Creators Society Animation Podcast

25. Nancy Kanter - Exec Producer at Netflix, Former Disney Channels Exec and Pioneer of Disney Junior

June 01, 2022 Creators Society Season 2
25. Nancy Kanter - Exec Producer at Netflix, Former Disney Channels Exec and Pioneer of Disney Junior
Creators Society Animation Podcast
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Creators Society Animation Podcast
25. Nancy Kanter - Exec Producer at Netflix, Former Disney Channels Exec and Pioneer of Disney Junior
Jun 01, 2022 Season 2
Creators Society

Today's guest is Nancy Kanter, a producer and executive who didn't start out in animation or on an executive track - although I'm not sure exactly what an executive track is since so many people I speak to have non-linear career paths. Nancy began her career as an editor on feature films and documentaries spent a few years creating Sesame Street specials and wound up being an integral part of Disney Junior's birth and expansion around the planet, including overseeing the development of shows like Doc McStuffins and Vampirina. Nancy joined Netflix on an overall deal early in 2021, has won multiple awards, overseen oodles of great content, and was really a joy to chat with.
Enjoy!

Please remember to like, rate, and comment on your favorite podcasting platform and share the episode on social media.

If you have any comments or suggestions please get in touch. 

Host & Producer: Michael Wakelam

Executive Producer: Eric M. Miller

Music by: Rich Dickerson

Audio Engineering: Mike Rocha

Edited by: Zoe Wakelam

The Creators Society is a professional society for all disciplines of the animation industry. Our mission is to bring the animation community together to build strong relationships, provide education, and form a better understanding of the different roles we all play in creating animated stories. We celebrate and promote the love of animation, and all the talented Creators who breathe life and imagination into their work.

Learn more about the Creators Society, and how to become a member at creatorssociety.net


Show Notes Transcript

Today's guest is Nancy Kanter, a producer and executive who didn't start out in animation or on an executive track - although I'm not sure exactly what an executive track is since so many people I speak to have non-linear career paths. Nancy began her career as an editor on feature films and documentaries spent a few years creating Sesame Street specials and wound up being an integral part of Disney Junior's birth and expansion around the planet, including overseeing the development of shows like Doc McStuffins and Vampirina. Nancy joined Netflix on an overall deal early in 2021, has won multiple awards, overseen oodles of great content, and was really a joy to chat with.
Enjoy!

Please remember to like, rate, and comment on your favorite podcasting platform and share the episode on social media.

If you have any comments or suggestions please get in touch. 

Host & Producer: Michael Wakelam

Executive Producer: Eric M. Miller

Music by: Rich Dickerson

Audio Engineering: Mike Rocha

Edited by: Zoe Wakelam

The Creators Society is a professional society for all disciplines of the animation industry. Our mission is to bring the animation community together to build strong relationships, provide education, and form a better understanding of the different roles we all play in creating animated stories. We celebrate and promote the love of animation, and all the talented Creators who breathe life and imagination into their work.

Learn more about the Creators Society, and how to become a member at creatorssociety.net


Nancy Kanter:

He said, Well, do you want a job here? In my complete naivete I said, I don't know, What do you do here?

Michael Wakelam:

He welcome back to the Creators Society Animation Podcast. I'm Michael Wakelam. If this is your first time tuning into the podcast then here's a quick rundown. The Creators Society is an organisation based in LA that exists to support the animation community. I'm a writer and creator based in London. With this podcast, we're focused on chatting with talented folks from all across the animation industry, including writers, producers, character designers, animators, story artists, and executives, we rewind to find out how they got started and dive in deep to talk about their careers. Today's guest is Nancy Kanter, a producer and executive who didn't start out in animation or on an executive track. Although I'm not exactly sure what an executive track is, since so many people I speak to have really nonlinear career paths. Nancy began her career as an editor on feature films and documentaries, and wound up being an integral part of Disney Junior's birth and expansion around the planet before joining Netflix on an overall deal in 2021. I was introduced to Nancy by the wonderful Fonda Snyder when I was in LA last month and we caught up for a pre podcast chat over coffee. Nancy's won multiple awards and overseen oodles of great content, and was really a joy to chat with. Before we get into that conversation, thanks to all the new listeners who have been tuning in. And a big thanks to all of you have been sharing or recommending the show, please continue to do so and if you've got a second, please rate us on your favourite platform. Alrighty, let's jump into that conversation with Nancy Kanter. Welcome, Nancy. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Nancy Kanter:

Oh, thanks. It's a pleasure to be here, Michael, even though we're 6000 miles apart.

Michael Wakelam:

We are. One of the reasons I've really been looking forward to this chat is the nonlinear career path you took. And I love a nonlinear career path. And it's rare to get, that I get to sit down for a pre podcast chat like we did last month in LA. And that's, that was really fun and great, because whenever I'm doing research, it's always a challenge to find some things and you don't do very many interviews. So there's not a tonne out there to research. But you mentioned that you would- didn't grow up as a big Disney fan. And that that probably helped you when you got to Disney because you came with a fresh perspective. And, you know, looking at your career a little bit more, I imagine a lot more of your background also contributed to that fresh perspective. You know, there's a lot that I don't know. So I'd like to hit rewind, and go back as far as you like, I know, you grew up in New York, but what was- what was it that kind of took you down this creative path that you ended up on?

