Deadtime Stories: From Books to Nickelodeon

Author Annette Cascone talks R.L.Stine, Nickelodeon, and Making It Happen

Television is undeniably becoming the most successful entertainment platform of our time. Movie stars are migrating to networks and writers are moving their script to the small screen. Even novelists and short story authors are finding ways to pitch to TV. The latest success story is Deadtime Stories. Originally a series of children’s horror books, Nickelodeon has nabbed the work for their newest show. Premiering October 3rd, with Jennifer Stone (Wizards of Waverly Place) as the leading character, Deadtime Stories has transcended its literary medium.

I had a chance to talk to one of the authors, Annette Cascone, who co-writes with her sister Gina. I had to know how they began the successful series and eventually pitched to a major network like Nickelodeon.

ATW: You began writing Deadtime Stories with your sister — how did the idea come about?

C: Because Gina forced me into it! When we were younger Gina always wanted to be a writer. Me, I was into songwriting. Basically I was writing music and Gina said we should team up and do something together.

ATW: Why horror books for kids? I grew up with Goosebumps!

C: We originally started with a horror film and we thought that it’d be great to do scary stuff for kids, prior to the R.L. Stine phenomenon. We started with thrillers for young adults and Jane Stine [R.L. Stine’s wife] read one of them. We did some ghost writing for R.L.Stine and after we did that we were working with Troll. They used to be one of the biggest book clubs. An editor at Troll said they wanted to do a series to compete with R.L. Stine.

ATW: Did you all continue writing once Troll publishing closed?

C: We had such a wonderful relationship with Troll. We had a book with Avon but after Deadtime Stories, we did take a bit of a break.

ATW: When did you all decide to revisit the stories and move them into another medium?

C: Here’s how luck works! We were looking to get back into the children’s’ market. David and Scott Hillenbrand [Translymania] reached out to my brother in law, and he’d just started a literary agency. During that phone call, they mentioned they were looking for a live action thing to do for kids. My brother in law said, ‘I just might have the thing you’re looking for.’ We started with Grave Secrets as a film. The first of the books we did as a feature, the idea being that we were going to try to film all of them in a series of films for kids.  We started to hear this would be a great television project. DHX media does a lot of children’s programming and at some point they became aware of the film and they set up the initial meeting with Nickelodeon.

ATW: How did you pitch to Nickelodeon?

C: We had [Grave Secrets] and we had a brilliant editor who took that film down to the 22-minute format. What Nickelodeon got to see is the actual episode and what it would look like. The books have re-launched and once Nickelodeon saw it was a whole package, they took the pilot episode and tested it in house. We then took a meeting with Nickelodeon but we didn’t have to pitch the property; it kind of spoke for itself.

ATW: What was the biggest roadblock in this whole process?

C: A sense of not having a heart attack, just breathing! What’s been difficult is my whole life up until this point. What’s been miraculous is once it started to snowball, the efforts were easy. Aside from the anxiety Are they going to like it, everything just went very smoothly. The obstacle has been the past 25 years.

ATW: What are you most excited about now that the show is on Nickelodeon?

C: Everything is exciting! One of the things I’m very excited about is how each episode opens with a babysitter [Jennifer Stone] and each week starts with her reading to the kids she’s babysitting. We use the book to come in and out the story. I’m excited that we can encourage kids to pick up a book and read! I’m very proud of this show, the kids were a joy to work with and it’s good hearted. It’s chills and thrills and scary stuff but there’s nothing gratuitous.

ATW: What’s your advice to other writers who want a network show?

C: The older I get, I’ve learned to take it all with a grain of salt, its’ only a day, this day will pass and another day will come. Work is not life and hopefully you do something that you love. If you do that, ultimately the money will follow it. Don’t give up and talk to everyone! Every time good has happened it comes from left field, while I’m doing something else, the opportunity comes from a place I never would have expected.