Few kids name puppeteer as their most desired career, but for Canadian creators Jamie Shannon and Jason Hopley, there is little doubt that the pair was destined for the job. The duo is the creative force behind The Grogs, a Toronto-based prodco that’s on quite a roll this year. Not only does the company have Mr. Meaty set to debut on Nickelodeon in the U.S. this month, the tween-skewing puppet show is a linchpin in the broadcast giant’s aggressive multi-platform strategy, currently airing on broadband site Turbonick and via podcasts powered by iTunes.
Shannon and Hopley go back to the sixth grade together; they were both into acting and admittedly spent a lot of time in their parents’ basements making puppets and costumes. Several years later during university, a trip to Europe inspired Shannon to seriously pursue puppetry and Hopley joined him to create a puppet troupe called The Grogs.
The duo named their company after the puppet troupe and got jobs as program jockeys at 24-hour Canadian kidsnet YTV. At the time, the net didn’t run commercials during the day, so it was their job to fill the space between shows with a live, improvised puppet act. After three years at YTV, The Grogs first earned international attention with 2003′s preschool puppet show Nanalan’. The 72 x three-minuter, about a girl who visits her nanna frequently got picked up by Nickelodeon and was sold into 150 different countries, Hopley says. It’s also still a preschool staple on Canuck pubcaster CBC.
The Mr. Meaty deal was closed with Nick about a year ago, after 13, three-minute shorts aired on the CBC. The Grogs sent Nickelodeon director of development Peter Gal a DVD of the show and, Shannon says, ‘Peter totally fell in love with it.’
While the series is aimed at the eight to 14 set (not your typical puppet fans), its arch take on the experiences of two buddies as they work at a somewhat unusual fastfood restaurant in a suburban mall should resonate with the group. Episodes involve monsters, vampires, frequent trouble with the deep fryer and run-ins with the oppressive owner of the company. The series is now priority number-one for the prodco, which has grown to about 30 people.
As for the next move, Shannon and Hopley have their hands full writing and voicing a cartoon series Weird Years launching this month on YTV (see our Canadian Fall TV coverage ‘Broadband or Bust’ on p.103 for details). A series of shorts about two monkeys for Playhouse Disney called Ohh Ahh & You is also set to air soon.