Karey Burke and Todd Holland have been busy the past four months, playing with their new Dark Toy.
The production shingle the pair founded in May has nearly a dozen comedy and drama projects in motion, most of them set up at NBC and Universal Media Studios, where their Dark Toy Entertainment banner is based. (Company’s moniker is an anagram of their first names, give or take a few letters.)
Dark Toy was able to hit the ground running because of the co-founders’ deep roots in the creative community — Burke from her long tenure as an NBC programming exec and partner in Ashton Kutcher’s Katalyst, Holland as a top helmer-producer. Dark Toy didn’t wait long for writers and tenpercenters to pitch them material once they planted their flag at UMS (Daily Variety, May 14).
The duo gives NBC and UMS credit for allowing them to cast a wide net in the projects, which range from a contempo retelling of “The Wizard of Oz” set in Gotham to a laffer about Guardian Angels who pose as baristas at Starbucks to a Bryan Fuller adaptation of the Augusten Burroughs novel “Sellevision.”
“I’m pleased that we have such a wide slate,” Burke said. “NBC has given us latitude to take some chances on bigger ideas that are more out of the box. We’re really taking some swings on the comedy side, but I think they have confidence because we know how to shape things and because with Todd they know there’s a strong directorial vision behind these big concepts.”
Angela Bromstad, prexy of entertainment for NBC and UMS, said Dark Toy’s ability to quickly assemble a “diverse and creative slate of comedies and dramas is impressive.”
Burke and Holland already had a good working shorthand from their experience as exec producers on the ABC comedy “Miss Guided,” which Katalyst developed with 20th Century Fox TV when Holland was under contract to the studio. They’ve been able to divvy up the workload of development according to their respective strengths.
The pair has found themselves drawn to comedies and dramas with a darkly comedic touch, and projects that stem from a writers’ deeply personal experiences. They’ve been working with a mix of younger budding talents and creatives that one or both of them have worked with in the past.
“We’re drawn to people who have a fascinating personal story to tell, and some dirty laundry to air,” Burke said. “Everything that I do has to be rooted in someone’s unique sense of humanity or I just don’t get it,” Holland added. “To me, that’s where comedy comes from.”
Holland hopes to be able to juggle his sked to direct one if not two pilots from the Dark Toy slate, assuming that some projects are greenlighted. The potential for big changes in store at NBC is something that can’t be ignored, Burke and Holland acknowledged, but even amid a major exec and ownership transition, “the network is a machine that needs to be filled with rich ideas no matter who’s in charge,” Holland said.
Among the Dark Toy projects in the early stages of development at NBC:
n”Emerald City,” a comedy from scribes Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins described as a retelling of “The Wizard of Oz” set among twentysomethings in Gotham. Marti Noxon and Dawn Parouse Olmstead are also exec producing with Burke and Holland.
n “Free Agents,” a laffer based on a British format, revolves around a pair of talent agents. “Party Down” scribe John Enbom is adapting the project and will exec produce with Big Talk Prods.
n “Switched,” a comedy from scribe Paul Davies about twins who are separated at birth and raised in neighboring towns.
n “Guardians,” a half-hour about Guardian Angels posing as Starbucks baristas in an effort to help customers improve their lives. Ajay Sahgal and Carlos Jacott are penning the script.
n “Sellevision,” based on the Augusten Burroughs novel, from Bryan Fuller was developed at NBC last year as a drama but has relocated to Dark Toy as a half-hour. Fuller is writing and exec producing with Mark Bozek, Russell Nuce, Bryan Singer, Jason Taylor, Holland and Burke.
n “The Eulogist,” a dramedy from scribe Jordan Roter about a woman in her 20s who moonlights as a eulogist.
n Drama “S.A.N.D. Men” from writer Craig Titley revolves around members of an elite squad, Sleep and Nightmare Division, who enter peoples’ dreams to confront their nightmares.
n Scribe Jennifer Salt (“Nip/Tuck,” “Eat Pray Love”) is whipping up a still-untitled drama set in the tumultuous world of celebrity chefs.