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The 75 Most Powerful People in Kids’ Entertainment – The Hollywood Reporter

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In terms of the sheer number of entertainment options, there’s never been a better time to be a kid. But it’s also never been more work.

The average 8-year-old in 2013 could turn on one of a few TV channels and park there for an hour or two, and maybe watch a few movies or shows on Netflix or Hulu (in the not-very-likely event their families had an account). YouTube was for teenagers and adults.

A decade later, an 8-year-old can choose from hundreds of titles across a host of streaming platforms and thousands of YouTube channels — as well as an age-protected YouTube Kids app — to say nothing of TikTok and other social media. The shift to streaming is even more pronounced among kids and teenagers than it is in adults: Where a popular network or cable show can still draw maybe half a million adults ages 18-34, no cable program in the 2022-23 season averaged even half that many viewers among the 2-17 cohort. In 2015, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon averaged 500,000 or more viewers ages 2-11 each day. Now the total daily audience (kids and adults) for each network is less than 200,000.

On streaming, meanwhile, kids and teens spent 12.7 billion minutes — almost 217 million hours — watching a single movie, Disney’s Encanto, in 2022, according to Nielsen. Kids 11 and younger watched 108 billion minutes of just the top 20 streaming titles.

As the world comes out of the pandemic and more families return to movie theaters, kid-friendly films are starting to prosper once again. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is the top-grossing film of 2023 so far, with children driving an impressive chunk of its $1 billion-plus worldwide take. Fellow family films The Little Mermaid and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish are also in the top 10 domestically so far.

Kids also spend countless hours consuming media on other platforms, often featuring stars no older than they are. YouTube channels like Kids Diana Show, Ryan’s World and Like Nastya are among the platform’s most popular and have amassed tens of millions of followers by showcasing preteen influencers speaking directly to their own age groups.

Yet even as there’s more content than ever at a child’s fingertips, the market for original programming aimed at kids is tightening. Streamers spent a lot of money bulking up their rosters of kids and family programming during the free-spending days of the mid- and late 2010s, but as first the pandemic and then a shaky economy forced cuts, the companies pulled back, canceling a number of original shows and letting acquired titles like Bluey and Cocomelon do the heavy lifting. (Feature films are in a steadier space, with Pixar’s Elemental, Disney’s Wish and DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls Band Together all due in theaters by the end of the year; Elemental bows June 16.)

While animation (for kids and adults) has boomed in recent years, live-action shows for kids and teens — the sitcoms that incubated the careers of Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande and Miranda Cosgrove, among others — have fallen by the wayside (with some notable exceptions, including Alaya High on Nickelodeon’s That Girl Lay Lay, starring this issue’s cover subject). That’s reflected in the power list that follows, which features a host of creators and execs working in animation but relatively few in the live-action space. That said, 2024 will bring arguably the biggest swing at attracting kids and family audiences that a network or streamer has ever attempted in Disney+’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians, a series reboot based on author Rick Riordan’s best-selling and beloved series of middle-grade novels.

The pressures affecting the industry at large — fractured audiences, the tension between keeping content flowing and the cost of doing so, improving representation onscreen and behind the scenes — are just as real in the kids’ sector. The people making programming for children and teens, and the executives deciding when and how to deliver it, also have to deal with the fact that every few years their audience ages into a different segment of their marketplace (or out of it altogether), and the need to impart lessons to their viewers on everything from the scientific method to showing empathy.

The people on The Hollywood Reporter’s first-ever Kids’ Entertainment Power List are navigating all those challenges to make the best and biggest programming — whether they’re feature films or shortform internet videos — for the youngest viewers. Kids are “wickedly sophisticated,” says Warner Bros. Animation, Cartoon Network Studios and Hanna-Barbera Studios Europe president Sam Register. The executives and creators, grown-up and pint-size, on this list are leading the charge to meet those kids where they are. — RICK PORTER

Written by Seth Abramovitch, Gary Baum, Evan Nicole Brown, Patrick Brzeski, J. Clara Chan, Kirsten Chuba, Mesfin Fekadu, Mia Galuppo, Carolyn Giardina, James Hibberd, Caitlin Huston, Rebecca Keegan, Mikey O’Connell, Sydney Odman, Rick Porter, Seija Rankin, Alex Ritman, Lacey Rose, Julian Sancton and Abbey White

Courtesy of Netflix

Marvel/ABC; Courtesy of Netflix

Eric Beckman

GKIDS

Eric Beckman

Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images

Indie animation distributor GKIDS was founded by CEO Beckman in 2008. It’s the North American home to Japan’s Studio Ghibli. Films distributed by GKIDS have received 12 best animated feature Oscar nominations, among them The Secret of Kells, from Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon; Ernest & Celestine, based on the books by Gabrielle Vincent; anime feature Mirai; and stop-motion My Life as a Zucchini. A co-founder of the New York International Children’s Film Festival, Beckman recently launched L.A.’s Animation Is Film Festival in 2017.

