Known as "The LeBrons," the four characters represented different aspects of James' persona and carried the names "Kid," "Wise," "Business" and "Athlete." After appearing in the well-received Nike campaign several years back -- which wasn't animated -- the foursome had been on the shelf. James and Carter were interested in resuscitating them.
After forming a partnership with James' production company Spring Hill Productions, Believe Entertainment became a lead financer of an animated Web series called "The Lebrons." The 10-episode series is expected to launch by the end of March. That means it will likely run through the NBA playoffs as James tries to lead the Miami Heat to an NBA title.
Similar to "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids," each episode aims to impart a lesson about a social issue, such as the importance of family, respecting parents, achieving in school, etc. Like Bill Cosby did with "Fat Albert" episodes, LeBron James will be doing a live-action introduction for each. James is also providing the voice for "Business" LeBron.
The series has signed HP and Intel as title sponsors, and each will have brand integration and be able to use the characters in some promotional material.
Episodes will be distributed via a YouTube channel, James' Facebook and Twitter outlets and LeBronJames.com. Also, Digital Broadcasting Group will syndicate the video to other relevant sites. James will use his social-media base, reaching perhaps 6 million-plus, to promote the series.
Distributing the series via the Web (which makes it accessible on mobile devices) is a way for James to capitalize on an already captive audience, while avoiding gatekeepers that may decide whether a show makes it to TV. Celebrities and other talent are "starting to realize they have direct access to the audience and their fan base," Believe Entertainment cofounder Bill Masterson said.
"The LeBrons" episodes are planned to come out every seven to 10 days. Much of the Web-only content tends to be short, but "The LeBrons" will run a slightly longer 5 minutes-plus. The 10 episodes can be viewed in stand-alone fashion, although there will be a continuing story arc and episodes will be archived.
Believe Entertainment cofounder Dan Goodman said the series is not "just an exercise in developing an entertainment property for LeBron; it's not an ego trip. This is really something that he thought he could do something very positive with." Although the series with 16-year-old "Kid" LeBron as the central character "will have a little bit of an edge to it, it is family-friendly programming," Goodman said.
Integration in episodes could include "Business" LeBron using a variety of products from HP and Intel to conduct fast-paced deal-making. Also, HP computers with Intel processors might be in "Kid's" classroom, while he and friends might play games on laptops. Both HP and Intel were involved early in the creative process.
Nike will also be involved as characters wear its shoes and apparel. In the series, "Kid" has several tight friends, including a female Chinese exchange student. Sprite will also at least one integration and is expected to air pre-roll ads before the episodes.
Some of the money collected from the show will be used to purchase HP computers, which will be donated to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.