Toying Around in Television

Turning hit toys into hit television shows is hardly child’s play, but Stephen Davis has a plan that relies on sharing. As president of Hasbro Studios, his top priority is producing family-entertainment TV shows based on Hasbro brands like Transformers, G.I. Joe and My Little Pony for The Hub, the company’s jointventure startup network with Discovery that is launching Oct. 10.

So, after starting Hasbro Studios from scratch last September, Davis stacked it with two dozen top executives from News Corp., Sony, Warner Bros. and the Hasbro mothership. Then he created a signature development and production setup, assembling what he calls “A-Teams” around every project the company mounts. For each of approximately 25 productions underway, Davis teamed up a showrunner with a genrespecifi c development head at the studio, someone from the original Hasbro product being adapted and a development exec from The Hub.

The A-Team works to support the showrunner so “[the showrunner] has everything necessary to re-imagine that brand into television in the best possible way,” he says, citing aspects from the mythology of a product to support for a creative vision. “Our responsibility is to protect the brand and everything Hasbro has spent considerable effort and money to build, and to be sure that translates first and foremost into great TV. If you have a terrific brand and a crummy television show—that doesn’t serve anybody.”

Davis’ approach to building the studio draws on an education in TV that started by accident with one of the industry’s most revered teachers, Merv Griffin. Davis learned the importance of “getting the best people working around you” from the late TV legend. Griffin gave the Hasbro Studios chief what Davis calls “the best practical M.B.A. a young person could have.”

Davis met Griffin after positions in telecommunications led him to work for a company that developed interactive applications for Griffin’s Wheel of Fortune. Griffin had a knack for throwing people into disciplines they weren’t versed in so they learned on the job. The philosophy appealed to Davis. “We have a tendency in any business, whether it’s the entertainment business or the widgets business, to be somewhat formulaic,” Davis says. “I’ve always tried to break that mold.”

A taste for doing things differently led Davis to spend much of his career working in international TV. “In international television, you could be doing business in 180 different countries 180 different ways,” he says.

Davis developed the A-Team approach “in the spirit of breaking the old paradigm for development where independent studios spend a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of which they ultimately end up writing off because they’re developing all kinds of things they’re not really sure anyone wants to buy,” he says. “I’ve written those checks out of my own pocket.”

He was running his own family-fare company, Family Entertainment Group, when Hasbro called. Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner says Davis is a perfect fit: “First, obviously, was his experience producing family-oriented content,” Goldner says. “Second was his expertise in distributing that content around the world. Third was his outlook on how to create great kid-oriented content, work with others, engender the great spirit of teamwork and collaboration.”

Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Star Trek feature, Fringe, Alias), who wrote the Transformer movies, are also helming the animated Transformers TV series for Hasbro and The Hub. Davis’ A-Team approach is working “remarkably brilliantly,” Kurtzman tells B&C. “There is a stigma about things being done by committee creatively, but there is so much to be done, so much of a well to draw from,” Kurtzman says. “Everyone feels protected to do their best work because the message from the top down is that you’re supported in your vision.” Kurtzman adds that he and Orci would “like to work with [Davis] forever.”

With 1,500 brands in Hasbro’s collection that Davis can mine, he could be at it forever—and he’d be happy to. “This job has afforded me the opportunity to pull together all of the experiences I’ve had in my career,” Davis says. “It really is a dream job.”