TV vets launch Wizard Hat Productions

Upstart company looks to rival Cookie Jar, Nelvana

TORONTO – Former Cookie Jar Entertainment production heads Pam Slavin and Toni Stevens have teamed up with Canadian media bigwig Bill Fox to launch the indie kids TV producer Wizard Hat Productions.

In a surprise move, the upstart Toronto-based indie producer is looking to rival the big boys of Canadian animation, Cookie Jar and Nelvana, both of whom Slavin and Stevens have worked for.

Slavin, a partner and executive producer at Wizard Hat, said she and Stevens wanted to step back from volume production at Cookie Jar to focus on select projects for an international pre-school and tween audience, with a focus on 6-11 year-old animated comedies.

"We saw this as an opportunity to choose our projects to take to broadcasters," she said.

Slavin's credits at Cookie Jar, and before that as a supervising producer at Nelvana, include "Little Bear," "Johnny Test, "Rolie Polie Olie" and "Berenstain Bears." Stevens' animation credits include "Caillou," "Arthur" and "Gerald McBoing Boing."

To get their company off the ground, Slavin and Stevens turned to Bill Fox, a former media chief for prime minister Brian Mulroney and senior executive at phone giant BCE Inc.

Canadian animation producers are longtime providers of homegrown programming to domestic kids TV channels like Teletoon, YTV and Treehouse Television, which feature cartoons to both attract young audiences and fulfill demanding Canadian-content requirements.

Here Wizard Hat is looking to join small and nimble animation producers like 9 Story Entertainment and Studio B Producers as alternatives to bigger factories like Cookie Jar and Nelvana.

Both Slavin and Stevens rode Canada's 1990s toon boom when Nelvana and Montreal-based Cinar were this country's biggest studios.

That was before Cinar was brought low by a series of scandals, and Nelvana co-founder Michael Hirsh swooped in to acquire the Montreal-based company and rebrand it as Cookie Jar Entertainment, based in Toronto.

Canadian animation programming is often produced with foreign partners as international co-productions, whose intricate rules it is often left to the Canadians to explain.

Wizard Hat's coming out party will be next week at the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Slavin said Wizard Hat has approached North American broadcasters to discuss an early slate of unspecified projects, whose details will be revealed in the coming weeks.