Maya & Miguel's Mosaic

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Scholastic Entertainment aims to score with the Latin American market... and more.

In a city considered a "melting pot," it seems fitting that New York-based Scholastic Entertainment was the catalyst for the soon-to-be-aired PBS series, Maya & Miguel. Indeed, it appears just as fitting that Scholastic Entertainment, the media and entertainment division of Scholastic Inc., the global children's publishing and media company, with its diverse, rich 83-year history bring this "Scholastic original" property to the entertainment forefront. "Although we have a wonderful bank of properties, this is the first original property for Scholastic Entertainment," says Leslye Schaefer, senior vice president, marketing and consumer products, Scholastic Entertainment. At the core of Maya & Miguel is the already lucrative and growing Latin American culture, but the series incorporates a variety of ethnicities into its plot, all geared to clear educational goals in a fun setting for boys and girls ages 6 to 11. And, if like its inspiration, I Love Lucy, Maya & Miguel will be a series of fun, humorous antics from the main characters and the protagonists.

The brainchild of Scholastic Entertainment President Deborah Forte, a 20-year Scholastic veteran and executive producer of the series, Maya & Miguel is based on "the comedic relationship of I Love Lucy. I've always wanted to do a boy and girl comedy," says Forte. Her "born of an idea" now has become a reality. Some five years ago based on census figures, Scholastic Entertainment senior management challenged executives to proactively target the Latino community, according to Schaefer. With the concept of

Forte's Maya & Miguel in hand (originally entitled, The Misadventures of Maya & Miguel), Scholastic Entertainment executives were "inspired and motivated to meet the challenge," says Schaefer. "Scholastic has always strived to provide products that speak to all kids and all families. Clifford and Magic School Bus, among other properties, too, are multicultural and feature diverse children. And Scholastic owns Lectorum, the largest distributor of Spanish books," confirms Schaefer of the company's rich history and ongoing commitment to education of all people of all cultures.

Armed with Maya & Miguel, Scholastic Entertainment entered the running for an RFP (request for proposal) from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). The result was the single-largest grant ever awarded by the CPB, combined with the "All America's Kids Multi-Media Programming Initiative" grant from PBS with monies provided by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), resulting in total funding of $14 million. Scheduled to begin airing October 11 on PBS Kids, Maya & Miguel will be a daily strip comprising 65 half hours of animated programming.

A first for Scholastic Entertainment with its original content, and it seems a first for PBS in a new age category. License!, too, is first with the story of Maya & Miguel as it begins to take shape in the consumer products sector, as Mamiye Bros., Inc., signs on as the first and master licensee in girls' apparel. Here, in this License! exclusive, conversations with key partners in the formation of Maya & Miguel both on-air and on retail shelves.

¡Eso Es! Education First

Scholastic Entertainment had two very clear goals in mind: While Maya and Miguel are Latino characters, the aim is educational. According to both Schaefer and Forte, the goals include:

  • To help kids gain appreciation for multiculturalism; to portray different populations in a positive way; a contemporary, appropriate real look at positive diverse characters.
  • To help kids acquire a usage of the English language; Spanish as well as English and create a comfort level to speak English. "We want kids to know it's an asset to speak a second language, and they also should be proud of where they come from. There needs to be a comfort level of integration. Maya & Miguel is a mosaic. They are characters children can associate with and feel good about," says Schaefer.

While Scholastic Entertainment didn't commission research specifically for this project, according to both Schaefer and Forte, Forte explains that from an entertainment point of view, Scholastic Entertainment was "looking at the media landscape and the representation of Latino kids on TV. We then began talking with people from the Latino community and describing the vision of Maya & Miguel. The story then got more fully formed," she says. Further, Schaefer notes, Scholastic has a large in-house multicultural marketing group that buys a variety of research. Scholastic also creates different advisory boards for education curriculum issues. Maya & Miguel is no exception. Indeed, an advisory board specifically for the project features leaders from the education, business, TV/media, and multicultural fronts (see sidebar, pp. 34-38, for a list of Maya & Miguel advisory members). "So, there's an enormous amount of intelligence," says Schaefer. For certain, media aimed at the 6 to 11 Latino set (according to census figures, the Latino population is 13 percent of the overall population and is the fastest growing segment) played a significant role for Scholastic, particularly after seeing the success of Nickelodeon's Dora the Explorer for the preschool market.

Maya and Miguel Santos are 10-year-old brother-and-sister twins. Maya is akin to Lucy Ricardo as she has a good heart but is always in trouble. Miguel is akin to Ricky Ricardo as he is very much the straight man (or kid in this case). At the core in Maya and Miguel's life is their Latino family, but they live in a diverse neighborhood that includes Chinese-Americans and African-Americans, among other cultural groups, as the show couldn't just "appeal to 13 percent of the population," says Schaefer. "Our target audience is boys and girls ages 6 to 11, with the bull's-eye at 6 to 8. The goal is education, but Maya and Miguel are fun, adventurous kids."

