Nancy Kanter, executive VP of content & creation strategy for Disney Channels Worldwide and general manager of Disney Junior Worldwide, has championed numerous series since joining Disney in 2001. But forgive her if she feels a particular closeness to Disney Junior’s newest addition, “Fancy Nancy.”
“When I was a kid, my entire family called me Fancy Nancy,” she recalls. So when the books, written by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Priess Glasser, started coming out in 2005, she heard about them right away. “People sent them to me constantly, so I was very aware of the books and really loved them.”
She loved them so much, she started to pursue the rights about eight or nine years ago, but they were already optioned elsewhere for a possible feature. “We said, ‘Oh well, maybe someday.’” A few years later those options expired and Kanter met with O’Connor and Glasser “and we just hit it off,” Kanter says. “We were able to tell them what we really loved about Nancy, that we understood what was so unique and special about her.”
“Fancy Nancy” follows the adventures of an exuberant 6-year-old girl who loves everything that’s exquisite in language, nature and art, and who has a knack for transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.
That knack for transformation is something that Kanter can relate to. She’s undergone quite a few transformations herself throughout her career, starting out as a film editor, then moving into producing before taking a fortuitous turn into children’s television animation. She even had a brief detour into catering along the way.
Kanter has always been a storyteller, making her first movie with a Super 16 camera when she was in the seventh grade. After studying theater and film at college, Kanter got involved in film editing. “Film editing was certainly one way to get schooled in the art of cinematic storytelling,” she says.
She learned one valuable lesson early on when she nearly lost the only print of the 1975 movie “Dog Day Afternoon.”
Kanter was an apprentice to Dede Allen, the “Dog Day Afternoon” editor, and she was responsible for getting the only print of the film to a screening in New York City. She put the 35mm cans down to hail a cab. “I heard this gigantic crunch,” she recalls. “A bus had jumped the curb and ran over the film cans! I’m looking around, in total panic, thinking to myself that ‘I’m going to take a cab to John F. Kennedy Airport and get on a plane to Mexico and nobody will ever see me again,’ but I didn’t.” What did she tell Allen? As it turned out, she never had to say anything. The cans were heavy enough to have protected the film. “We just unspooled it and then respooled it onto new reels. It was able to go through the projector, so I didn’t have to say anything. It was just pure divine intervention.”
When she was a freelance editor, Kanter and a friend were looking for ways to make money while between editing gigs. “She was a great cook and I loved to cook, so we decided to take an ad out in New York Magazine saying we specialized in Italian food. We’d never cooked for anyone but ourselves. Lo and behold, somebody called wanting us to organize a dinner party for her boss.” They fibbed a bit about their references and got the job. “We organized this meal for what started out to be eight people,” remembers Kanter. “It wound up being 14 people.” Kanter and her friend were starting to worry if they could handle the job. “We raised the price thinking they’d cancel, but they said ‘OK,’ and we ended up doing it. We designed a menu and it went off without a hitch. I think a week later we got an [editing] job, so that was the end of that. It was a fun experience, though, for sure.”
After working for a while as an editor, Kanter wanted to be more involved in the filmmaking process by becoming a producer. She optioned a story she’d seen in People magazine about a teenage girl who sued her prom date after he stood her up. “She’d bought the dress and the shoes, and had her hair done,” explains Kanter. “She wanted her 60 bucks back.” That became the 1990 ABC Afterschool Special “Stood Up.”
About that time she a produced a series of short films for “Sesame Street.” They liked her work so much that they asked her to executive produce direct-to-video specials for Children’s Television Workshop, which she did for five years. She made 32 specials using all of the Muppet characters and won a Daytime Emmy for one, “Elmo Saves Christmas.”
Kanter got the opportunity at the Disney Channel about the time her husband’s job necessitated a move from New York to Los Angeles. “It was just lucky timing,” she explains. “They were looking for somebody who could expand the preschool programming they had for the Disney Channel. I think they wanted someone who came to it with some knowledge and understanding and creative ideas.”
While with Disney, Kanter has overseen such Disney Junior and Disney Channel hits as “The Lion Guard,” “Elena of Avalor,” “Miles From Tomorrowland,” “Doc McStuffins,” “Sofia the First,” “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” and “Mickey and the Roadster Racers.”