July 29, 2009 - (by Nathalie Tadena, ABC News)
Ask Warren Buffett to work with kids and he gets animated - literally. The legendary investor will be starring in "The Secret Millionaire's Club," an online cartoon series that teaches children about financial literacy, debuting in the fall on AOL.
Like Buffett, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, domestic diva Martha Stewart and the late astronomer Carl Sagan, will also be featured in their own series of educational webisodes produced by A Squared Entertainment, a children's media company founded by industry veterans Andy Heyward and Amy Moynihan, in collaboration with AOL.
For Heyward, the former head of DIC Entertainment, the "Secret Millionaire's Club"series is a result of a longstanding relationship with Buffett.
The two met in the 1990s when DIC was bought by Capital Cities/ABC. Buffett was CapCities/ABC's largest shareholder.
"I got to meet Warren and he was looking to have somebody help the Omaha Children's Theatre, a charity he was involved with," Heyward said. "I volunteered to help them with story lines for children's theatre."
Heyward, who sold DIC to Cookie Jar Entertainment in 2008, was later recruited to produce humorous cartoon videos for the annual shareholders meeting of Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett's holding company.
Heyward even featured Buffett as the voice of James Madison in the PBS series "Liberty's Kids."
Then in 2005, while still at DIC, Heyward approached Buffett with an idea to educate children about something the Oracle of Omaha was very knowledgeable about—money.
"We want to keep them out of trouble in the future and make sure they are informed citizens in our world," Heyward said. "Just look at the mess we're in today."
There will be 26 webisodes, each lasting three to five minutes. Each star will have their own show dedicated to specific topics. "We felt that these were important areas and opportunities to educate and entertain kids," Heyward said of the celebrity selection. "There was no product about financial literacy for kids, no product about cooking and gardening in a branded, no product about space."
In the "Secret Millionaire's Club," Buffett will voice his character who serves as a financial mentor to a group of kids in his hometown of Omaha, Neb. In one webisode, Buffett advises the club during a board meeting on whether to invest in a local candy company and explains the meaning of "durable competitive advantage." In real-life, Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway owns See's Candies Inc.
'One way or another, we all develop financial habits at an early age – either for good or for bad. These habits then last a lifetime, and when the habits are bad, almost invariably lead to much misery," Buffett told ABC News' Bianna Golodryga. "Andy Heyward and I hope that by weaving a few lessons into interesting stories, more young people will form habits that save their lives from financial stress."
Buffett is working on the project pro bono as part of his legacy, said Heyward, who could not comment on whether the other stars would be paid.
Bundchen will also voice her cartoon counterpart in "Gigi and the Green Team," a series about a supermodel-superhero working to protect the environment, to be released in the fall.
A ten-year old Martha Stewart will be the star of the currently titled "Little Martha" series, in which Stewart's character runs an event planning company from her treehouse with her friends. Stewart, like the other celebrity partners, is "very involved" in crafting the concepts of the webisodes, Heyward said.
Sagan's character in "Kosmos" will introduce kids to action-adventure space stories, inspired by the popular science series "Cosmos" he wrote with longtime collaborater and wife, Ann Druyan.
The "Kosmos" series has been in the works since December, but Heyward had the idea to combine some of the content from the original television series with an adventure story line for several years, Druyan said. She has since developed the story arc and characters for the webisodes.
"It's a real testament to the enduring nature of Cosmos," Druyan said of reaching a new, younger audience. "To take that original excitement and create a story and characters that will have legs of their own, we hope will only make it that more powerful."
Although Sagan passed away in 1996, a lot of the voicing for his animated character can come from the work he did for the original Cosmos series, Druyan said. She said she is interested in looking into technology that can program a recorded voice to say new dialogue.
"If Carl was alive he certainly would be doing podcasts, going online—he wanted to reach everyone," she said.
"Little Martha" and "Kosmos" are scheduled to be launched in 2010.
The webisodes will be funded through advertising, though the project was originally to be released on DVD. When released, the webisodes will be accompanied by online games and activities for viewers.