¡Eso Es! New Side to PBS

Clearly, Scholastic Entertainment's goals for Maya & Miguel are akin to those of PBS. "The goal at PBS is to provide education and entertainment at the same time. We aim to develop the whole child on the cognitive, emotional, social, and physical levels," explains Linda Simensky, senior director of children's programming, PBS. While PBS is clearly covered in the age groups of 2 to 5 and 4 to 7, Simensky says that this is a new target age group for the broadcaster. "Our audience will see a new side of PBS. Now, children over age 6 can stick with PBS a lot longer," says Simensky. What's more, PBS and Scholastic Entertainment have a long history together as partners on other projects, and have developed a "trust" factor key to partnerships. Scholastic Entertainment also will collaborate with PBS' Ready to Learn service; materials about Maya & Miguel will be available online at http://pbs.org and http://scholastic.com. Maya & Miguel also will be available on PBS Kids with a second audio track in Spanish (SAP).

In addition, Maya & Miguel was a perfect fit for PBS, as it has always targeted cultural diversity in its programming, when you consider Sesame Street and Dragon Tales. (As an aside, PBS also picked up Postcards from Buster, an Arthur spin-off that features well-recognized character Buster who's traveling the globe with his airline pilot father and becomes entrenched in a variety of different cultures and traditions.) "Diversity has always been a large part of the PBS lineup," says Simensky. But, she mentions, as PBS works closely with Scholastic Entertainment on the project, "Maya & Miguel is not just about being Latino, it's really about how similar we all are." Affirms Forte, "We think Maya & Miguel will stand out in the TV landscape. It is entertaining, demonstrates the value of multiculturalism, and promotes English language development." Forte cites one of the characters in particular on the education front: Paco, the parrot, who just by his animal nature repeats, thereby reinforcing vocabulary.

¡Eso Es! Consumer Products Next

Beyond the lucrative and growing Latino market as a target, Scholastic Entertainment is aiming at the powerful 'tween population segment. This will be especially true in the consumer products sector. Being announced for the first time in this License! exclusive, Mamiye Bros., Inc., signed on as master girls' apparel licensee for Maya & Miguel. Maya & Miguel joins Mamiye's stable of brands including Guess, Mary-Kate and Ashley, Lizzie McGuire, Barbie, and Kim Possible, among a wealth of other properties and brands. Under the terms of the deal, Mamiye will develop a line of sportswear and swimwear for girls in sizes 4 to 16. Sportswear will include sets and separates, tops and bottoms, skirts, dresses, T-shirts, jackets, and more. First items from Mamiye will be unveiled at the August edition of MAGIC Marketplace, held in Las Vegas, NV; first shipments are scheduled for spring 2005. Department stores are the main retail target.

"For Maya & Miguel, Scholastic plans to build its consumer products lineup out of the soft goods category," says Schaefer. "Fashion and music are inherent in the show. This is an older, more sophisticated approach to consumer products." As for the choice of Mamiye as apparel licensee, Schaefer says, "we have never worked with Mamiye before, but its reputation is phenomenal. When we spoke with retailers about an apparel licensee, Mamiye got high marks. It has a commitment and enthusiasm to Maya & Miguel paired with its design sensibility and forward thinking."

"We as a company aim to deliver fashion and trend-right merchandise for the 'tween market," says Charles Mamiye, CEO, Mamiye Bros., Inc. "Everyone we have spoken with in the retail community is excited to target the Latin audience in 'tween sizes." And, Mamiye concedes, "you couldn't ask for a better broadcast partner than PBS."

Asked about the look and style of the upcoming Maya & Miguel line, Mamiye says the line will feature vivid colors, icons, and treatments with Latino flair. "There's a certain spice or salsa attached to Latin brands in fashion and style," says Mamiye. But even with Latinos truly in mind, both Schaefer and Mamiye agree, "kids regardless of their ethnicity will want to wear it."

Although at press time, other licensees had yet to be named, Schaefer says that fashion accessories are next on the agenda. Of course, as it is Scholastic, books also are on the slate. "Scholastic is committed to building the brand," says Schaefer, who notes the company currently is developing plans for co-branding, promotions, and retail exclusives, among other vehicles. She mentions that Scholastic also actively seeks underwriters for the TV series. Forte terms Maya & Miguel a "major enterprise for Scholastic Entertainment."

"We believe we've created a place for older children to go," says Schaefer. "It's a fresh, fun brand that will connect with kids, both on-air and with consumer products."

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