Talk about a rural advantage. When Toronto’s Aircraft Pictures and LA’s Cloudco Entertainment first approached US streamer Hulu and DHX TV’s Canadian net Family Channel with a live-action Holly Hobbie series for tweens and teens that’s set in a small country town, the broadcasters weren’t specifically looking for a rural-set show.
But according to Aircraft producer Anthony Leo, Holly Hobbie‘s setting became a differentiator that helped the show stand out from others in the pitching process, and led to commissions from both broadcasters. Now, after the series’ US launch last November and its Canadian premiere in January, Hulu and Family Channel have ordered a second 10 x 22-minute season.
“Although music is involved quite heavily, the series is not about a girl trying to be a huge star,” says Leo. “It shows kids that they don’t have to aspire to leave town and go to the big city to achieve their dreams.”
Produced by Aircraft (The Breadwinner) in association with Cloudco (formerly American Greetings Entertainment) and Wexworks Media (D.N.Ace), Holly Hobbie follows a tween singer-songwriter (Ruby Jay) who saves her grandmother’s small-town café by launching open mic nights and performing original songs. The series is inspired by American Greetings’ classic girls’ character brand from the ’70s and ’80s.
Leo says that Hulu appreciated the care that went into depicting a world that was a postcard to rural communities. “They liked that we presented a setting where everyone knows each other and will help out their neighbor at the drop of a hat,” he says. “They felt that audience was underserved and that it spoke to those communities on a number of levels.”
Though Hulu won’t divulge numbers, Leo says the series has been a consistent top-performing kids and family show on the service and conversations about a second season started with the SVOD quite early on after its premiere. “The reaction from them was pretty swift and we got the same response from Family Channel,” he says. As with season one, Hulu, Family Channel and Shaw Rocket Fund are financing season two, along with backing from Canadian tax credits.
Season two, which Hulu and Family Channel expect to debut later this year, is currently in production in Toronto with Sarah Glinski (Degrassi: Next Class) resuming as showrunner. Season one was also picked up by CBBC and just made its UK debut on July 4. Other broadcasters on board for the first season include Viaplay (pan-Nordic), NRK (Norway), SVT (Sweden), SEBC (Sweden), Noga (Israel), RTVS (Slovenia), RTL Videoland (Netherlands), VRT (Belgium) and i-Cable (Hong Kong). Cloudco is handling the show’s international distribution and Leo says a deal with a French broadcaster will be closed soon.
Meanwhile, Holly Hobbie is expanding into licensing and merchandising. Last month, Cloudco inked a multi-season deal with Warner Music Group’s arts music division to release original music from the series. The first single, “Be the Change (Theme Song),” launched on June 24 and four more singles will bow this month to coincide with the CBBC premiere and the upcoming soundtrack album release on September 5. Five additional songs are being recorded for season two and Leo says more is in store for the brand.
“Besides the music there are definitely some CP plays in the works based off of the series,” he says. “Cloudco continues to make deals around the original Holly Hobbie brand, but the series has given the company a whole new opportunity to work with different retailers.” Details on products and partnerships are yet-to-be disclosed.