Nancy Kanter:

Wow, you're really asking for rewind!

Michael Wakelam:

The rewind.

Nancy Kanter:

Yeah. You know, I grew up being a lover of books and stories. I spent hours and hours in a small local library and the children's book room and you know, they had to kick me out when the library closed. I was just always drawn to storytelling. And I just knew that I wanted a life that somehow would incorporate that. My mom was a schoolteacher, my dad was a advertising executive. And he actually gave me a 16 millimetre camera when I was about, I guess, about 12 or 13. And I would sort of, you know, run around, taking photos- videos. Well, wasn't video was film at the time. I made my very first film when I was in the ninth grade, which I guess is about 13 or 14. It was a very deep political commentary. I used my four year old brother in it was playing with some plastic toy soldiers. And then we sort of cut to an adult soldiers dying on the beach. I mean, it was really very heavy, but I loved it. And I especially loved the editing process, because my dad took me to one of his editors, and I actually got to edit it, like, you know, in a professional way on a real editing suite. And, you know, I really fell in love with that process. And that's sort of what sparked my interest on the film side. I went to college and majored in theatre and film, and then had the opportunity to work as an intern on a feature film that Arthur Penn was directing. Dede Allen was the editor she had edited oh, you know, you name it, she'd edited a million things, Serpico and Bonnie and Clyde and she was just really- she really changed the way that films looked at editing in terms of, you know, how you put things together and what kinds of shots you can use and how do you tell a story through pictures. So I got to be, you know, that fly on a wall as just a college- it was my senior year in college. And we were working on the film Night Moves, which I, I hear has gone on to become a classic. We certainly didn't think it was a classic when I- when we were making it. It starred Gene Hackman. And it was actually Melanie Griffith's first movie, she was I think 14 years old, she played a young girl. And, you know, I just so was enamoured with what I was seeing and how films were made and the attention that was being put to, how do you make people feel what you want them to feel by choosing the pictures and the sound. And it was my last semester at college, and the movie was- kept going in those days, because there were it wasn't digital editing, it was a big, Lumpy green moviolas. So you'd be editing film for at least a year, if not, you know, closer to almost 18 months or two years. And so they asked if I wanted to be hired and get paid for the work I was doing that I had been doing for free. And they got me into the editing union. So which was straight out of college, you just don't think you're gonna be that lucky. And I went, you know, I said yes, and became part of that, it was in New York. And it was at a time when there were a lot of interesting filmmakers who were living in New York, Sidney Lumet. The second film that I worked on was Dog Day Afternoon, that Sydney Lumet directed. And I just sort of got into that, you know, loop and learn more and more and more about how do you tell stories on film. I think it's the best training I could have possibly gotten for everything I did thereafter, whether it was producing or even my 20 years at Disney as an executive. Everything has been informed by what I learned about how you tell a story in the editing room.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, because you were not just an editor, you were actually a hugely successful editor weren't you, I mean, you worked on award winning documentaries at HBO. And as you said, with some great directors, Arthur Penn, Kathryn Bigelow, you won an Emmy for a documentary about Japan's economic success. And you edited horror. I mean, I watched a I should say, I watched a fun review of the pilot episode of Tales of The Dark Side, that you edited. I do my digging.

Nancy Kanter:

You did! Good job digging.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, you were really successful. And also I did read a tidbit about Dog Day Afternoon and a bus and a film can iss that- is that true?

Nancy Kanter:

It is not an apocryphal story. It is absolutely true. You know, my, my career might have been very, very short lived. We were working on Dog Day Afternoon, and we were having the first screening of the rough cut. For the studio, obviously we had been watching it, but we were showing it to the heads of the studio at the time. And as an apprentice editor, your main job is to- aside from watching and listening and sort of being that fly on the wall- is to clean the film at the time, you would literally run it through a white cotton glove to make sure that it you know all the dirt and dust and grease marks were off of it. And then you would take it to wherever you were screening. And so our editing room was in New York Broadway and 50th Street in a building that housed a lot of editing suites. And I had to take the film, two giant film cans, up to 61st Street to the Gulf and Western building to the production booth and where we were going to screen it for as I said the studio and for Al Pacino and the director and all that. So I packed up the cans and they are these two giant 35 millimetre film cans, metal. Came out onto the street put my cans down to hail a cab and right behind me I heard this loud crunch and the Crosstown bus had run over the film cans. And I was just in a bid panic because it's not now where it's all digitised. This was it, other than the negative. This is the film that you had. And I was sure it was ruined. And I My first thought was you're just gonna get in a cab and go to JFK Airport and flee and nobody will ever know where you are once you're on it. And I was you know, I was also I was very young it was my second job in the film business. And I was just in an absolute terror but I picked it up, got the cab, raced to the projection booth practically in tears. I was really trying not to be completely you know, hysterical. And luckily when we opened up the film cans, the reels that the film were on were broken but the film was completely intact and we were able to unspool it from one set of reels and put it on another set of reels but I thought that was it I was I was doomed.

