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Working at light speed for Amazon on Creative Galaxy

Blues Clues co-creator Angela Santomero (pictured) talks about working with Amazon Studios on new preschool series Creative Galaxy, which debuts Friday on Amazon Prime Instant Video in the US.
June 26, 2014

Making a show for Amazon is just like ordering a package from the online retailer, according to Angela Santomero, writer, producer and creator of the educational preschool series Creative Galaxy, which debuts its first six episodes on Amazon’s Prime Instant Video this Friday.

“You can get whatever you want in two days,” jokes Santomero (pictured), co-creator of such landmark preschool shows as Nickelodeon’s Blue Clues and PBS’ Super Why!

Working with Amazon Studios’ head of kids programming Tara SorensenSantomero and her team at production house Out of the Blue were able to cut through red tape and get clearances to use iconic artwork by painters such as Jackson Pollock, as well as secure celebrity talent such as Samantha Bee, Cloris Leachman and Jason Priestley to voice some of the characters.

But speed was also a factor in the production schedule.

41OLZwQZFNL._SL500_AA280_They’re building a network, so we’re doing things a little faster,” Santomero says. “I think it’s a year from start to getting it on the air, versus more like 18 months [for a typical project].” For her recent PBS show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, produced with The Fred Rogers Company and 9 Story Entertainment, “it was more like four years,” she says.

While Creative Galaxy‘s development cycle was compressed, Santomero says they didn’t skip any parts of the process, including the all-important research stage, to determine how the show is playing with kids and their parents.

The initial pilot for the series was a colored animatic that debuted as part of Amazon Studios’ initial round of pilots in 2013.

“We got tons of feedback from parents – and kids – through their parents,” Santomero says. “It was really interesting to watch that whole process.”

Some parents left comments on Amazon’s website suggesting that Arty could afford to get a better looking spaceship than the one in the pilot, which looks like a flying light bulb. Santomero subsequently showed new designs to groups of children, who were found to prefer more colorful vessels with more bells and whistles.

Santomero is conscious of how the on-demand nature of Amazon changes the way people consume her shows.

“It’s little bit more like a classic book series, where you can go pick the one you want to watch that’s best-suited for your kids,” Santomero says. “If their kids are learning colors and numbers that day, they’re going to pick the episode about that.”

She also wanted to make sure the first six episodes available on Amazon exposed children to some of the more important painting masters, such as Vincent Van Gogh and Picasso and was careful to start with simple art projects.

“In one of the first episodes, Arty finds an area that is just blah, and he decides that he’s going to fix it with art, and he makes a mural,” Santomero explains. “That’s a craft that’s a little bit more accessible, that you could do at home. In the later episodes, we’re doing things like paper mache and making clay beads that you have to put in the oven – things that are a little more detailed.”

Working in the digital space, Santomero was also able to ignore cable and broadcast time constraints, which enabled the studio to add live-action segments featuring kids executing Arty’s art projects in real-world settings.

Amazon holds all the distribution rights to the show, which was also animated by Story Entertainment in Toronto, partially to take advantage of Canada’s production tax credits. Out of the Blue is handling product licensing for the show, in conjunction with Amazon.

“We’re looking to start with extended learning, beginning with an app that we’re hoping to launch next month,” says Santomero, who’s currently also working on additional seasons of Super Why! and Daniel Tiger for PBS, as well as a second Amazon Studios series, Wishenpoof. “Then we’ll explore all the different extended things we can do with the show. We see story books and that kind of thing, too.”

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