Donnie MacIntyre, the VP of sales and business development at Portfolio Entertainment, talks to TV Kids about Hero Elementary, a series Portfolio is producing as a co-venture with Twin Cities PBS in the U.S.
Geared toward kids 4 to 7, Hero Elementary is set within a school of young superheroes learning to master their unique abilities while taking on some day-saving action. Portfolio Entertainment is producing the series as a co-venture with Twin Cities PBS in the U.S. The 80×11-minute/40×22-minute IP will make its big debut for the international market at MIPJunior and MIPCOM.
“Following Portfolio’s success developing and producing The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! for PBS Kids, we were on the lookout for the next great IP that fits well with our core strength—that is, producing exciting, hilarious content for kids with educational value,” explains MacIntyre. “When we discovered a kids’ book called Superhero School, about a group of young superheroes who use math to supercharge their special abilities, we knew we were onto something great, so we optioned the rights. Our development team created a group of unique and relatable characters and expanded the educational component beyond a math-specific focus to instead cover the entire STEM [curriculum], as this felt like a more natural fit for our curious and adventurous heroes.”
“Meanwhile, Twin Cities PBS is highly regarded in the industry for its expertise developing digital content for young children,” he continues. “Portfolio knew it was important to develop Hero Elementary from the ground up as a 360-degree property that can engage kids across various media as children are becoming increasingly tech savvy and look to multiple screens for their content; the Hero Elementary IP lends itself very well to games and other interactive experiences. Portfolio approached Twin Cities PBS with the property and they immediately saw its potential, and they worked closely with Portfolio throughout the development process to bring Hero Elementary to life.”
The show features doses of humor, adventure and learning, brought about from the same kinds of challenges children face in their everyday lives. “The students of Hero Elementary are at the stage of their lives where the whole world is unfolding and there are tons of exciting discoveries to be made,” MacIntyre notes. “Like all kids their age, they are full of questions, eager to investigate their surroundings and are sometimes a bit impetuous. When you combine this natural curiosity with out-of-this-world superpowers, you have the perfect recipe for excitement, adventure and, of course, humor.”
For example, using their “superpowers of science,” the kids of Hero Elementary try to stop a runaway cleaning robot on a soapy floor, help a lost baby bird find its mother and track down escaping birthday balloons. In the process, they learn about the physics of friction, genetics and how the wind works. “The educational component is baked into the stories so while it is educational, the series never loses its focus on fun,” says MacIntyre.
The young superheroes at the center of the action have not yet mastered their unique abilities. “Imagine having the ability to fly, but also harboring a debilitating fear of heights, or being able to teleport anywhere on Earth at the snap of a finger, but just not being able to always control where you’ll reappear—these are some of the struggles our superheroes-in-training must face, and for the audience, the results are highly relatable,” MacIntyre says. “As the kids at Hero Elementary learn and grow, they make plenty of mistakes that often snowball into catastrophes. Kids watching at home will totally be able to relate to this predicament as they too are learning about independence and trying to navigate the world around them.”
He adds that the humor is on par with what the young audience can connect with. “The series is rife with laugh-out-loud moments. The Hero Elementary crew will never lose their can-do attitude and eventually overcome their weaknesses to save the day, showing kids at home that with a positive attitude and tenacity, victory can be seized from the jaws of defeat.”
Helping to drive home the values and lessons at the heart of the series, Hero Elementary features a diverse, determined and dedicated group of superpowered kids who work to overcome their shortcomings in order to lend a helping hand to classmates and members of the local community whenever they are needed. “There is no specific leader of the group,” adds MacIntyre. “They all recognize that each member has something to contribute and are willing to let everyone have their moment to shine. Teamwork, cooperation and an eager willingness to learn from others are prevailing characteristics that run through each member of the group.”
“Building on that, the heroes still have a lot to learn about themselves and their environment, and overcoming their own insecurities are some of the biggest challenges they will encounter,” he continues. “All kids will face these types of challenges in their daily lives, and we want Hero Elementary to demonstrate that it’s OK to be unsure and ask for help, and believing in yourself, and lending a helping hand to others when needed, is the path to overcoming adversity and achieving your goals.”
The animated series features AJ Gadgets, an autistic character who is a lead member of the group and contributes to the adventures just as equally as the rest of the crew. “While we never set out to specifically make a show featuring an autistic character, the goal has always been to promote inclusiveness, teamwork and the idea that everyone has the ability to contribute when given the opportunity,” MacIntyre says. “Autism is a common condition that many young children will experience through interactions with schoolmates and others in their daily lives, and we thought this series would be a perfect platform to help do away with some of the stigma associated with it.”
Hero Elementary makes its U.S. debut in 2020 and Portfolio Entertainment has rights to license it to the rest of the world. “The show is perfectly suited toward both SVODs and traditional linear broadcasters as the universal themes of cooperation, acceptance and overcoming obstacles are highly relatable, and it doesn’t hurt that the superhero genre is more popular than ever with kids around the world,” says MacIntyre. “We’re looking for the right international partner(s) with a strong presence in the kids’ space and who understand what a unique, special show Hero Elementary is.”