Cookie Jar continues shift to live action

Developing pilot from Steven de Souza

TORONTO -- Canadian animation producer Cookie Jar Entertainment has stepped up its push into live-action comedy with a Cartoon Network pilot from scribe Steven de Souza ("Die Hard," "48 Hours").

The new live-action programming remit also has Cookie Jar developing "Decidedly Debra" for Family Channel Canada, a tween live-action comedy from the veteran Los Angeles comedy writing team of Andrew Nicholls and Darrell Vickers.

The Family Channel pilot, to be directed by Stacey Curtis ("Majority Rules!") with Peter Benison ("The Wild Girl") as director of photography, follows 14-year-old Debra, who sprinkles her magic and special skills to bring out the best in people.

Cookie Jar's live-action development slate also includes a primetime young adult romantic comedy for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. set in a Montreal coffee shop.

While the Canadian producer's lineup is still mostly animation -- Cookie Jar showcased at MIPTV the new animated series "Doodlebops Rockin' Road Show" and new seasons of "Caillou," "Magi-Nation," "Arthur" and "Johnny Test" -- Cookie Jar executive vp Tom Mazza insists there's a void in the market for young family primetime fare.

"We are expanding and branching the company out from its core base, staying committed to animation, while broadening our palate of programming to include live-action and tween and young adult family programming in primetime," Mazza, a former Columbia TriStar and Paramount TV division boss, explained.

Cookie Jar launched its own primetime label, the Jar, to satisfy the live-action primetime needs of networks. The first series out of the gate include a minimum 26 episodes of the high-flying "Lucha Libre" TV wrestling series for MTV2 and MTV Tres, and the animation/live-action hybrid "Mudpit" for Teletoon, now in production under veteran showrunner Bruce Kalish.

Cookie Jar reaching into the U.S. network series and syndicated arena follows the acquisition of the global brand management group DIC Entertainment for $83 million in 2008.

That purchase was part of an earlier evolution of the Toronto-based producer from 2004 when Michael Hirsh, who along with his co-founders sold rival cartoon producer Nelvana Ltd. in 2000, led a consortium that acquired and took former rival Cinar Corp. private and rebranded it as Cookie Jar Entertainment.

As Mazza stickhandles the drive into U.S. network fare, Hirsh and Toper

Taylor, Cookie Jar president and COO, continue to oversee Cookie Jar's educational publishing business and an expanding consumer products division, based in London.

The shift to live action also comes as the audience for Cookie Jar's best-known 1990s cartoon titles like "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" and "The Busy World of Richard Scarry" continue to age, and U.S. broadcasters appear more willing to partner with Canadian and other foreign producers like Cookie Jar to spread programming risk and costs.

To get deeper in live-action fare, Cookie Jar also late last year hired veteran development executive Maggie Murphy away from Kiefer Sutherland's Eastside Entertainment to serve as senior vp of development, charging with expanding Cookie Jar's tween-targeted and primetime programming slate under Mazza's lead.

And Canadian development executive Jilliane Reinseth was brought on board as vp of development to greenlight new series in Canada for The Jar.

"It's all about moving forward and responding to market interest and market demand," Mazza said.
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