As co-creator, executive producer and head writer of the award-winning Nick Jr. series Blue’s Clues, and the driving creative force behind numerous animated hits including PBS KIDS’ Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Amazon Studios’ Creative Galaxy, former Out of the Blue co-founder Angela Santomero knows a thing or two about educational programming for preschoolers. Now, she’s looking to bring that knowledge to her new role as 9 Story’s first chief creative officer.
Santomero also has an advantage because she knows more than most when it comes to entertaining and educating young children. On top of her work in kids media and television production, she has authored numerous children’s books and her first parenting effort—Preschool Clues: Raising Smart, Inspired, and Engaged Kids in a Screen-Filled World—was published by Simon & Schuster earlier this year.
Now, Santomero is embarking on a new journey as the first chief creative officer for Toronto, Canada-based 9 Story Media Group (Top Wing, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, The Magic School Bus Rides Again). Her path to the position began five months ago when the prodco acquired Out of the Blue in an effort to bolster its creative development, consumer products and US business.
Terms of the deal saw Out of the Blue rebrand to 9 Story USA. The New York studio now serves as the anchor of the company’s creative development, research, and creative stewardship across current series. It continues to maintain development staff and operations in Toronto and Dublin under Brown Bag Films (Doc McStuffins, Peter Rabbit), which it acquired in 2015.
“I’ve been working with 9 Story for a few years so I know everybody, but now I’m getting more of a chance to know the creative people in Dublin, who I’ve been fans of from afar,” says Santomero. “A lot of my day-to-day has been looking at their treasure trove of amazing projects that they’ve been developing for a really long time, and I’ve been giving a point of view about where I think they can live and what a 9 Story/Brown Bag signature show looks like.”
Santomero says a big part of her and her team’s job is to provide creative support for every 9 Story project moving through development, pre-production and production. “We haven’t announced anything yet, but we’ve been quite successful since I started in terms of finding homes for multiple projects,” she says.
Along with 9 Story CEO Vince Commisso, Santomero is working closely with chief strategy officer Natalie Osborne and Brown Bag CEO Cathal Gaffney, who also serves as 9 Story’s COO. “I’m most impressed by how creative and entrepreneurial they are. I knew they were all about high quality, but seeing how they can pivot and look at the landscape has been really interesting for me. They are partners who are open to a lot of different ways we can do things,” says Santomero. “As someone with 25 years in the business, I’m very appreciative of the ability to be creatively flexible.”
With new projects in various stages of development and production including an animated remake of the live-action classic Bewitched for kids ages six to 11, a reboot of PBS KIDS’ hit series Clifford the Big Red Dog, and YouTube Red original live-action family series Furze World Wonders, 9 Story’s willingness to provide a more diverse content slate has never been more evident.
In her new role, Santomero will be developing and producing content beyond her preschool comfort zone.
“I have my eye on a lot of talent in the older kids space, which is very exciting for me,” she says. “We’re looking for live-action and animation, because there are opportunities to tell stories in both places. We do have more of a bent on how to make the world a better place, so we’re looking for characters that kids love, but ones they can also aspire to be like.”
Developing content for a broader demographic with the resources of a bigger company has many advantages, but Santomero is mindful of challenges the entire industry is currently facing, especially when it comes to bringing this large slate of new projects to life.
“Finding the right talent is definitely not easy. Having bases in Dublin, Toronto and New York is also a challenge in terms of keeping everybody focused with the same vision and point of view. And we’re all about the people, so it’s about keeping everyone happy, invested and creatively inspired,” she says.
Santomero says staying humble will also help her move forward. “I’ve learned to not have an ego about anything because of the research we do. If kids hate something that you’ve written, they will tell you. So I’ve learned to not take myself too seriously or love my ideas too much. You have to be flexible,” she says.