Tabitha Brown

Tab Time

Tabitha Brown

Courtesy of Kids At Play

The social media star, who boasts 5 million followers on TikTok and over 4 million on Instagram, sparked by her mom content and vegan cooking videos, has taken on the role of a modern-day Mister Rogers with her YouTube kids’ show Tab Time. The series — which has been nominated for two Emmys and is produced by production company Kids at Play — is geared toward preschoolers and their parents. Tab Time has also picked up two NAACP Image Awards since launching in December 2021.

Joe Brumm

Bluey

Joe Brumm

Rocket K/Getty Images

In his attempt to create a show that kids and their parents can both enjoy, Brumm delivered a bona fide juggernaut. Bluey, a bighearted animated series featuring a family of Australian dogs, ranked among the top 10 most streamed programs in the U.S. in 2022, and regularly collects awards (including an Emmy) and critical praise. “Kids love it because it’s silly and it reminds them of themselves,” says Brumm, “whereas I think it makes parents emotional because having kids is emotional.” The Bluey universe has since expanded with a hugely lucrative collection of merch and, more recently, a live show.

Matt Burnett & Ben Levin

Craig of the Creek, Jessica’s Big Little World

Matt Burnett and Ben Levin

Courtesy of Subject (2)

The duo, who both were previously writers on Steven Universe, have been essential to Cartoon Network’s programming lineup, co-creating and voicing several characters in animated series Craig of the Creek. The show — which premiered in 2018 and has been nominated for Daytime Emmys, GLAAD Awards and NAACP Image Awards for its representation of Black family life — follows the adventures of Craig Williams and his friends as they explore the wilderness of the Creek. It will air its fifth and final season this year for Max, which has ordered Craig of the Creek: The Movie and spinoff series Jessica’s Big Little World.

Marc Ceccarelli & Vincent Waller

SpongeBob SquarePants

Marc Ceccarelli and Vincent Waller

Bonnie Osborne/Nickelodeon; Courtesy of Subject

Since 1999, SpongeBob SquarePants — the fifth-longest-running American animated series, the highest-rated Nickelodeon series and the most profitable property for Paramount Consumer Products, having generated over $13 billion in merchandising revenue — has had an impact on countless households and several generations. Ceccarelli, co-showrunner and executive producer alongside Waller, says, “We make cartoons that we (as adults) would want to watch while keeping in mind that they should work for children, too.”

Keith Chapman & Jennifer Dodge

PAW Patrol; Spin Master Entertainment

Keith Chapman and Jennifer Dodge

Courtesy of Subject; George Pimentel

Ten years ago, Chapman created PAW Patrol, then an animated series about a young boy and his brigade of rescue dogs. On Sept. 29, the property will release its second theatrical film (its predecessor, 2021’s PAW Patrol: The Movie, grossed $135 million worldwide). Much of its prolonged success has fallen under the purview of Dodge, entertainment chief of production company Spin Master Entertainment, who worked alongside a merchandising toy team and Viacom licensing to take what had been a small Canadian program into the global sphere.

Margie Cohn

DreamWorks Animation

Margie Cohn

Alex J. Berliner/ABImages/Courtesy of Subject

The Kung-Fu Panda, Shrek and Boss Baby studio has minted its fair share of franchises that have expanded into theater, TV and even live-action features (see: the upcoming How to Train Your Dragon film, following three animation features that together grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide). Says DreamWorks Animation president Cohn, who took the reins in 2019 and whose recent successes include Oscar nominee Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, “Kids are such deep fans, and are open to trying different things. They watch a lot of content, so finding a new arena with which to surprise and delight them is challenging, but super satisfying!”

