8:30am PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Clone High,' Mindy Kaling 'Scooby' Prequel, Pete Davidson Animated Comedies a Go at HBO Max
HBO Max is doubling down on adult animation.
The WarnerMedia-backed streamer has handed out a two-season pickup to a Clone High update as well as straight-to-series orders for a Scooby-Doo origin story about Velma from exec producer (and voice star) Mindy Kaling and a workplace entry featuring Pete Davidson.
The Casey Bloys-led platform has renewed JG Quintel's animated comedy Close Enough for two additional seasons and announced a slate of four adult animated comedies that are in the development stages from producers including Michael B. Jordan, Ed Helms, Brian Michael Bendis and musician Sean Solomon.
"It is a tremendous privilege to build on the 100-year plus legacy of 'cartoons' at this company," HBO Max exec vp comedy and adult animation Suzanna Makkos said in a statement announcing the slate Wednesday. "We can draw a straight line from our hundreds of childhood hours spent watching Bugs outwit Elmer to the current slate of adult animated projects we are building here at HBO Max and we think fans will agree. We are proud to introduce this distinctive group of series from a wide range of diverse creators that will form a first stop destination for animation lovers everywhere."
Clone High reunites original creators Phil Lord, Chris Miller and Bill Lawrence with former writer Erica Rivinoja (South Park, Borat 2). The series is produced by MTV Studios, which shopped the new take on its beloved comedy to buyers last summer. The updated take is described as a refresh on the original series that is set at a high school for clones of historical figures. Rivinoja will serve as showrunner on the two-season order. Clone High is the latest MTV series that has been revived and shopped as part of MTV Studios' efforts to become a content supplier to third-party buyers. Other titles revived include Beavis and Butt-head, Daria (which is getting a spinoff, Jodie).
Velma, meanwhile, is also an adult-focused comedy that offers a look at the origin story of its bespectacled and underappreciated brain in the Scooby gang. The series offers a look at the complex and colorful past of one of Scooby-Doo's beloved mystery solvers. Mindy Kaling will exec produce and voice the role of Velma. (The HBO Max series description offered no clue on Velma's sexual orientation.) The series is exec produced by Kaling and her frequent collaborator Charlie Grandy (The Mindy Project, The Office, Four Weddings), 3 Arts' Howard Klein and Sam Register. Register, the former president of Warner Bros. Animation, was promoted late last year at WarnerMedia to include oversight of Cartoon Network Studios. (He also developed the original Clone Wars for MTV.) Velma stems from Kaling's overall deal with Warner Bros. Animation parent Warner Bros. TV. She has multiple series in the works for the studio.
Fired on Mars is the third new adult-animated comedy that has been picked up straight to series for HBO Max. The workplace comedy is set on the Martian campus of a modern tech company. The series is based on the 2016 animated short from creators Nate Sherman and Nick Vokey. (Watch it here.) SNL favorite Davidson will voice a character in the series and exec produce alongside Sherman, Vokey, Carson Mell and Dave Sirus.
As part of HBO Max's adult animation slate, the streamer has also put the following four shows in development: Hello Paul, Obi, Uncanny Valley and Cover. (Details on all four are below.)
The push for adult animation arrives as the genre has exploded in popularity over the past few years. In success, shows like Adult Swim's Rick and Morty repeat well and bring in younger audiences and can often lead to profitable merchandising lines. Franchises like The Simpsons, Family Guy and Bob's Burgers, for example, are considered to be worth billions. What's more, animated series cost less to make and market than live-action scripted fare are able to be produced remotely, an added bonus during the pandemic.
HBO Max spent an estimated $500 million for exclusive domestic streaming rights to Comedy Central's South Park to have the beloved series and its 23-season (and counting) library available shortly after its launch. While HBO Max has been slowly greenlighting adult-focused animated fare, Wednesday's announcement illustrates the priority the streamer is putting on the genre. The South Park library is expected to wind up on Paramount+ after its current licensing deal expires in a few years. ViacomCBS is said to have licensed it to HBO Max in a bid to better expose South Park to comedy audiences who signed up for mega-hits like Friends and The Big Bang Theory.
HBO Max's adult animated originals include new takes on Gremlins, The Boondocks as well as royal family entry The Prince and DC Universe-turned-HBO Max breakout Harley Quinn, among others. The streamer is also eyeing an adult-leaning animated take on Game of Thrones.
Here's HBO Max's animated development slate:
From creator and musician Sean Solomon, Hello Paul is about a neurotic millennial cat whose intense job and freeloading mouse roommate stress him out.
Obi is about a 30-year-old man-child chasing his dream to become an artist while navigating adulthood with his friends. Produced by Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society, Michael Schreiber for Studio71, and David Devries, Obi is an adaptation of Obi Arisukwu’s popular Instagram comic strip. This project is co-created by Obi Arisukwu and Arthur Harris (The Last OG).
Executive producer Ed Helms with creators/executive producers Brendan Walter and Greg Yagolnitzer tell the story of three awkward domestic helper robots who kill their human owners and try to assume their identities. Uncanny Valley is produced by Universal Television, a division of Universal Studio Group, and Helms and Mike Falbo's Pacific Electric Picture Company. Andrew Guest is also an executive producer/writer.
Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack are adapting their acclaimed DC comic book series Cover, an animated espionage thriller and conspiratorial love letter to the comic book industry that was nominated for multiple Eisner Awards. Bendis will write the series and Mack has signed on to direct. COVER is produced by Rooster Teeth Studios.