Sharon Lieblein: Talent seeker finds new outlet

Youth Impact Report 2011: Channeling Talent

Impact: Cartoon Network lured the kid casting guru from Nickelodeon by creating a role playing to her talents.
Next: Casting live-action pilots for Cartoon Network; gearing up for freshman season of “Level Up.”
Causes: The Actors Fund’s Looking Ahead Program, which supports and mentors young performers and their families.

As vice president of talent and casting for Nickelodeon, Sharon Lieblein used to call herself the “Nick mom.” During her 12 years at the network, Lieblein cast or had a hand in putting together the ensembles for such signature series as “iCarly,” “Big Time Rush,” “Zoey 101,” “Victorious” and “Drake & Josh.”

“I’m everybody’s momma,” Lieblein says. “Even if I was just supervising the casting, I got very involved in those kids’ lives.”

Now at Cartoon Network in the newly created role of casting and talent development veep, Lieblein is bringing her sharp instincts to a channel eager to broaden its programming into live-action. She started in April and is in the thick of putting together pilots that will appeal to the network’s target 6-to-11 target demo.

“We’re looking to take the kind of comedy that has worked so well for us in animation and move it to live-action,” Lieblein says. “It will be our own particular stamp — comedy with a little edge, things you wouldn’t see on Nickelodeon or Disney because they wouldn’t necessarily go with those brands.”

Why leave the comfort of those youth-TV superpowers to work for one that ranks a rung below?

“There are no rules,” she says. Cartoon Network brass hired Lieblein for her experience and is entrusting her with a level of autonomy she didn’t have at Nick. As one youth manager predicts, “She’s going to single-handedly change the face of kids casting.”

First up is the fantastical comedy “Level Up,” following four high-schoolers who accidentally open a portal from a videogame into the real world. The effects-laden series will premiere with a 90-minute movie in November. The regular broadcast run will follow early next year.