive trust in parents. The unit also has access to National Geographic resources including a library of 25,000 hours of footage and a filming network that spans the globe. And hooking up with NGT&F Kids also opens up a wealth of cross-promotion opportunities with Nat Geo’s on-line group, educational outreach programs and National Geographic Kids magazine (which has a U.S. subscription base of more than 1.2 million and will launch in Europe later this year).
The American and international market expertise of Friedman Meir and her team is another big draw. In her previous roles as executive VP of Kids’ WB! and VP of marketing at Nick (where she helped launch Nick Latin America), Friedman Meir has worn just about every hat in the TV business. Rounding out the team is VP of development Tara Sorensen (formerly Sony Pictures Family Entertainment’s VP of creative affairs) and development coordinator Michael Karsh, who used to be a development associate at Granada Entertainment USA.
The first project to come out of NGT&F Kids will be a 2-D animated series created by Guy Vasilovich (Hey Arnold! movie) and Peter Burns (SpongeBob SquarePants). Iggy Arbuckle: Nature Freak will target the eight to 12 demo and star a nature-loving pig living in the wilds of Kookamunga. On a quest to collect Pig Scout merit badges, Iggy constantly seeks adventure and gets into and out of trouble with the help of his best friend Jiggers, a high-spirited beaver. Following closely on the heels of that project, NGT&F Kids has signed up Jill Gorey and Barbara Herndon, a writing team that has worked on Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys for Klasky Csupo, to develop an original live-action half-hour series for tweens.