Michael Wakelam:

Disaster averted. So you spent several years editing and you even started to get into producing as well, didn't you?

Nancy Kanter:

Yeah, I mean, I pretty much stopped editing and started to produce I didn't, there wasn't a time when I was really doing both I had sort of decided that if I was going to try and make this change, I really had to sort of no one was going to take me seriously as a producer unless I had something to produce. So it's finding material that I could attach myself to that would give me some legitimacy and, and a calling card as a producer.

Michael Wakelam:

I'm gonna guess I mean, I don't you know, you tell us here, but I'm gonna guess the transition from producing, editing and producing then to the kid's space may have coincided with you having kids?

Nancy Kanter:

Um, yes, to some extent, I had I had my first child, my oldest I have three, I decided that that was a good, in a way, exit strategy from editing. I had said to myself and to people who were asking that, now that I had a kid, I really was going to be a little more selective. And I didn't want to work on films where I had to work seven days a week, 18 hours a day, which was not unusual in the feature film business, honestly, at that time. And that really limited the films I could work on. Not everybody was willing to say, Sure, you can have Saturdays and Sundays off. So I did a couple of television movies, which had somewhat more manageable schedules, and then decided I really was ready to take that break. And I thought, I hadn't burned any bridges as an editor. So if it didn't work out, I could go back. But it also gave me a little bit of sort of like, I'm going to, you know, I have a kid now, and I'm going to focus on producing. So I did that. Transitioning from producing to the kid's space was not a plan at all. No, it didn't really have anything to do with having kids. But just oddly, it started because I was working with a creative partner at the time, as producers. She was a documentary filmmaker, she won an Academy Award for one of her documentaries, and she was interested in getting into the scripted space, we wound up looking and finding material that we optioned, and we optioned a story that we saw in People Magazine about a girl who sued her date when he stood her up for their senior prom. And she went to court because she had had her shoes dyed and her hair done. And she wanted her$72 back because he didn't show up at the door. And I just, we thought, I thought that it could work as a sort of empowering, you know, female empowerment story. And the time ABC television in the US was doing what they called after school specials, which really is 45 minutes to an hour movies that would show after school hours, and they all had themes relating to teenagers. Most of them were very heavy, it was like teen pregnant pregnancy or drunk driving. This was much more lighthearted. But it still had a message that was relevant and I thought important. And so we pitched it to ABC, and they bought it. And we made it. And I was a producer. And the next thing I knew, I got a call from Sesame Street who was asking me to come in and make live action, the short little live action films that they sort of interspersed between the Muppet segments. And I thought that sounded fun. I got to get a camera crew and shoot something funny or something, you know, sweet or musical. And that was really how it happened that I wound up in the kids business. As I said, again, it wasn't a decided plan. It just so happened the same time I was also developing adult feature, you know, ideas and movie ideas. But these were the two that actually became real. And then after I had done the films for Sesame Street, they really liked them. And they had asked me to do a few other things for them. And then they asked if I would come on board because they had signed a deal with Sony Wonder which was the kids division of Sony Video, they signed a very big deal that gave them a chunk of money to do Sesame Street specials that would be released then on home video. And they asked if I would sort of shepherd that slate of specials for them.

Michael Wakelam:

And you did about 30 of those or something, didn't you?

Nancy Kanter:

I did 32, 32 Sesame Street specials and in the middle of that my- we moved to California for my husband's job, which was- had nothing to do with the film business at that time. And I commuted back and forth for about two years. And I was on a plane constantly and now I had three kids, you know young. There was a moment when I was on a plane and it felt like it was five minutes, but it was probably more like 10 seconds where I didn't know if I was headed to New York or LA. I couldn't figure out like, which, which direction am I in now? And I was a signal that I really needed to rethink my professional career in terms of the commuting. Serendipitously, I just happened to be talking to a girlfriend and saying, like, well, here I am in LA and I, my job is really in New York. And I never thought I'd be in the kids business. And I don't really know anybody in the kids business, except the people in New York at Sesame Street. And she introduced me to the man who was the head of Disney Channel at the time, Rich Ross. And he said, Sure, come on in. We'll talk. I was 20 minutes late to a meeting. And if there's anybody who knows anything about Rich Ross, he is the most punctual man on earth. And I was completely flabbergasted because it was a big car pileup on a freeway, and he said, Well, do you want a job here? And in my complete naivete, I said, I don't know, what do you do here? My kids didn't watch Disney Channel. I didn't even know there was a Disney Channel. And as you started off saying, you know, I wasn't a Disney fan. So it wasn't really in my head that I would ever think about working for Disney. I guess to his credit, he saw something in me and something in my resume. He said, Well, we need somebody who knows something about preschool and you work for Sesame Street. So go home and watch the channel and come back and tell me about it. And that's literally how I got my job.