Joe D’Ambrosia

Sony Pictures Television

Joe D’Ambrosia

Courtesy of Subject

Since joining Sony as executive vp and GM of its kids division last year, the Disney Junior and Nickelodeon veteran has led an operation that boasts a slew of hit kids titles — including Octonauts, Hilda and Peter Rabbit — but also access to a vast library reaching far back into TV history. “Right now, it seems everybody in the marketplace is looking for known IP,” says D’Ambrosia, before announcing the upcoming animated adaptations of sitcoms Bewitched (centered on Samantha’s daughter, Tabitha) and The Partridge Family (now about a Black household in Brooklyn).

Ayo Davis

Disney Branded Television

Ayo Davis

Craig Sjodin/Disney

With Davis as president, Disney Branded Television, which supplies Disney+, Disney Channel and its offshoots with premium fare for kids and families, has inked major deals with everyone from producer Dan Povenmire — who will create new seasons of beloved series Phineas and Ferb and current hit Hamster & Gretel — to the BBC, which provides animated smash Bluey. Other new offerings from the 20-year Disney vet’s team include The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur and The Santa Clauses.

John Derderian & Karen Toliver

Netflix

John Derderian and Karen Toliver

Courtesy of Subject (2)

Commanding animated series and film, respectively, Derderian and Toliver are flooding the streaming service with options. But, after a spending spree in TV, features look like the priority in the current slate, with eight projects on the schedule and 13 in development from the likes of Lupita Nyong’o and Guillermo del Toro. The latter gifted Netflix with Pinocchio, which won the Oscar earlier this year for best animated feature of 2022 (a first for the streamer). On the series side, buzzy King Kong spinoff Skull Island arrives June 22.

Sara Dewitt

PBS Kids

Sara Dewitt

Courtesy of Subject

In her role as senior vp and GM, DeWitt leads the team charged with creating entertaining and educational content for children at PBS — and continuing a legacy that includes landmark shows like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street and Odd Squad, among many others. PBS Kids has a long-standing commitment to inclusivity in its programming, as seen in recent shows like Molly of Denali and Alma’s Way. “It’s a very exciting time,” she says. “The challenge is really discoverability in this age of audience fragmentation. We have to stay focused on making sure [kids] can find us.”

Pete Docter

Pixar

Pete Doctor

A half-decade since his elevation to chief creative officer at Pixar, where he’s worked since graduating from CalArts in 1990, Docter has pursued a pragmatic path for his studio’s ever-expanding IP, shepherding a mix of originals (Turning Red, Luca), sequels (Toy Story 4), and spinoffs (Lightyear). Docter, 54, released his last directorial effort, Soul, to stellar reviews and an Oscar in 2020. He’s now overseeing a slate that includes Elemental (out June 16) as well as an announced sequel to his own Inside Out, due next year.

Jimmy Donaldson

MrBeast

Jimmy Donaldson

Courtesy of Subject

One of the most popular YouTubers to date, boasting more than 153 million subscribers, the 25-year-old creator best known as MrBeast has expanded his empire beyond producing viral stunt videos with eyebrow-raising amounts of cash on the line. Last year, the two-time Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Award winner for favorite male creator launched his candy-and-snack line Feastables, as well as the first brick-and-mortar restaurant for his delivery-based burger chain, MrBeast Burger. As a philanthropist, Donaldson has raised and donated millions for environmental causes.

Everett Downing Jr. & Patrick Harpin

My Dad the Bounty Hunter

Everett Downing Jr. and Patrick Harpin

Courtesy of Subject (2)

Created by Downing and Harpin, Netflix’s animated sci-fi series My Dad the Bounty Hunter premiered in February, with a second season already slated for August. The show has been celebrated both for its winning mix of comedy and adventure and for its social commentary. “It’s a Black family getting to do what The Incredibles and other animated families do, and they get to have their own flaws and aren’t squeaky-clean either,” says Harpin.

Dave Filoni

Star Wars: The Bad Batch, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars: Rebels

Dave Filoni

Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

George Lucas protege Filoni brought a galaxy far, far away to new generations through his work directing the acclaimed Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series across seven seasons, as well as its spinoffs Star Wars: Rebels and The Bad Batch. Filoni also made the jump into live action, producing and directing Disney+’s The Mandalorian alongside showrunner Jon Favreau, and is next taking the showrunner reins himself for its upcoming spinoff Ahsoka.

