Programming for kids is certainly not child’s play, and in cable television, Disney Junior’s Nancy Kanter is at the top of her game.
Since rebranding Disney Junior (formerly Playhouse Disney) in March of 2012, Kanter, the channel’s senior vice president of original programming and general manager, has launched its most successful series to date. Doc McStuffins and the adventure show Jakeand the Never Land Pirates are cable’s No. 1 and No. 2 series, respectively, among kids 2 to 5.
By November, Kanter and her team had introduced Disney’s first little-girl princess in the animated TV movie Sofia the First:Once Upon a Princess, which delivered 5.2 million total viewers, making it the No. 1 cable TV telecast of 2012 among kids 2 to 5 and girls 2 to 5.
The movie also bolstered the channel’s numbers among older kids and adults, attracting more than 3 million kids ages 2 to 11 and more than 1.4 million adults 18 to 49 — an aging-up trend also occurring with Doc McStuffins.
VIEWERS IN TRANSITION
“That was one of the changes we wanted to make when we went to Disney Junior was to broaden that demo,” Kanter said on the eve of the Jan. 11 premiere of Sofia, the series, which continues the princess’ escapades in Enchancia.
“We knew that, typically, your 2 to 5 is where your preschool audience is, and then you go to tween programming,” Kanter explained. “There was nothing for that transition age. There was a real opportunity there, and we certainly heard from parents that they were looking for that.”
Building on high co-viewing numbers for shows like Jake and Doc, Kanter recently launched the “Disney Junior Night Light” programming block.
“We had a unique opportunity to reach parents and caregivers — especially moms — who were watching our programming alongside their children,” Gary Marsh, president and chief creative officer, Disney Channels Worldwide, said via email.
“Nancy developed a partnership with our colleagues at Disney Interactive Family to provide evening-time programming that is parent-targeted, yet kid-friendly,” Marsh added. “The block quickly became a favorite of parents.”
Under Kanter’s leadership, Disney Junior is now available in more than 99 million homes, up from 30 million homes prior to the rebranding. Kanter also leads the strategic direction for the brand’s digital and radio platforms.
“I think of Nancy as the North Star for our Disney Junior brand — helping us navigate the world of kids 2 to 7 and their caregivers,” Marsh said.
Most importantly, Marsh added, Kanter “brings a deep appreciation for the Disney heritage and understands the key to making that heritage relevant for kids and families today through inventive, imaginative, learning-focused storytelling.”
It was a passion for storytelling that lured Kanter to entertainment. As a senior at Hunter College in New York, she interned with editor Dee Dee Allen on Arthur Penn’s Night Moves and other films. But Kanter had been making her own films long before then.
“I made my first 16-millimeter movie when I was in the ninth grade — it was a very intense, antiwar movie that starred my four-year-old brother,” Kanter recalled with a laugh. “I’d realized, even from that young age, that I liked putting the pieces together.”
Among her editing credits, Kanter worked on the 1982 film The Loveless, the first feature-length film by Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow.
WANTED TO PRODUCE
Kanter soon realized, however, she didn’t have much control over the storytelling as an editor, so she moved into producing, “and in classic Hollywood style was stuck in development hell for four or five years as various projects bounced from studio to studio.”
In 1990, she produced “Stood Up!,” an ABC AfterschoolSpecial starring Kimberly Williams in her first movie role.
From there, Kanter moved into the kids’ business, as a series executive producer on Sesame Street. When her husband, Joseph DeCarlo, took a job in Los Angeles, she embarked on two years of bicoastal commuting. With three kids — Bennett, Olivia and Jonathan — she realized she needed to root herself professionally in Hollywood.
Kanter put the word out among her friends and colleagues. Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, founder and CEO of The Gotham Group, which represents Doc McStuffins creator Chris Nee and a number of Disney Junior show-runners, was working for Michael Ovitz at the time. He had a management company called AMG.
So Goldsmith-Vein knew Kanter was looking for a new opportunity when Rich Ross, then head of Disney Channel, happened to call.
“He was looking for somebody to come in and run the preschool division for him,” Goldsmith-Vein said. “It felt like such an obvious fit and, in fact, it was an absolute love fest between the two of them.”
After a dozen years at the programmer, Kanter said, her honeymoon with Disney continues.
“I love what I do and I especially love the people I do it with,” Kanter said. “It is really incredibly difficult to make a show that can stick with a 3- or 5-year-old, [but] if you can create a show that holds their attention, it becomes a part of their life.
“It’s a remarkable gift and talent,” Kanter added, “and we work with people that do it better than anybody.”
TITLE: SVP, Original Programming and GM, Disney Junior Worldwide
CAREER: First job in entertainment was as an apprentice film editor on Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Aft ernoon, edited by Dee Dee Allen; “It was a mind-boggling experience,” said Kanter, who moved from editing to produce kids’ live-action films; spent six years as executive producer at Sesame Street; joined Disney Channel in 2001; headed the launch of Disney Junior in March 2012
QUOTABLE: “I was one of those kids who would read a book and become that character, and take on the att ributes of whatever I was reading — sometimes to my parents’ dismay.”