Jim Steyer, founder of the advocacy group Children Now, which was one of the key lobbying groups in favor of the three-hour-a-week educational children’s programming quota that became law earlier this year, has created JP Kids, a production, publishing and multimedia firm.
Steyer, who made news several months ago when he convinced the National Assn. of Broadcasters to bankroll a pilot for a teen news magazine, has several shows in development. He has built a war chest from investors including George Roberts of Kohlberg, Kravis & Roberts, and Warren Hellman of the investment firm Hellman & Friedman to finance programming.
The company has also recruited execs from MTV, Children’s Television Workshop and “MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.” Programming partners include Yahoo!.
Steyer is a realist about the difficulties of getting kids’ programming off the ground and is open to partnerships with broadcast and cable networks if it means getting shows launched.
“We will evaluate each property and obviously give up a stake for distribution. That is the way the business is right now and people have been receptive to us,” Steyer said. He decided to get into the programming business after years of lobbying the FCC for educational kidvid in an effort to help broadcasters meet their requirements. The NAB decided to also assist Steyer in creating a show for broadcasters.
JP Kids has seven shows in development and has had talks with both the broadcast networks as well as cable webs Nickelodeon, Discovery, Disney and the Family Channel.
On the syndication front, JP Kids is taking the teen newsmagazine “DeBunk,” which the NAB helped to launch through a grant of $160,000 for the pilot, to NATPE this January for a fall launch. For now, Steyer said the company will look to an outside firm for distribution of the show, although he does not rule out creating a distribution arm if the company is successful.
Shows in development on the network front include “Green Wilma,” an animated series about an 11-year-old girl who become a frog. ABC is said to be interested in that show.
Other shows in development include “Klutz TV,” based on the book series from Klutz Press that has sold more than 30 million copies. The show is a mix of animation, puppets, live-action and graphics with a focus on science.
“Silverstone M.S.P.I.” is about a kid with an alter ego that he has to do battle with to find out who he really is.
With Yahoo!, the company has created the animated “Yahooligans,” which will appear initially as short-form segments for television as well as on Internet guides.
Exec lineup set
Steyer will serve as chairman and CEO, based in Oakland, although production offices are in New York.
Beth Barker, a former partner at Montgomery Securities and most recently president of Software Toolworks/Mindscape Plc, which was recently sold to Pearson Plc, will serve as chief financial officer.
Ann Dilworth, who was president of educational publisher Addison-Wesley Co., will serve as a strategic advisor. Dilworth most recently was senior vice president and president of consumer media for Times-Mirror Corp.
Heading up programming for the company will be Liz Nealon, who will serve as executive producer of programming. Nealon was the co-creator and exec producer of Children’s Television Workshop’s “Ghostwriter,” which airs on PBS. She was also a senior vice president of international programming for MTV.
Marc Chusid, who has had stints as vice president and creative director for both Comedy Central and Lifetime, has signed on as the creative director.
Miranda Barry, who was a director of program development for American Playhouse, will serve as executive in charge of development.
On the news front, John DeNatale, most recently senior producer of PBS’ “MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” will serve as news director.