Michael Wakelam:

Wow. Okay, that's so random, I guess. I find that a lot when I talk to people these career, right angle turns are just random. Talking to Aron Warner just the other day and trying to find out what led him from live action action films to the kid's business the job with DreamWorks was in San Francisco, and he wanted to create a life change. That was it, has nothing to do with animation.

Nancy Kanter:

Never is it seems, it feels like you just have to be open to saying yes. You never know where the where it's going to come from.

Michael Wakelam:

We also talked, I guess, when we met in LA about not only that, you I guess had a fresh perspective when you came to Disney, but then you you grew an appreciation. Was that from a children's perspective, or from a business perspective, as you kind of came to understand, you know, the Disney ecosystem and of content and experiences? What was that? For you?

Nancy Kanter:

It was a bit of both. I think it started with an appreciation for what the brand Disney meant to people that was being fueled by the content and their love for the movies or the TV series, the animation that you know, would go back generations, the just real joy that viewers everything from grandparents to kids would get from watching a Disney movie or watching a Disney TV show. And as I said, it wasn't something I experienced myself or my kids, you know, my family did, but I could feel it. And I could sense it. One of the early things that really sort of crystallised it for me, we were developing, we'd been asked to develop a preschool series for Mickey Mouse. And they had never done that before, there was some concern in the company that because Mickey was, you know, the corporate icon and such a brand in and of itself around the world that if they made something that was skewed too young to just preschoolers, it could sort of age that all down. And he would just become a figure for, you know, very, very little kids. But some people within the company, especially on the consumer products side really saw an opportunity for content that could fuel you know, that specific preschool audience. And because I didn't really have any personal connection in a way, to Mickey, other than as a corporate icon. I really wanted to kind of travel and talk to kids about what they thought about Mickey, and try and figure out like, what's the best path in to a series that would touch them. We tested in Oh, I don't know, probably five or six markets all over the world in the US and Europe. And we sat down with kids, and we would just ask them, so who's you know, who's Mickey Mouse? And almost without exception, the first thing kids would say was, he's my friend. And, yeah, it was really surprising, and really revelatory, that, and some of these kids had never- most of these kids who've never been to Disneyland. So they've never, you know, met him up close as a character. Some kids, you know, had the books or some kids, you know, just knew of him, but almost universally, that was their first impression that Mickey was their friend. And so I sort of used that as a launch for what became Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, which we really designed as a playdate with Mickey and it was out of that research. So that really solidified for me just the power of both the characters that came out of the Disney content, but also just just how deep seated this love was for these characters and this company. And then you- from a business perspective, and I really wasn't somebody who ever thought of herself, to be honest, as a sort of business development person, I've always been on the creative side. But it just seemed to me that if you could capture that brand affinity, you could really build a business that I felt they didn't have on the media side. They definitely had it when it came to, you know, the feature films and all of that, but on the TV side, for young kids, they really hadn't paid as much attention to that preschool audience as I thought they could and capitalise it, and have it be that sort of gateway to a lifelong love and affinity that would sustain.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, yeah, that's interesting. And that leads really into, you know, if we talk about your executive success there at Disney, I guess there's two things, there's the content and the channels, they probably go hand in hand a little. But let's start with the channels because under your leadership, Disney Jr. became the number one preschool dedicated TV network was it eight years in a row or something?

Nancy Kanter:

Something like that.

Michael Wakelam:

And when you arrived at Disney, it was just initially Disney Playhouse I wasn't it. And then you were instrumental in the launch and development of Disney Jr.

Nancy Kanter:

Yeah, when I started it was it was a block on Disney Channel. It was a morning block, I think it was, like 6am till noon, or something like that. And there wasn't really a brand associated- a sort of a sub brand, in a way for Playhouse Disney, that was just part of Disney Channel. I just really felt that there was an opportunity there as well, which is to make this very clearly for kids. And for parents, like, this is the place to bring your kid for the best content for the best important, impactful messages, not in a PBS-ey way, but in a way that was really wrapped in storytelling. And so we did, we expanded the block. And we made it a lot more original programming as opposed to acquiring and then it became clear that I guess a few years later, that just being on in the morning from 6am to noon really wasn't attracting- wasn't where the audience was, because most kids certainly in the US were in preschool, so they weren't home between 6am and 12 in the afternoon, and you needed to reach them more in after school hours than in school hours. And we were looking around we were seeing there were other preschool channels, 24 hour distinct, just preschool only channels being launched. So we came up with a strategy and a proposal for the company. It was fortuitous that it came at a time where there was another channel owned by Disney called Soap Net, which was just- it literally re-ran soap operas that had ran earlier in the day, basically, in the evening hours for people who got home from work. And so they missed their soap during the afternoon. The advent of TiVo, and you know, recording, you didn't need that you could just, you know, set your TiVo or set your DVR and record it and come home and watch it yourself. You didn't need a whole channel that did that. So the company was entertaining various other ideas like we have this cable real estate, what do we do with this channel? How do we morph it into something that's more needed and more relevant? And so there were proposals all around the company for what do they do? There was a puppy channel, somebody had proposed, there was a dad's channel, there was a Travel Channel, there was all sorts of proposals. And we proposed the Disney Jr, the preschool channel, which we won the Bake Off, I guess is the best way to put it. We really spent a lot of time with a lot of wasn't- obviously just me- with a lot of help, input, research, publicity, marketing, you name it, just really defining and honing in why this was going to be different than some of the other channels that were already out there. And it all centred on storytelling, we felt we weren't Public Broadcasting, which was very educational, very worthwhile. Obviously, I spent a lot of time accessing it in the public broadcasting space. But we didn't want to be that. We also didn't want to feel like it was just fluff, that we wanted to really capitalise on what Disney was known for best, which was this really rich, deep narrative storytelling, and that there would be takeaways and messaging that was absolutely relevant and appropriate for kids. We knew we wanted them to fall in love with our stories and our characters.

