11:00am PT by Lesley Goldberg
Obamas Team With Chris Nee for Netflix Animated Preschool Series
Netflix is teaming one of the biggest names in children's programming with the Obamas.
Chris Nee, the award-winning creator of Doc McStuffins and Vampirina is collaborating with Barack and Michelle Obama for an animated preschool series titled Ada Twist, Scientist. The series will debut globally in 2021.
Ada Twist is based on the best-selling book series by author Andrea Beaty and illustrator David Roberts. The series has been greenlit for 40, 12-minute episodes and will introduce Ada Twist, a young Black scientist who will explore helping people through scientific discovery, collaboration and friendship. The series will also include real scientists to inspire young viewers.
Kerri Grant (Doc McStuffins, Nella the Princess Knight) will serve as showrunner and will exec produce alongside Nee and the Obamas, Mark Burton (Water, Tallula, The Indian Detective), Higher Ground's Tonia Davis and Priya Swaminathan (American Factory, Crip Camp, Becoming), author Beaty and illustrator David Roberts. Former senior policy adviser at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Dr. Knatokie Ford and Alie Ward (The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation with Mo Rocca, Brainchild) will serve as consultants.
"The Higher Ground team was inspired to produce Ada Twist, Scientist by President Obama and Mrs. Obama's enduring commitment to young people, their education, and knowing no bounds or limits to dreams for their future," Swaminathan and Davis said in a joint statement Thursday. "Chris and Kerri's show will ignite kids' imaginations. This is exactly the type of show Higher Ground was founded to create — powerful, meaningful storytelling for the whole family."
Ada Twist is the first series to stem from Nee's overall deal with Netflix. The prolific kids show creator left Disney in December 2018 for a lucrative pact with the streamer. The series hails from Nee's Laughing Wild production company. Nee spent eight years with Disney, for whom she created and served as showrunner on Peabody-winner Doc McStuffins and Vampirina. Both became moneymaking franchises for Disney's various other businesses, with lines of toys, clothing and more. Doc McStuffins recently wrapped its run after five seasons. The series, lauded for featuring a Black, female doctor as its lead, spawned a touring exhibit, characters at Disney Parks and Resorts and became one of the most popular preschooler properties among retailers. The series paved the way for Nee's Vampirina, which was renewed for a third season.
“I’m thrilled to be partnering with Higher Ground to bring Ada Twist to the screen. As a fan of the books I was taken with the diverse characters, striking designs and vital message that science matters. Plus, Ada fulfills my personal need to populate children’s television with strong girls who aren’t afraid to be the smartest kids in the room. Once Kerri Grant came on board to showrun, I knew we had the dream team to bring this special series to life,” Nee said. Added Grant: “It brings me immense joy to be a part of bringing Ada Twist to the screen. As a young, curious Black girl who grew up loving TV, I simply became accustomed to rarely seeing images that reflected me onscreen — and the ones that did, represented an anti-intellectual stereotype that led me to hide my own light under a bushel. To be a part of bringing a show to kids that features a young, Black girl being unapologetically the smartest kid in the room, in a world as diverse and visually stunning as the one created by the book series' author and illustrator, fills my heart to capacity. Working with Chris Nee, my old boss and certified preschool TV hit-maker; and Higher Ground and their commitment to representation, dreaming big, and excellence, has been the alignment of so many stars, it’s truly a celestial event."
The Obamas inked a Netflix producing deal in May 2018. The former first couple set an expansive slate of film and TV projects in April 2019.
Ada Twist arrives as Netflix continues to bulk up its kids programming and animation offerings. Netflix continues to expand its slate of both kids programming and animation. In success, both can become extremely lucrative and lead to billions in revenue from merchandising. "Chris, Kerri and their talented team are creating a series that goes well beyond entertaining kids; they are bringing to life stories that reflect the world we live in and inspire us to envision solutions to the challenges we face. Ada is brilliant and funny and we hope she will ignite curiosity for kids around the world," said Netflix vp animation Melissa Cobb.