Dorothea Gillim, Kathy Waugh & Princess Daazhraii Johnson

Molly of Denali

Dorothea Gillim, Kathy Waugh and Princess Daazhraii Johnson

Maarten de Boer/Getty Images (2); Courtesy of Subject

The brainchild of Arthur writer Waugh and Curious George executive producer Gillim, PBS’ Molly of Denali is the first nationally distributed children’s series to feature an Alaska Native as its central character. Now in its third season, the cartoon benefits from federal funding through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the U.S. Department of Education, as well the input of a largely Indigenous creative and advisory team, including writer-producer Johnson, to ensure that the community recognizes itself in the storylines.

Dylan Gilmer

Young Dylan

Dylan Gilmer

Leon Bennett/Getty Images

It was a viral Instagram video of a 5-year-old Gilmer rapping that landed him on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, a spot that catapulted the young star into a network gig on Nickelodeon. Now in its third season, the hit show Tyler Perry’s Young Dylan stars Gilmer in the title role — and ranks as the top live-action program for kids ages 6-11. A content creator in his own right, Gilmer boasts half a million Instagram followers and nearly 150,000 YouTube subscribers with videos racking up millions of views. Loyal to his roots, the now 14-year-old is also still making rap music, putting out his first commercially released solo single, “TikTok,” last year.

Jorge Gutiérrez

Maya and the Three; The Book of Life; I, Chihuahua

Jorge Gutiérrez

Courtesy of Subject

As a writer, director, producer, animator and voice actor, Gutiérrez has created a body of joyful and inspiring work, including Netflix Mesoamerican-themed limited series Maya and the Three, which in 2022 won a pair of Annie Awards and four children and family Emmy Awards. His recent work includes an episode of Chris Nee’s Schoolhouse Rock-inspired We the People. He re-upped his overall deal at Netflix and is developing a Netflix animated feature, I, Chihuahua.

Katelynn Heil

Blippi

Katelynn Heil

Courtesy of Subject

In the nearly 10 years since Stevin John created Blippi, an exuberant, bowtie-bedecked naïf who teaches toddlers about the world, the online show named after the character has expanded into its own mini-empire. Heil, general manager of Blippi at Moonbug Entertainment, has grown the brand, which now features multiple actors playing the titular character, and includes spinoffs, live tours and programming in 20 languages. New this summer is a game show, Blippi’s European Adventure, on Peacock, and a 20-episode podcast.

Lisa Henson

The Jim Henson Company

Lisa Henson

Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Her father, Jim Henson, created the memorable characters of The Muppets, Fraggle Rock and The Dark Crystal, elevating wit and fantasy in children’s entertainment. As CEO of the company that bears his name, Lisa is charged with shepherding that legacy, which has led her to produce last year’s Oscar-winning Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio for Netflix, as well as the Emmy-winning Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock and Harriet the Spy, both for Apple TV+. She is also at work on a biopic of her dad at Disney, which bought the rights to the Muppets in 2004.

Alaya High

That Girl Lay Lay

Alaya High

Photographed by Chrisean Rose

(See story here.)

Bin Jeong

Pinkfong USA

Bin Jeong

Courtesy of Subject

If you’ve ever been on the internet (and even if you haven’t), you know the hugely viral “Baby Shark Dance,” the song from South Korea-based media company Pinkfong USA, the most watched YouTube video of all time with 11 billion views since its 2015 launch. While the tune is extremely catchy, Pinkfong CEO Bin Jeong is the one who spearheaded the effort that would ultimately launch the Baby Shark brand into a major franchise, now with a preschool series on Nickelodeon, Baby Shark’s Big Show!, and its North American live show tour, Baby Shark Live!

Traci Paige Johnson & Jennifer Twomey

Gabby’s Dollhouse

Traci Paige Johnson and Jennifer Twomey

Courtesy of Subject

When unboxing videos took over YouTube a decade ago, their hypnotic effect on kids was a source of inspiration for longtime friends and former Blue’s Clues collaborators Johnson and Twomey. “We said, ‘There’s something there,’ ” says Johnson. “What would happen if we unboxed a story?” Such is the premise of the live-action/animation hybrid Gabby’s Dollhouse, which premiered on Netflix at the height of the pandemic and is now in its seventh season. The fourth-most-watched show in the 2-11 demo last year, according to Nielsen, the DreamWorks co-production began airing on Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. this spring.