Michael Wakelam:

Just before we go on to that content. I mean, you also really spearheaded that expansion worldwide of both channels. I'm sure there were challenges with that. I mean, I think I remember seeing something about even Disney in general, you know, as a larger company, as they tried to sort out all of the international offices kind of working together. And they're all separate. But how did that work for you, as far as expanding internationally? Was that a challenge into different cultures? As you said, you know, people around the world already embraced the Disney characters. But you were bringing in new characters and new channels. Can you talk to that a little?

Nancy Kanter:

I have to say, I felt like we had built Disney Jr. and our messaging was so clear about what we wanted it to stand for, and the kind of content we wanted to produce that, in that space, we didn't- we got tremendous support. We got, I would say, some of the European channels saw the benefit of it even sooner than the Americans did. They've had been pushing us more and more, I think, partly because you had so many more channels in Europe, aimed at kids than we had in the US. So early on, they were you know, just tremendous champions for Disney Jr. And we did a lot of collaboration with our partners in Latin America, in Asia, in- which was primarily Japan and Taiwan. Certainly in Europe, I think we, you know, we made it a real concerted effort. I travelled a whole lot to make sure that they knew who we were, and we took in their advice, and each channel obviously was able to localise it. So it didn't feel like it was just a great big American import, which was really important, I think for for them. And for us to make it feel like a lot of the product, predominantly, the animated content was being produced by the US team. They were always sort of local iterations of things and local content. So it was, I can't say the international side on the Disney Jr. perspective was really a struggle. In fact, I think we had some just amazing success, sometimes earlier and bigger than we did. There were some show- you would see some differences in which shows popped in one country versus another but but by and large, the ones that we felt had the biggest franchise potential to go beyond just a TV show and whether it was a live touring show, or whether it was merchandise, we found it was pretty globally consistent. You know, I think there were more challenges on the older kid, the real Disney Channel, that sort of older kid and teen tween space, because so much of the content was live action, and some of it just related to kids in other cultures, and some didn't, it felt just way too American. There were always obviously the big hits. You know, Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, they travelled very well internationally.

Michael Wakelam:

I'm interested in the content and the shows, and I guess there were so many successful shows under your watch, you've got the Doc McStuffins and Sophia the First and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, you're talking about the stuff that you did, I guess a little bit later as Disney+ was starting to develop. How did you work with creators and people who were bringing you these shows? Because although you were producing in house, I'm sure the ideas didn't all come from in house, there were people bringing them to you. So how did that work with you? Because you seem like a very creator focused person.

Nancy Kanter:

I am. I think. You know, it was interesting because there was a there was definitely a shift and a gradual change in my role in the very early days when I was there both at Playhouse and developing Disney Jr. I was very, very hands on you know, I love creators, I love to work with writers. I started off saying I feel like my, my strength is really as a storyteller, you know, having made films so I had, you know, a lot of input on that. People would definitely let me know when they thought my editing notes were lit a little bit too nitpicky. You know, I really loved shaping that show, both from the very beginning in terms of what's the show gonna be about? What are we going to be writing about? All the way straight through to you know, the final mix in music, you know, 'that sound effect is too loud and that musics not loud enough', and it is my favourite part of the process, I have to say. So I was very involved in and certainly you know, some of the early ideas making clubhouse, Sophia the First, were things that generated from me, from wanting to figure out how to tell a certain kind of story. So there was, it was a kind of a balance of that. And then we got pitch numbers of things. Doc McStuffins was a project that was brought to me by Chris Nee, who I had known for a number of years back all the way back from Sesame Street. And we worked very collaboratively on that. And so it's always been a mix of, you know, I remember telling my team at one point, I wanted to do a preschool series about a vampire family and they all looked at me like I was insane. It was like, Really?! But, you know, the Twilight movies were big and successful. And I thought people love vampires. Preschoolers can love vampires. It took us a long time to find the right property to develop but we eventually did with Vampirina. I like to think that I'm because I come from a creative background that I'm an easy touch for a good creative idea, and I think writers, directors, producers, we can have a conversation that feels very grounded and real, because I kind of know what it means to have to develop something. I also know what it feels like to get notes, which a lot television executives, if you haven't ever been on the other side, you don't really know what it feels like when you get a note. So I think I'm able to sort of forge those kinds of relationships of sort of trust and respect that you don't always see. And it's very important to me to value the people and value the process. And understand, you know, having, as I said, been the recipient of things that you think that is the dumbest note I've ever heard, and not give those kinds of notes, if I can avoid it, I'm sure people say it about my notes. But hopefully not as, not too often. You know, I love the process. And I think people know that I love that process, that I don't look at it just purely as a from a business. That changed to a certain extent, you know, as my remit got larger and larger, and was one of the reasons that I decided I really was ready to leave Disney to go back to more hands on producing because I missed it, I miss being in the room with that, those early early stages, and really being part of the process, right from the beginning and all the steps all the way through, instead of just sort of being the yes or no person at the end.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, it's interesting. I mean, I may have been Jon Favreau, but I remember hearing a director talk about the importance of at least doing some editing on your own projects, especially when you're starting out. Because you just learn so much pace, timing, hitting beats. It's that third and final time you make the movie or the show, isn't it, you know, you write it, then you shoot it, and then you edit the editing in that final stage of making it. I mean, I used to shoot and edit music videos and events when I was younger. And for me, it really helped me understand that rhythm. I can really see how knowing to bring, and knowing how to bring together all of those various elements;, the shoot the sound music, everything you were talking about, could also help at an executive level. Because you need to be able to speak the language of all of those departments, and be able to communicate to all of those heads.

