EXCLUSIVE: Sky Kids is developing children’s book Uncle Bobby’s Wedding as an animated special, as David Levine’s Lightboat Media supercharges its focus on stories with LGBTQ+ stories at their core.
Sarah S. Brannen’s story, told through the eyes of a young girl, Chloe, who learns her beloved Uncle Bobby is getting married to his boyfriend, Jamie. Initially concerned that she’ll no longer be his favorite, she realizes she’ll actually be gaining another uncle after a fun-filled day out with the couple.
More from Deadline
The kids division of UK network Sky is developing it as a 30-minute special for June 2025, in time for Pride, with former Moonbug Entertainment and Disney exec Levine in active development on the project. Michael Vogel (My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake, Transformers) is attached as the writer.
Lightboat is eyeing co-production, distributor and pre-buying commissioner partners ahead of the KidScreen Summit in San Diego, and has been in talks with streamers and platforms. Production is targeted to begin this year.
Sky Kids is both an ad-free, linear network on Sky’s pay-TV platform that offers Sky Originals, and an on-demand portal offering thousands of episodes of kids shows. It was works with channel partners such as Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.
Uncle Bobby’s Wedding was first released in 2008 in various territories in the world, and then re-released in 2020 in partnership with the LGBTQ+ media advocacy group GLAAD.
“It’s a universal story for anyone about to get a new person in their life and worried about the changes,” said Levine, who is one of the TV industry’s key inclusion advocates. “It’s all about being able to find room in your heart for new people in your family.”
Ian France, Commissioning Editor at Sky Kids said: “Our daughter brought Uncle Bobby’s Wedding home from school to read with her daddies, and we were all immediately taken with the story of change, inclusivity, and love. We at Sky Kids instantly knew that this book deserved to reach a wider audience. Just as Uncle Bobby touched our family, we look forward to inviting all families to share in the celebration.”
“I wrote Uncle Bobby’s Wedding nearly 20 years ago,” said Brannen. “Same-sex marriage had been legalized in the state of Massachusetts, where I live. I was surrounded by such joy, of people who had been together but had never thought they could get married. I was thinking about writing a wedding book and the two grooms, Bobby and Jamie, just appeared in my imagination and asked me to tell their story.
“I’ve been lucky enough to hear from many children who have told me how much the book means to them and I’m sure an animated TV version would reach even more children, not just the ones with two moms or two dads, but all who live in this time of change. They are our hope.”
Lightboat Media plans
Former Disney and Moonbug Entertainment kids exec Levine boarded the project after Sky Kids controller Lucy Murphy optioned Brannen’s book. He had launched his UK-based indie, Lightboat, after we revealed he had exited Cocomelon firm Moonbug, where he was Head of Studios. Prior to that, he had sent 16 years at Disney, rising to VP of Kids Programming before exiting in June 2020.
He began Lightboat as a way to platform LGBTQ+ characters and stories, what he called “passion projects,” and quickly struck several deals. “After Disney and Moonbug, I focused on things important to me and companies I want to work with,” he said in an interview. “Luckily, a range of interesting projects came my way.”
The deals included securing global production and format rights (outside the U.S.) to Kids Talk, which was initially in development with Disney+. The animated doc series comes from filmmaker Sally Rubin and was developed from their/her film Momma Has a Moustache, about kids’ views on gender.
“It can be easily enjoyed by families together and spark meal time conversations,” said Levine. “When I heard the pitch, my thought was that this would be a great format to make on a local scale, reflecting individual countries’ kids and issues. We are working on an asset bank to share with local producers to either co-produce or license the format and sell in to local broadcasters.”
Levine and Rubin will be heading to KidScreen Summit in San Diego, which runs February 4-7, to pitch the show.
Lightboat has also been working with UK-based anti-bullying charity Diversity Role Models to create a series of shorts aimed at building empathy and celebrating difference through an LGBTQ+ lens. On a limited budget, the likes of Brilliant Casting, animation firm Cloth Cat and writer Hamish Steele (Dead End: Paranormal Park) have donated time and resource to creating the shorts, which were premiered at a special event at Levine’s former Disney EMEA offices in London.
Levine has privately funded his business, and is underpinning the passion projects with consultancy work for a group of clients in various areas, generally “stemming from the connection between creative and data,” he said. “Once I was open for business I got a lot of calls for consultancy, and so that became the financial engine of the company to support the passion projects,” he added.
“What I’ve loved is being able to be a part of different companies at different stages, and in different areas of the digital landscape. Leveraging data and user activity and experience into an ongoing creative process is something I was able to learn in my year and a half at Moonbug. I’m taking that experience and bringing that to various companies.”
This includes working with Mattel to redevelop one of their key properties with an eye on leveraging YouTube and social media data to inform creative directions. Levine is also working digital media firm Electrify Video Partners, which operates creator brands and kids channels, on its production and creative strategies. Work for 9 Story Media Group is based around the Canadian firm’s YouTube strategy, digital content production and development slate.
“Looking outside the typical ecosystem is imperative,” said Levine. “The companies I’m working with come from mobile gaming, AR, AI, sports teams and the creator economy. That’s balanced with working with Mattel and 9 Story, but 9 Story is first a role with the digital media team. It’s about looking at these other mediums to find IP and companies that are addressing kids and families in ways that are next generation.”
The U.S.-born, London-based Levine said he is looking to spend into older-skewing content in the LGBTQ+ space and is in talks with UK producers to bring formats with diversity and inclusivity at their heart into the country.
He is also working with Championship soccer side Southampton on AI-driven content and mobile gaming co TutoToons, supporting its new animation studio, and continues to lead the Big LGBTQ+ (and Ally) dinners alongside Verite Entertainment. These effective fundraisers began at MIPCOM and have expanded to Kidscreen, Annecy and MIA. A dinner at Kidscreen on Feb 6 will benefit the San Diego LGBT Community Center, and is expected to raise $2,000 for the charity.
Best of Deadline