Sasha Junk

Kidz Bop

Sasha Junk

Courtesy of Subject

In 2020, Sasha Junk was promoted to president of Kidz Bop, the children’s brand that releases wholesome and kid-safe cover versions of pop songs. Junk has worked for the company, which debuted in 2001, for 14-plus years and helped it reach global domination, produce music in five languages, earn more than 8 billion streams and sell 23.5 million albums. This year, Kidz Bop launched American Sign Language versions of its songs and will embark on a major Live Nation tour in June that will reach 300,000-plus fans. Some of the brand’s alumni are global A-listers, including Emmy-winning “It” girl Zendaya and five-time Latin Grammy nominee Becky G.

Ryan Kaji

Ryan’s World

Ryan Kaji

Courtesy of Subject

What started as a YouTube channel featuring a toddler, Ryan, unboxing toys has since turned into a 34.8 million-subscriber-strong children’s entertainment empire known as Ryan’s World. In 2017, his family launched its own production company, Sunlight Entertainment, that oversees eight YouTube channels and production for both live-action and animated series. Pocket.watch is the exclusive partner and has driven deals with Walmart, Target, Nickelodeon, Nintendo and Mattel for toys, apparel, TV shows and video games featuring now-11-year-old Ryan.

Chris Kratt & Martin Kratt

Wild Kratts

Chris Kratt and Martin Kratt

Mike Windle/WireImage (2)

For Zoomers, brothers Martin and Chris Kratt have joined the formative sci-guy pantheon of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Steve Irwin and Bill Nye. The educational zoologists are working on the seventh season of their PBS series, Wild Kratts. It has spawned games and a stage show, as well as their nonprofit Creature Hero Foundation, which has purchased a 1,670-acre grizzly bear refuge in Montana. “We hope that through our shows, kids can gain a greater understanding and visceral appreciation of science, nature and our fellow creatures,” say the brothers.

Diana Kydysiuk

Kids Diana Show

Diana Kydysiuk

Courtesy of Subject

One of two 9-year-old Eastern European titans in the YouTube preschooler content space (along with Like Nastya), Kydysiuk — aka Kids Diana Show, who has an exclusive partnership with pocket.watch — hails from Ukraine but now lives in Dubai, where with the help of her family she churns out hundreds of videos for her 300 million followers, racking up a staggering 150 billion streams. The magic formula? Kids Diana Show took the unboxing content that made Ryan’s World a sensation a few years back and moved it forward by adding scripted dialogue and simple plots. The result is kiddie catnip.

Jennifer Lee

Walt Disney Animation

Jennifer Lee

Ricky Middlesworth/courtesy of subject

As chief creative officer of the defining American animation studio, Lee is both a guardian of a treasured family brand and a creative force charged with evolving a 100-year-old company for modern audiences. She came into the job after writing and directing the box office juggernaut Frozen films with Chris Buck, taking over in a tumultuous era after the departure of John Lasseter. Lee is writing the studio’s original feature, Wish, a musical due Nov. 22, and overseeing production on the Moana and Tiana series for Disney+, as well as the Toy Story, Frozen and Zootopia sequels.

Peter Lord & Nick Park

Aardman Animations

Peter Lord and Nick Park

Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images; Mike Marsland/WireImage

Aardman is behind some of the most beloved — and commercially successful — animated creations on the big and small screen. The coming year will see the U.K. studio return to its Claymation roots. Close collaborator Nick Park is at work on a new Wallace & Gromit film for Netflix. Meanwhile, also on the streamer, Dawn of the Nugget is the sequel to 2000’s Chicken Run, still the most successful stop-motion film ever. “I always think we helped pioneer two important things: the joys of stop-motion animation and the charismatic screen appeal of poultry,” says Aardman co-founder and exec-producer Lord (who directed the first Chicken Run alongside Park). “For too long, people used ‘chicken’ as a word for a coward — well, no longer!”

Steve Loter, Rodney Clouden & Pilar Flynn

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur

Steve Loter, Rodney Clouden and Pilar Flynn

Craig Sjodin/Disney Channel (2); JD Renes Photography

With a combined 79 years in TV and feature animation, Loter, Clouden and Flynn wielded their creative clout — and support from producers Laurence Fishburne and Helen Sugland — to develop a unique art style for Moon Girl, an amalgamation of New York’s artistic history that Loter says simply “could not be portrayed in live action.” Their history-making Disney series, which features one of Marvel’s first Black female teen superheroes, reflects the diversity of the Lower East Side by drawing from real demographic statistics to create primary, secondary and tertiary characters, says Flynn.