Nancy Kanter:

It's also the fun part of what we do.

Michael Wakelam:

It is fun. Yeah.

Nancy Kanter:

Who likes sitting in a, you know, an annual operating budget meeting. At least I- nobody I know. It is a fun part of what we do. And ultimately, I think why we do it.

Michael Wakelam:

So there are two other specific areas that I want to jump into if we can. The first is that a lot of shows- I mean, you talked about this when you went to Disney that you weren't Public Broadcasting, but a lot of shows that you did develop on your watch, I guess shows like Doc McStuffins, Mickey Mouse Playhouse, they have a disguised educational element in them and I say disguised because you didn't put education before entertainment they're balanced. And can you talk about that a little bit more how you approach things, because you obviously approached wanting to have a message in there. But the characters in the story had to be first.

Nancy Kanter:

Yeah. And that's kind of it in a nutshell, Michael, to be honest, which was we wanted to put story and character first. And that didn't necessarily mean that you couldn't have a message. You couldn't have some learning. We knew parents, especially of preschoolers wanted to feel good about the shows that their kids were watching. They didn't want to feel guilty about putting their kid in front of the TV, even if it was just for a half hour. So we felt we had to make it obvious enough for a parent to say, Oh, that's a good show. I like that my kid watches that show. What we found out interestingly, because there were some shows where the message was not quite as obvious as others or sometimes the message that a parent took away was absolutely not the message we were going after. We found that if a parent just liked the show, if they just enjoyed it, they would find a reason to say it was a good show. I remember talking- testing, it was show called Puppy Dog Pals, which is quite successful, and it's still on the air. I think it's like, I don't know, fourth season or something. And it was really a fun show about two puppies, who can- they can talk they are in love with their owner. The owner doesn't know that they talk or that they have these sort of secret lives. But in every episode, they have this ridiculous adventure where they can get on an aeroplane and the flight attendant doesn't realise they're two gugs and she just has big, thick glasses. So she just thinks they're funny looking people and they wind up with the Great Wall of China to uncover some, you know, thief who's stolen the Mona Lisa, the most absurd story you could possibly think of. And when we tested the pilot, which was pretty much that story, and we would test with kids to get their reaction and then we would test with the moms mostly, eventually a few dads but it was always more moms originally, to get their response because we knew If a parent hated the show, there was no way they were going to let their kid watch it. And if they liked it, on the other hand, they would really promote it for their kid, like, let's watch this one. And the parent, the moms loved it. And their mind, this preposterous story was teaching their kids all about geography, because they travelled to China. And we knew we had no intention of teaching kids geography whatsoever, but they made it up because they wanted to like the show, and they wanted to feel good about liking the show. So it gives you a lot of leeway, you don't have to necessarily hit them over the head with a lesson about counting to 10 or the ABCs. But we- on the other hand, we wanted it to be meaningful, we wanted to have real impact and you had, obviously something like Doc McStuffins, which the medical messages, the health messages were all built in. But I think probably even more important than that, the impact that that show made was about just showing a little girl and especially a little black girl, who wanted to be a doctor and loved helping her stuffed animals and toys, but it extended to just a nurturing quality for her. And that was really, what drove the zeitgeist, you know, awareness of, of Doc McStuffins was the impact it was making both in the African American community that they could finally say, look, here's something I never saw when I was a kid growing up, which was a lead in a kid's show that was black. And plus, she had this dream and ambition to be a doctor. There were very- a lot of different ways that the messaging can come across. It doesn't necessarily have to be quote, unquote, education. And I always hated the term of edutainment, because a) it felt like you put the entertainment after the education and nobody wants that. For me, it was, yes, we will make it entertaining. But you know, the movies we go to see the movies that we love the TV shows, they always have a message that you take away that you will always feel for the character and go on their journey and walk away with something. So why wouldn't we do that for kids?

