Disney taps Coleman for toons


Having established itself as the dominant player for live-action kids programming with "High School Musical" and "Hannah Montana," Disney Channel is now challenging Nickelodeon for the crown in animated series.

Disney Channel has poached veteran Nickelodeon animation executive Eric Coleman to lead the channel's aggressive push in the area as senior vp development at Walt Disney Television Animation.

Meanwhile, Meredith Roberts, who most recently has shepherded Disney Channel's animated series development as senior vp creative affairs at Walt Disney TV Animation, is moving to DisneyToon Studios, where she will serve as senior vp and GM. In the newly created position, she will oversee the company's daily operations, reporting to Walt Disney Animation Studios executive vp production Andrew Millstein.

Coleman, who has worked at Nickelodeon for 15 years, overseeing the development and production of such hit shows as "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Avatar," will start at Disney on Feb. 4. He will report to Disney Channels Worldwide entertainment president Gary Marsh.

"Bringing Eric to Disney is an absolute coup," Marsh said. "There is no executive in the entire television animation space who has the creative vision, the credibility and the track record that Eric does."

Coleman's mandate is to spearhead development of animated short-form and long-form series targeting kids 6-11 for Disney Channel, Toon Disney and Jetix platforms, which reach more than 219 million homes worldwide. He also will oversee Walt Disney TV Animation's casting and music departments.

In addition, he will work with Disney Channel and Walt Disney TV Animation's international partners.

"I am thrilled to be joining the Disney team that is revolutionizing the business of television for kids and families," Coleman said. "What impresses me the most is the enormous commitment and support they are willing to give me to build a world-class slate of animated content for the kids' global TV platforms."

Disney Channel's most successful animated series to date is "Kim Possible." The channel's brass has high hopes for the upcoming "Phineas and Ferb," which received great sampling after the premiere of "High School Musical 2."

On the success of "HSM" and "Hannah," Disney Channel ranked as the most-watched cable network in 2007, a first for any kids channel.

Coleman began his career at Nickelodeon in New York, where he worked on the first wave of original Nicktoons: "Rugrats," "Ren & Stimpy" and "Doug." He then moved to Los Angeles and, as manager of development, worked on numerous animated pilots, including "Rocko's Modern Life" and "Hey Arnold!" and served as development exec on the pilots for "SpongeBob" and "The Wild Thornberrys." In recent years, Coleman served as executive producer on "Avatar," "Catscratch" and "El Tigre" as well as the executive in charge of production on "Invader Zim," "CatDog," and "SpongeBob."

Sources indicated that the recent executive restructuring at Nickelodeon's animation division that saw Brown Johnson being named president was in part connected to Coleman's departure.