Craig McCracken & Lauren Faust

Kid Cosmic, The Powerpuff Girls

Craig Mccracken and Lauren Faust

Courtesy of Subject (2)

The married couple have created iconic characters for several generations of kids, in shows including McCracken’s The Powerpuff Girls, Faust’s My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, which they developed together. Recently, McCracken created — and they both worked on — Netflix’s Kid Cosmic, and he’s now developing new versions of Powerpuff and Foster’s Home for Hanna-Barbera Studios Europe.

Chris Meledandri

Illumination

Chris Meledandri

Alex Berliner/Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures

Illumination founder and CEO Meledandri is the current title holder of the biggest movie of 2023, The Super Mario Bros. Movie (produced with Universal and Nintendo), which surpassed $1 billion at the global box office this spring. But the exec is no stranger to animated success: In his 16 years at the helm of his company, he’s seen the triumph of the Despicable Me and Minions franchise, as well as the Sing and Secret Life of Pets films and — in his additional role as a consultant for fellow Universal company DreamWorks Animation — 2022’s Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.

Peter Rida Michail

Teen Titans Go!

Peter Rida Michail

Courtesy of Subject

Teen Titans Go! has run for 11 years, garnering four sequential Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award nominations for favorite animated series, but its biggest achievement may be injecting levity and genuine wackiness into the otherwise somber DC universe. As he works on its 400th episode special, showrunner Michail says the Cartoon Network show is nowhere near done: “Our characters still have so many more stories to share, lessons to teach and jokes to tell.”

Shigeru Miyamoto

Nintendo

Shigeru Miyamoto

Courtesy of Subject

With The Super Mario Bros. Movie grossing $1.2 billion worldwide and counting, Nintendo’s chief world-builder has proven just how beloved his iconic video game characters — from Mario to Luigi to Donkey Kong — have become in the popular imagination. Not surprisingly, Miyamoto, 70, has hinted at more movie adaptations to come. But his interactive bread and butter remains as hot as ever, with The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, the latest blockbuster game for the Nintendo Switch, moving 10 million units since its May 12 release.

Chris Nee

Doc McStuffins; Ada Twist, Scientist; Vampirina; Ridley Jones

Chris Nee

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

(See story here.)

Michael Ouweleen

Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Boomerang

Michael Ouweleen

Courtesy of Subject

Ouweleen has had a hand in almost every aspect of Cartoon Network since joining it in 1996, from naming and branding Adult Swim to heading marketing for the entire network and, for the past year, as president of CN, Adult Swim and retro animation streamer Boomerang. “We’re taking a whole-audience approach for Cartoon Network so we can super-serve both kids and animation lovers of all ages,” he says. “In a lot of ways, our future is in our past — Cartoon Network has always excelled at creating shows that push animation forward and appeal to multiple generations at once, and that’s what we are doing again.”

Dan Povenmire & Jeff “Swampy” Marsh

Phineas and Ferb

Dan Povenmire and Jeff ‘Swampy’ Marsh

Courtesy of Subject

As longtime collaborators, Povenmire and Marsh are most famous for creating and executive producing Phineas and Ferb, which, though it went off the air in 2015, still holds the title of Disney Television Animation’s most watched series for kids ages 6-11 and 9-14. Now they’re working on a reboot of the series about stepbrothers on summer vacation — 40 episodes are planned to span two seasons.

Chris Prynoski & Shannon Prynoski

Titmouse

Chris Prynoski and Shannon Prynoski

Courtesy of Subject

Few animation studios are as prolific as Titmouse, the company founded in 2000 by the husband-and-wife team of Chris and Shannon Prynoski, whose voluminous output is matched by its equally impressive number of outlets. Titmouse’s animators have breathed life into shows on nearly every major platform, running the gamut from Netflix’s baroquely profane Big Mouth to Apple TV+’s far more kid-appropriate Frog and Toad and Harriet the Spy. How do they account for their mountain of credits? “We never say no to interesting jobs,” says Chris, who is set to direct a feature-length animated Ghostbusters film for Sony.

Anastasia Sergeyevna Radzinskaya

Like Nastya

Anastasia Sergeyevna Radzinskaya

Courtesy of Subject

A 9-year-old worth $260 million? Believe it. Radzinskaya — better known to her 250 million YouTube subscribers as Like Nastya — hails from Russia but now lives with her family in Miami, where they have seemingly cracked the code to capturing preschool attention spans. With more than 200 billion views of her content rolled out in seven languages (816 million tuned in just to watch her gobble Halloween candy), she is a vlogging juggernaut who has expanded her empire even further by signing deals with creator networks like Jellysmack and Yoola.