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, and I think subtlety is okay, because kids will consume that show over- that content over and over again. And they'll get it and even if they don't get I mean, I know with animated films, there's so much in even joke wise that my kids would laugh at when it when they were young. And now they're like, Oh, I get it. Now I got it. I'm like, Why did you love when you were younger? But they just laugh because of, you know, the way it's told or the context. And you know, you can hide so much in there that they will get on repetition.

Nancy Kanter:

Definitely. And, and it's, you know, told, smartly, with that kind of layering of humour. As long as it doesn't confuse a kid, I think you're in good shape. And then of course, if it amuses the parent, then you sit down and you watch it with your kid. And it's not the kind of thing we just plunk, plunk him down and go off and do something you really enjoy watching it because you know, there's something in it that's gonna make you laugh, or, Oh, that's really clever, that pop culture reference that your kid never will get or doesn't get at the time. But you understand what it's poking fun at.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, exactly. And you know, there's an increase, especially at the moment, isn't there in that family viewing? I think we've seen that through the pandemic, where people are starting to sit down more as a family and in view things and so yeah, whenever you can, can cater to both? It definitely helps. So the other area I want to stop at was

Nancy Kanter:

Yeah, for sure. diversity and representation. And you mentioned that with Doc McStuffins. But I guess even social action as an add on and maybe I'd like to add on. but a lot of your shows were very intentional about diversity and representation. Can you talk to that a little bit? It was just really important to me, I think part of it came from my sort of Sesame Street training, which obviously, you know, that diversity of ethnicity and culture and just personality was so important. So I brought that with me for sure, from Sesame into to Disney, as the world changed and as kids were changing, it just became more and more important for me just on a, as a personal mission, honestly, to just represent that, thinking that you know how and how important what kids see is and becomes in their lives. I mean, I was certainly impacted very much by the stories I read and things that I was exposed to, in books, and to some extent in television, and I just felt like it was my responsibility to make sure that we represented that kind of diversity. So I made it sort of a, as I said, a personal mission. We had an advisory board that I had put together for Disney Jr, which was academics really from all over the world with lots of different disciplines. Everything from the head of the children's literature and folklore Department at Harvard to academics who were working on children's brain development and neurodiversity, experts in play, to just help inform us to say like, what should we be thinking about when it comes to kids, these days. Things that TV people, we wouldn't necessarily be privy to, and but in their research and in their fields, what should we pay attention to. And you know, very early on, one of the things that we discussed was diversity and what that impact can be just literally in a child's development and success in life. So it became a, just a priority for me. I had Vicki Arias, who, who I brought in to sort of head our curriculum and educational testing, also had a real strong interest in diversity and inclusion. And so I made it sort of part of her remit to be sort of on the front lines of that to both help us advise, like, are we doing a good job? Are we representing this well? Who else can we bring in to advise us? When we were doing Elena of Avalor, which was a spin off of Sofia the First we really wanted to make her a Latina Princess, it was important, she could have been many different things but we felt like a) Disney hadn't done it, you know, they've now are doing and have done it. But hadn't been done yet. And of all the Disney princesses, there wasn't one that had- came from a Latin culture. Vicky was very helpful in bringing those people to the table for us who could really advise and say like, how do we do this? How do we make this authentic? And how do we represent this when we know there isn't just one, Latin culture, there are many Latin cultures. So it was, just became part and parcel of our development process, really, with almost every project, even something like Vampirina, which we know there aren't very many vampire experts. You know, to use that show as an example of diversity and how to be included when you don't look and fit like everybody else, when you feel like an outsider, when you're, when you're new to a community that doesn't feel just like your particular family. And again, we brought in lots of experts to help guide that.

Michael Wakelam:

And before it was as widespread as it is now you'd set up this committee and gone down that path, which is fantastic. Can you talk about developing shows with that, I guess, intention- intentionality. And, you know, finding the writers with the voices that you needed, you know, were there enough? Because, you know, I find that even developing shows myself, it's difficult to find enough writers. And so did you bring in younger writers and mentor them with with more experienced writers? You know, how did you approach that?

Nancy Kanter:

Yeah, it's, it is an issue. And, frankly, still is one because there aren't a lot of people of colour who sort of have grown up in the business or been given opportunity. And we certainly, you know, face that over and over again. I think that's starting to change now, for sure. But it took a real reckoning, and I think, a deliberate intention to give people who wouldn't necessarily have exactly the same depth of experience or the same credentials as the more familiar, frankly, you know, white and predominantly, you know, white man, although there's a good representation of women as well, I think at large, that's just something that the, you know, entertainment community is wrestling with, and then you sort of narrow that down to people who have experience in kids, and then you narrow it even further and say, people who have experience in preschool, and it is- it was very hard, it was finding a needle in a haystack.

Michael Wakelam:

And we can't wait like 10/15 years to fix that, you know, just has to be accelerated in some way.

