On a roll: PAW Patrol's surprising Newfoundland connection

Most of the province's parents with at least one young child are familiar with PAW Patrol, the inescapable children's show where a tween and a squad of talking dogs regularly save their town from disaster and the mayor has a purse chicken. 

But what they may not know is that the hit show, which was just awarded three Canadian Screen Awards, has a strong Newfoundland connection thanks to Jennifer Dodge, who is the executive vice-president at Spin Master Entertainment, the Toronto-based company that produces PAW Patrol.

Dodge's time with the show goes back to 2009, when she joined Spin Master and helped launch its entertainment group.

"We were looking for an exciting action-adventure type of series for preschoolers," Dodge said of the birth of PAW Patrol, which she worked on with a team at Spin Master and show creator Keith Chapman, who also developed Bob the Builder.

Started from the bottom, now she's here

Dodge was an executive producer on the show for its first three seasons, which is a long way up from her start in the entertainment industry.

She was writing her final exams at Memorial University, where she studied linguistics, when a fellow Newfoundlander working in craft services in Toronto called her up and convinced her to give the industry a try after graduation, Dodge told the St. John's Morning Show on Friday from Toronto.

A three-week stint answering phones for a company now called DHX Media — a Halifax-based company that purchased Charlie Brown and Strawberry Shortcake for $345 million US in 2017 — eventually led to a position as the head of development and production, Dodge said.

A MUN linguistics degree may not seem the most obvious starting point to a career as a children's television executive, but that ability to work one's way up through the ranks is one of the great things about the entertainment industry, she said.

"Really that's the only way to do it. Nobody graduates from any degree and then ends up being an executive producer the next week. We all start at the bottom." 

Canada is at the top of children's entertainment worldwide

PAW Patrol and Spin Master Entertainment are part of a vital industry in children's entertainment that is recognized across the globe, Dodge said.

"Worldwide, Canada is really known as one of the premier producers, creators, and distributors in children's entertainment, especially in animation, and we have a long legacy of that," she said. "When we go to international markets, Canadian producers are known by the broadcasters worldwide and in the U.S."

Some of that work was rewarded this week at the Canadian Screen Awards, where PAW Patrol won for best preschool program or series; best sound, animation; and best direction, animation.

The awards were announced at the non-broadcast Gala Honouring Excellence in Creative Fiction Storytelling in Toronto on March 7.

PAW Patrol also leads the field in another increasingly important part of the children's entertainment industry: toy sales. 

PAW Patrol had one of the Top 10 bestselling toys in the United States in January, according to the NPD Group, and this month Spin Master purchased American toy maker Gund for $79.1 million US.

"It's a very big business," Dodge said of toys based on children's entertainment. "PAW Patrol is no exception. In fact, it's the biggest business that we do right now."

And parents with PAW-obsessed preschoolers can expect to see the show's toys on holiday wish lists for years to come. The show's fifth season is currently airing on Nickelodeon, and seasons six and seven, along with two specials and a feature film, are also in the works.

The Canadian Screen Awards Broadcast Gala airs on CBC Television on March 11 at 9:30 pm NT.