Guy Raz & Mindy Thomas

Wow in the World

Guy Raz and Mindy Thomas

Courtesy of Subject (2)

Raz and Thomas first teamed up in 2017 to host Wow in the World, NPR’s very first podcast created for children. Still topping the kids and family podcast charts, Wow in the World led to the creation of a Wow franchise under Raz and Thomas’ children’s media company, Tinkercast, with spinoffs like the science-focused game show Two Whats?! And a Wow!, the project-based WeWow and the history show Who, When, Wow!

René Rechtman & Richard Hickey

Moonbug Entertainment

René Rechtman and Richard Hickey

Courtesy of Subject (2)

Under the stewardship of co-founder and CEO Rechtman and CCO Hickey, Moonbug, the global entertainment company behind juggernauts like Cocomelon and Blippi, has conquered TV (with four shows on Netflix Kids’ top 10 in the past year), YouTube (where Cocomelon is the top channel across all genres by monthly viewership, garnering 4 billion views), music (41 percent of the infant and toddler vertical in overall U.S. music streaming, with a new Moonbug Entertainment SiriusXM channel just announced) and live entertainment (with Blippi‘s touring live show).

Sam Register

Warner Bros. Animation/Cartoon Network Studios

Sam Register

Courtesy of Brinson/Banks/Turner

As president of Warner Bros. Animation, Cartoon Network Studios, and Hanna-Barbera Studios Europe, Register oversees a sprawling animation business that includes everything from Bugs Bunny to Batman, and across platforms ranging from corporate sibling Max (which just debuted Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai; see page 74 for the review by a THR staffer’s kid) to Hulu (the revival of Animaniacs). He tries to keep in mind at all times “how wickedly sophisticated kids are, and that they have great taste.”

Brian Robbins & Ramsey Naito

Paramount Pictures/Nickelodeon

Brian Robbins and Ramsey Naito

Courtesy of Subject (2)

Since taking the reins as CEO of Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon in 2021, longtime youth programming vet Robbins has made animation a priority — naming Naito to the top toons post and greenlighting a sprawling slate with an emphasis on IP. Avatar: The Last Airbender is getting a new series and a movie, while new entries from SpongeBob SquarePants, The Smurfs and Sonic the Hedgehog all head to theaters in the next two years. By 2023’s end, the duo will also have released new features from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and PAW Patrol franchises.

Angela Santomero & Ellen Doherty

Blue’s Clues, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Fred Rodgers Productions

Angela Santomero and Ellen Doherty

Courtesy of Subject

Santomero has been churning out smash hits since co-creating Blue’s Clues, which premiered on Nickelodeon in 1996 and begat a 2019 revival and 2022 feature. She is the creator of PBS’ Fred Rogers-inspired series Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, now in its sixth season. Doherty, an Emmy-winning producer who got her start on Reading Rainbow, joined Fred Rodgers Studio in 2016, and has played a critical role in the creation of TV and digital content for Santomero’s show and other “Neighborhood” expanding series.”  The main lesson Santomero has learned after nearly three decades? “Always remember that kids are ridiculously smart.”

Josh Scherba

WildBrain

Josh Scherba

Courtesy of Subject

Appointed CEO of WildBrain in May, Scherba has been with the Canada-based entertainment company — which produces its own animated content and has a massive library with titles such as Peanuts, Teletubbies, Strawberry Shortcake, Yo Gabba Gabba! and Caillou — since its founding in 2006. In March, Scherba led WildBrain’s agreement to acquire House of Cool, a leading pre-production company in the animated field. The executive has also struck partnerships with Netflix, Amazon and Peacock and recently took home an Emmy Award for outstanding nonfiction program for Apple TV+’s Who Are You, Charlie Brown?

Makoto Shinkai

Anime Director, Suzume

Makoto Shinkai

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Increasingly hailed as the heir apparent to Japanese anime legend Hayao Miyazaki, Shinkai, 50, infuses his singular filmmaking with explosive color and soaring YA feeling. His youth romance Your Name. set a new high-water mark for anime at the global box office when it was released in 2016, earning $358 million (from an estimated production budget of just $7 million — less than it costs to make about 10 minutes of a Pixar film). And his most recent feature, Suzume, a stirring fantasy about a girl who lost her mother in Japan’s 2011 tsunami, already has brought in just shy of $300 million and remains in release in many territories.

