Shaftesbury reveals its kids development, production slate

Kids and family exec Jennifer McCann shares the prodco's strategy to build on legacy brands and how they've had to shift gears during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Life with Luca_2005 2020

Toronto-based prodco Shaftesbury has expanded the development and production slate for its kids brand, including two spinoffs of existing IP.

Shaftesbury Kids revealed four new titles across development and production stages. Currently in development is Life with Luca, a sequel series to Life with Derek, which premiered 15 years ago on Family Channel. Life with Derek creator Daphne Ballon is working with Shaftesbury Kids to develop the new series alongside Jeff Biederman. In this new iteration, Derek (Michael Seater) and stepsister Casey (Ashley Leggat), now parents to children with very different personalities than them, are forced to cohabitate again. The Shaw Rocket Fund and Canada Media Fund (CMF) will help fund development of the series.

The prodco is also working with animator Smiley Guy Studios on two animated series – Stinky Science (16 x 3 minutes), based on the Ed Kay books about the science of why things smell, currently in pre-production; and Mary and Flo: On the Go! (9 x 7 minutes), a spin-off of Frankie Drake Mysteries based on two of its popular characters, co-created by Rebecca Liddiard and Sharron Matthews, who play Mary and Flo, respectively, on the live-action series. Carmen Albano is also a co-creator. Both series have funding from the Shaw Rocket Fund, with additional funding from CMF for Mary and Flo.

Meanwhile, Miikshi (10 x 7 minutes), a series in pre-production created with hand puppets and model miniatures, follows the adventures of a shy, sheep scientist. Miikshi is backed by the Independent Production Fund and the Shaw Rocket Fund.

Jennifer McCann, executive producer, Shaftesbury Kids and Family, told Playback Daily that, while each series had financial backing before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the prodco has had to adjust its production and development strategies during COVID-19. Mary and Flo: On the Go! and Stinky Science are able to go into production remotely thanks to the Smiley Guy animation team, but production on Miikshi is currently on hold.

The writer’s room for Life with Luca has been working remotely since April, which McCann says was the prodco’s first virtual writer’s room. “People have been so open to working in a different way,” she says, despite having to cope with parenting and working at home amidst a crisis. “They are more receptive and open to listening, to being more focused and respectful to people’s timeframes.”

Both Life with Luca and Mary and Flo: On the Go! Are part of Shaftesbury Kid’s strategy to utilize the already strong brands and legacy titles from the prodco, with McCann noting that Mary and Flo is part of “a number of ideas in the works that involve spin-off ideas and extensions of the Frankie Drake and Murdoch Mysteries brand.” The company has also partnered with CBC Gem and Citytv in Saskatchewan to provide older titles to audiences during COVID-19, including Life with Derek. McCann says the plan is to build those distribution relationships and find broadcaster partners to distribute its slate outside of YouTube.

On the streaming front, the Shaftesbury Kids YouTube channel has seen an audience spike since COVID-19. McCann says the channel has regularly posted newly produced content, such as digital series The Solutioneers and Boredom Busters, which features cast members from Shaftesbury Kids shows sharing messages of positivity while kids are staying at home in the pandemic. Seater and Leggat are among the cast members taking part in Boredom Busters, which is partially financed through the Shaw Rocket Fund.

The release date for The Solutioneers was moved up due to COVID-19, which McCann says “paid off” as a strategy to allow the channel to “stagger the content as we’ve moved along and grown our audience.” The channel has seen a more than 800% increase in subscribers since then, according to McCann, with a watch time of more than 995 hours.

Pictured: The writer’s room for Life with Derek (2005) and Life with Luca (2020)