HBO Max Inks Author Mo Willems to Multiyear Deal

Mo Willems - directing 'Dont Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!' - Getty-H 2020

HBO Max has made a big commitment to its kids and family programming business, signing beloved children's author Mo Willems to an exclusive multiyear deal. 

The streamer won out in a competitive negotiation and will make Willems the first artist in residence at HBO Max — meaning that in addition to his work as a producer, he'll put his talents as a writer, illustrator and personality to use for the company. The WarnerMedia platform, set to launch in May, will be the exclusive home to the live-action special Don't Let the Pigeon Do Storytime! from Stampede Ventures and has committed to multiple live-action and animated specials based on Willems' books. The first animated show will be based on the book Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed.

Stampede Ventures, headed by former Warner Bros. Pictures president Greg Silverman, will produce all content under the deal.

"HBO Max is the perfect home for me to work on fun and experimental ways to bring my book characters and theater work to the screen because we share the goal of creating exciting shows and series that bring families together," Willems said Tuesday in a statement. “My focus is making stuff that amuses, entertains and sparks creative play after the screen is powered down. Having the creative teams of HBO Max and Stampede Ventures with me means that we’ll get to create meaningful work and have fun doing it."

Added HBO Max chief content officer and TNT, TBS and TruTV president Kevin Reilly, "Mo is a special talent with a profound ability to connect with children and families alike. We are so happy Mo and Stampede Ventures chose to partner with us at HBO Max."

The deal with Willems bolsters a roster of HBO Max content aimed at kids and families that also includes Sesame Street — whose first-run episodes will move the streamer in the fall — a series of Adventure Time specials, animated shows featuring Hanna-Barbera and Looney Tunes characters and a pair of competition shows, Craftopia and Karma, featuring tween and teen contestants

The previously announced Don't Let the Pigeon Do Storytime!, based on Willems' irascible Pigeon character, was filmed last summer at Washington's Kennedy Center. Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, the special features live readings and sketch comedy performed by the "Storytime All-Stars," including Anthony Anderson, Yvette Nicole Brown, Rachel Dratch, Cameron Esposito, Tony Hale, Greta Lee, Thomas Lennon, Natalie Morales and Oscar Nunez.

Willems and Stampede's Silverman, Gideon Yu, Jay Judah and Chris Bosco executive produced the special.

"Stampede Ventures is honored to be Mo’s partner as he brings his vibrant world to life in media for the first time, and we couldn’t ask for a better home than HBO Max," said Silverman. "Mo’s characters are already beloved by millions of families — his books are often the first that many children ever read on their own — and we’re excited to help him bring these characters to life on screen."

The deal was negotiated by Ellen Goldsmith-Vein of the Gotham Group, Marcia Wernick of Wernick & Pratt and Rick Ross of Eisner, LLP on behalf of Willems; Chris Bosco, Anna Pinar and CAA on behalf of Stampede Ventures; and spearheaded by Jay Judah.

Willems has written and illustrated more than 50 books for children, including the Pigeon, Knuffle Bunny and Gerald and Piggie series. He began his career as a writer and animator on Sesame Street and has also worked on Sheep in the Big City and CodeName: Kids Next Door, among other shows. He is currently the inaugural education artist in residence at the Kennedy Center.