Bruce W. Smith & Ralph Farquhar

The Proud Family: Louder & Prouder

Bruce W. Smith and Ralph Farquhar

Courtesy of Subject; Courtesy of Disney

Created for the Disney Channel in 2001, Smith’s The Proud Family was a groundbreaking success thanks to its unique depiction of a Black suburban family that focused on storylines and featured vernacular specific to African American culture. The animated series ran for two seasons, culminating in a 2005 film The Proud Family Movie. Its revival, The Proud Family: Louder & Prouder, premiered on Disney+ in 2022. Co-created with Farquhar, an executive producer on the original series, this iteration follows the same characters with the addition of a few others and explores themes related to puberty, social media and family genealogy.

Fred Soulie

Mattel Television

Fred Soulie

Courtesy of Subject

As senior vp and general manager at Mattel Television, Soulie oversees the development and distribution of the brand’s TV and streaming content, including Barbie: Skipper and the Big Babysitting Adventure and the relaunch of the iconic He-Man and Masters of the Universe franchise (both for Netflix), along with Cartoon Network’s Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go.

Kay Wilson Stallings

Sesame Workshop

Kay Wilson Stallings

Courtesy of Subject

Overseeing the nonprofit studio that produces Sesame Street for eight years, exec vp Stallings has introduced a wave of changes to the children’s programming stalwart, including a diverse writers fellowship program; a push to hire more female puppeteers; the introduction of humanoid Muppets with diverse racial backgrounds (like TJ, who is Filipino American); and the addition of a full-time diversity, equity and inclusion advocate on set. She oversees 35 new episodes a year, which air on PBS and Max.

ND Stevenson

Nimona; She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

Nd Stevenson

Ricky Middlesworth/NETFLIX

Stevenson’s first go in the showrunner’s chair with DreamWorks’ She-Ra and the Princesses of Power proved that classic IP could be reinvented for a modern, wider adolescent audience. But their web comics influences and interest in exploring “good versus evil, the hero versus the villain, the light versus the dark — and the ways that is not always what it seems to be,” will take its clearest and most compelling shape with Netflix’s adaptation of their comic Nimona, a film that will light the way for greater LGBTQ inclusion in big-screen animation.

David Steward II & Stephanie Sperber

Lion Forge Animation

David Steward II and Stephanie Sperber

PAUL COLLETTI/Courtesy of Subject; Courtesy of Subject

Founded by Steward, Lion Forge Animation won an Oscar with its debut film, Matthew A. Cherry’s 2019 short Hair Love, about a Black father’s struggles to do his daughter’s hair for the first time. The rare Black-owned animation studio, Lion Forge has, under new president and CCO Sperber, stayed true to its mission to produce “diverse stories, authentically told,” including Disney Junior’s Rise Up, Sing Out, featuring music by The Roots’ Questlove and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter.

Dana Terrace

The Owl House

Dana Terrace

Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

Terrace delivered The Owl House, a trailblazing series that helped drive Disney, the legacy animation Goliath, into a more inclusive era with its first bisexual lead protagonist. But the supernatural adventure-drama, from a creator who wants to “keep thinking of weird worlds and the weirdos who live on them,” is a triumph for far more than that. With her first stint as showrunner and two-thirds of the production completed during lockdown, Terrace and her love of animation easter eggs helped her “incredibly supportive” and exhausted crew “find joy in small parts” of their job despite. The result was a show that challenged genre conventions in the kids space and encourages studios to “stop making creative decisions based off of fear rather than inspiration.”

Karissa Valencia

Spirit Rangers

Karissa Valencia

Araya Doheny/Getty Images

While doubling as a script coordinator and writer on Vampirina, the Samala Chumash tribe member teased out her vision for a new superhero preschool series. Centered on three siblings who can teleport into a magical spirit realm where they protect their California national park, Valencia’s Netflix series has countered decades of animation’s racist Indigenous portrayals with the help of an all-Native writers room, an Indigenous production adviser heading up her paid team of consultants and more than 100 Native production crewmembers — turning the first-time showrunner’s project into an unprecedented pipeline for Indigenous animation talent.

This story first appeared in the June 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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