Kelci Parker

Kelci Parker

Nathalie Gordon
Koala Man

Koala Man

Courtesy of Hulu
Solar Man

Solar Opposites

Courtesy of Hulu
Fill 1
Fill 1
April 25, 2023

Animation Maven Kelci Parker

As Hulu's vice-president of animation, the executive brings a lifetime of fandom to the form.

Christine Champagne

Growing up in Albion, Michigan, Kelci Parker was already in training for her career as a development executive — she just didn't know it at the time.

Recounting her childhood, Parker — now Hulu's vice-president of animation — says she loved television, animation in particular, so much that she had the entire Nickelodeon afternoon programming schedule committed to memory.

"I have a sister who's almost five years younger than me, and I remember my mom being like, 'Let's take the baby on a walk and get some fresh air,'" Parker recalls. "And I'd be like, 'Okay, but we have to be back by three because that's when Rugrats starts, and then it's Doug, and then after Doug. ...' And she was like, 'You're five. How do you know the entire schedule?'

"I was very locked in," she continues. "I had episode breakdowns done in my mind even as a very small child."

Her fascination with entertainment didn't fade. After earning a bachelor's degree in film with a concentration in screenwriting at the University of Michigan, Parker headed to Los Angeles, where she planned to become a screenwriter. Early on, she worked as a writer's assistant on Tyler, the Creator's Comedy Central sketch series, Loiter Squad, and she was Spike Jonze's assistant on the feature films Her, which he directed, and Bad Grandpa, which he produced.

Parker envisioned herself writing films like Juno and Little Miss Sunshine but with Black female leads. The more she was exposed to the film industry, however, the more she saw how writers often lose control of their work. "I realized as a writer you sell your project and you may get some say, but you never really know what's going to happen to it," she says.

Parker decided to move into development and put out feelers for assistant jobs. In 2014, she says, "I was lucky enough to land at Comedy Central working for [development executive] Kent Alterman. That was an awesome place to learn and cut my teeth in the development space."

Parker worked her way up the ladder at Comedy Central, rising to director of talent and development. Along the way, she oversaw projects including animated series Malltown and Legends of Chamberlain Heights, as well as Comedy Central's Animated Shorts program, an incubator that invited artists to submit ideas for shortform projects.

In July of 2020 Parker left Comedy Central for Hulu. (Her brother Kellyn Parker was also a development executive at Comedy Central, but moved in 2020 to ABC Signature as vice-president, comedy development.) "Emotionally, it was a hard transition because my formative years were at Comedy Central. So I was very nervous about it. But I'd always said if I was moving on, there were specific places I wanted to work," she says, noting that Hulu was among them because it retains a startup mentality, yet benefits from the corporate structure of parent company Disney.

Upon joining Hulu as the lead development and current programming executive, Parker oversaw live-action projects, including Only Murders in the Building and How I Met Your Father, as well as two Marvel animated series — M.O.D.O.K. and Hit-Monkey. She was promoted to vice-president of comedy originals in November 2021 and then to vice-president of animation in July 2022.

In her current role, Parker says she remains devoted to hard, comedic storytelling, but the right animated dramedy could pique her interest. "I think there's room to open the aperture a little bit ... and find new ways to tell stories that are still appealing to our audiences."

She believes Standing By — a production of 20th Television Animation — will move the needle in terms of both storytelling and representation. Written and executive-produced by Schitt's Creek cocreator and star Dan Levy and Ally Pankiw (Schitt's Creek, Feel Good), the show focuses on a group of guardian angels who are stuck in purgatory and have to oversee the lives of four different people before they can move on.

The guardian angel Levy voices is gay but didn't come out until right before he passed away, so now he's dealing with his identity, Parker reveals. "I like the way we approach this, telling these stories from an authentic perspective and not like we're preaching," she says, describing the show's tone as The Good Place meets The Office. (Danielle Uhlarik, known for Solar Opposites, will be showrunner and an executive producer.)

Another series on the slate, Koala Man, which premiered in January 2022, was in the works before Parker assumed her current position. Set in Australia, the show follows the exploits of a goofy but good-hearted suburban dad who moonlights as a superhero known as Koala Man. "It's just a fun swing," Parker says of the show.

Creator Michael Cusack appreciates Parker's support of Koala Man and her ability to give insightful notes. "She has a real drive for creativity," he says, "and an ability to visualize and believe in ideas that may seem strange on paper."

Parker has also been focused on Hulu's upcoming Futurama reboot. Creators Matt Groening and David X. Cohen are back as showrunners of the cult series about a pizza delivery boy who is cryogenically frozen by accident in the year 1999 (when the show debuted) and wakes up in the year 3000. "People should be excited because it's a fun evolution to the series. It's a show that's been rebooted so many times," Parker says of the series, which bounced from Fox to Comedy Central over the years before landing at Hulu. "But somehow it still works and still feels like it's a show that we need."

A champion of creative people, Parker puts a lot of thought into how she gives notes on any project. In fact, any time she writes a note, "I always read it back to myself out loud to be like, 'How would I take this?'" she says. "Maybe it's my Midwestern roots ... but I have such a low tolerance for Hollywood bullshit. We're not curing cancer. We have a responsibility to tell interesting stories and help move the needle within the zeitgeist. But at the end of the day, we're all people. So just treat each other well. That's what's most important to me."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine animation special, under the title, "Animation Maven."

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