Thursday, December 29, 2022

Nickelodeon Scraps 'Phoebe and Her Unicorn'

In June 2020, it was revealed that Nickelodeon had won the rights to Dana Simpson’s comic strip Phoebe and Her Unicorn, a property that the studio was eyeing as a multi-platform franchise across an TV animated series, movies and more. However, Simpson has revealed in a damning social media post that Nickelodeon has decided to not move ahead with the project, citing network concerns that the series wouldn't cater enough to a male audience. Simpson's post can be found below.

The other thing that happened while I was away from Facebook was that Nickelodeon finally pulled the plug on me.

I'd known that was probably coming for a few months. It's an old Hollywood story. The executives who optioned my show in 2020 left, and were replaced by new people who were more...well. They started complaining that my project doesn't cater enough to boys.

Hollywood has an idea that boys won't watch shows that center girls, but girls will watch shows that center boys (or, girls just "don't like animation"), so marketing-wise you should only ever make boy shows, possibly with one token girl.

So my very girl-centered show gets the ax. I wrote a new show treatment emphasizing how important Max is to the whole thing, but it didn't work. I knew it probably wouldn't.

I know the comments are going to be full of a lot of "well they're wrong, what about Power Puff Girls/MLP/Owl House" and...yes, I know. Of course they're wrong. They're being absolute idiots. But this is Hollywood.

I worried transphobia would screw me over. Turns out, no. Garden variety sexism.

It's actually the second time something like this has happened to me (Amazon Studios was developing the show from 2017 to 2019). Though my impression was that happened because the new execs just axed most or all kids' tv projects in development.

Also, in 2019 I was hired as a writer on a Disney show that then got shelved. I am becoming an old hand at Hollywood disappointment.

I found this out for sure literally five minutes after Facebook suspended me for a week for the dumbest imaginable reason. So I finished my comics for the day and then went out and got wasted. I don't do that anymore, really, but it felt like a good day for it.

So now what.

Well. I and the team that's around me take the show and shop it to some new places. I'm not gonna say it's fine, but it's Hollywood. This stuff takes years.

Nickelodeon never listened to me anyway. Amazon had me in meetings and actively sought my feedback. Nickelodeon treated me as almost an afterthought. I didn't like that.

A friend who's one of my animation heroes (she may be reading this-hi, you know I mean you!) told me "if you're not being given a seat at the table, pull up a chair," and I've been thinking about that a lot. I'm working on a show bible for "Phoebe" (no one at Amazon or Nick ever asked me to actually do that, but at this point I think it's well within my abilities). In 2023 we have more meetings and keep trying.

Hollywood, man. I guess I'll keep my day job.

Phoebe and her Unicorn follows 9-year-old Phoebe Howell, a girl in the fourth grade, who deals with childhood challenges alongside her unicorn Marigold, friend Max and enemy Dakota. Phoebe meets Marigold after skipping a rock across a pond, accidentally hitting the unicorn in the face. Freed from her own reflection, the unicorn—named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils—gives Phoebe one wish, which she decides to use by making the unicorn her best friend. Marigold has magical powers, i.e. she can divert or redirect rain and send text messages and broadcast a Wi-Fi hotspot through her horn. Her most highly coveted power though is her “Shield of Boringness” spell, which causes humans to view her as nothing out of the ordinary and allows her to interact with them on a daily basis. The daily comic strip initially launched on Universal Uclick’s GoComics website in 2012 before it launched in 100 newspapers in 2015.

During a recent book signing event at the BARN in Bainbridge Island, Simpson revealed that the series is in development, and has a script and a head writer, but Nickelodeon was thinking that the show might not appeal to boys. To help get the project moving, Simpson wrote a new treatment for the show featuring Max as one of the main characters. “That will have to be good enough because I’m not changing it,” and so far, Nickelodeon bosses seem to be going along with that, the Bainbridge Island Review reported, although Simpson wasn't sure at the time when the show would ever debut.

Simpson has published 17 books in the Phoebe and her Unicorn series and has won many awards, including the Washington State Book Award. In 2016, Hollywood took notice, and Simpson began taking meetings with studios that wanted to option her book series for a cartoon show.

“The journey to make Phoebe and Her Unicorn into an animated series has been a long and somewhat frustrating one,” Simpson said, adding the project has bounced around from Amazon to NBC, then Disney and finally landing with Nickelodeon.

At the BARN, Simpson regaled the audience, many of whom were wearing unicorn hats, with inside stories of Phoebe and her adventures. She explained that she came up with Marigold’s name by using an online unicorn name generator and thought Heavenly Nostrils was funny so she kept it.

Phoebe and her Unicorn was part of Nickelodeon's current commissioning strategy to adapt books and graphic novels for the small and big screen. Over the couple of years, Nickelodeon has ordered series and movies inspired by Big Nate, Real Pigeons Fight Crime, and HexVet.

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