Nancy Kanter:

Yeah. And I think that was giving people an opportunity, and then supporting them. And knowing that, you know, this is going to be a learning experience, and that they were going to need the resources and the support to make sure that they didn't fail. That was always, you know, important to us that for every time you gave somebody an opportunity, and they failed, it was just another reason not to do it again. And we really didn't want to sort of fall into that, that trap. But it's it's ongoing. I can't say that it's not some- I don't think it's something that's fixed. And I think part of it is, as you said, it's one thing to look very far ahead and say, Well, you know what we're going to do, we're going to have internships and we're going to have mentorships. And we're going to have baby writers of colour. That's great and absolutely, you know, needed but that's going to take generations to get those people up to show runner levels. So part of what you know, I'm definitely advocating for and looking for are people who, yes, it might be a leap and a step but I want to put them in leadership positions, because they will then bring in those other lower level people and they'll, they will establish themselves as the creative leaders of shows which is really the experience that we need. So it's a little little bit of, as I said, sort of finding the right people, and then making sure they are surrounded with the resources and the support to succeed.

Michael Wakelam:

I guess after a couple of years at Disney then you, as you said, you took a leap, changed directions, moved on to a new challenge at Netflix. So you already mentioned that was partly due to wanting to get back to working with creators, but you can you tell us about how that came about?

Nancy Kanter:

Yeah, I mean, I've been at Disney, you know, almost 20 years, and I, my contract was coming up. And I was thinking, like, do I want to sign on and keep doing this. And I just thought, you know, at my age in life, and my point in my career, what I was looking forward to, I just wanted to make sure that I didn't leave with any regrets. And I was worried that if I didn't make the change, and just stuck around a little longer, there were gonna be some regrets on my, my part that I didn't take that leap back or jump back. And so it was a conversation with my boss to say, I think it's time for me to, to move on. And I will stay because I built these teams that I just felt so committed to and as people and as colleagues, and I wanted to make sure that it was as smooth a transition as possible. And so I agreed to stay and then the pandemic hit, everybody went home. So I spent, you know, the last year from March until the following January, at home, nobody was going anywhere. And trying to manage this crazy, you know, long, long, long transition in the midst of what was going on for everybody in terms of a pandemic, but also the changing in the business as well. So it was an awkward leave taking. But I think I did do it in the way that made sense for me, for sure. And I think made sense, for the most part for the people that were going to be staying. You know, after it was announced that I was going to be leaving, I was approached by Netflix, and I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. And so I said I need some time to think about it and they were very generous and said, let us know we're here, the door is open. At some point, I thought, Well, why not? And I couldn't quite find a reason not to do it. I said, Okay, Sign me up. Because it really was a deal that did give me just what I wanted, which was to go back to developing and producing my own projects across the genre of live action and animation, older kids and younger kids series and films. I thought, well, here it is like, it's up to you now find the projects. So that's what we've been doing.

Michael Wakelam:

All right, well, let's just I guess wrap up by, maybe if you've got any advice for people looking, I guess, in an earlier stage of their career looking to get shows off the ground or should add a note to the audience please don't send any unsolicited material to Nancy. But it'd just be interesting to get your thoughts obviously, it's a very changing industry at the moment there's been a lot going on. I mean, pandemic and more. Just any thoughts that you might have for for the audience?

Nancy Kanter:

Yeah, it is. I do think that there's tonnes of change and volatility, it's no question. Obviously, we've been seeing what's been going on with all the major players over the last year or two for sure. The best advice is know the story you want to tell and know who the audience is you want to tell it to. I think those are the things that people are looking for now, which is I need to know who is going to watch this. Why do we- who are we making this for? And being really clear and distinctive about that. You know, despite the fact that I think there's a bit of reductive-ness in the content space now where people are just saying, well, that worked and that works. So we want just more of that and that. I think the truth is, is nobody knows where the next success is going to come from. And you have to be a bit bold about your idea and not trying to follow and make another version of a show that's been successful. I do believe that, you know, original fresh ideas they may be harder to sell at first, but I think they're the ones that really do break through and make a difference.

Michael Wakelam:

Yeah, there's so many stories of those ideas that took 5/10 years to sell and eventually became big hits.

Nancy Kanter:

Yeah, we can name a lot of them.

Michael Wakelam:

Well, it's been such a pleasure chatting with you, Nancy. I really appreciate your time and making the time. Yeah, wish you every success as you continue.

Nancy Kanter:

It's been a total pleasure, Michael, thanks for inviting me.

Michael Wakelam:

Thanks for tuning in. If you'd like to get in touch or shoot us any feedback, please email podcast@thecreatorssociety.org. You can find me on LinkedIn and other socials. As mentioned at the top please subscribe, like or share the podcast if you're enjoying it. I keep meaning to finish off season two and take a break but it seems we've got a bunch of great guests to go before that happens. I'd like to give a shout out to Rich Dickerson for the music. Mike Rocha for the mix and our exec producer Eric Miller. Thanks again. See you next time.