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'Stella and Sam,' Canadian children's animated series, up for Daytime Emmy

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TORONTO - When Toronto-based TV producer Michelle Melanson Cuperus got married in a champagne-coloured gown 14 years ago, she was already making future plans for the dress.

"I remember thinking, 'This could be my Emmy dress one day,'" she said in a telephone interview.

Her Emmy moment has finally arrived, but after seriously considering remaking the gown, she's decided not to wear it after all.

Instead, Melanson Cuperus got a new dress for Friday's Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards Gala in Los Angeles, where the Canadian children's animated series "Stella and Sam" she co-produces will be vying for a trophy in the category of Outstanding Special Class – Short Format Daytime Program.

"Going to Los Angeles and having the opportunity to be on a red carpet, it's pretty special," said Melanson Cuperus, who hails from Caledon, Ont., and works with Radical Sheep Productions.

"I'm taking my mom. I'm a small-town girl and this was a big dream of mine for a long time."

Launched in January 2011, "Stella and Sam" is based on Montreal author and illustrator Marie-Louise Gay's beloved children's books about the adventures of a spirited nine-year-old redhead and her more cautious four-year-old blond brother.

On this side of the border, it airs on Disney Junior Canada and Disney Junior Tele (in Quebec). In the U.S., where it launched in November, it airs on NBCUniversal's Sprout channel.

The pre-school series has already earned trophies from the Canadian Screen Awards as well as a Juno for best children's album and a Grand Prize from the Children's Media Alliance.

But this is its first Emmy nomination and it has Melanson Cuperus and producing partner John Leitch feeling "massive excitement," she said.

"It's a tough audience. There's a lot of shows and we're a small, little Canadian — actually fully Ontario — show, so to be in that company was pretty exciting to us."

That company in their Emmy category is diverse: there's the web series "mI promise," the Disney Channel miniseries "Make Your Mark," Disney Channel's "Friends For Change" series of public service announcements, and the Cartoon Network's animated short "Deadman."

"I have no idea what's going to happen, but ... I know when people see our show, they always love it and I'm really proud of that," said Melanson Cuperus. "We have a great amount of parents that follow us on Facebook and everything and they've all been really supportive.

"It is kind of this little show that could kind of thing."

The Governor General's Award-winning Gay has been a creative consultant on the show since the beginning and "is very instrumental in how the show looks," said Melanson Cuperus.

The animation process that's done in Ottawa involves digitizing her art, which is a mix of pencil, watercolour and collage on Japanese paper.

"It's absolutely beautiful and it's a very gentle series," said Melanson Cuperus, who's worked in children's TV for over 20 years, starting with "Shining Time Station" with George Carlin.

"I think that that's why parents appreciate it so much, and it has such a strong female lead that's sort of guiding this little guy through life. We get a lot of parents that love it because the sibling relationship is such a beautiful one."

The fact the main characters are voiced by children and not adults (in a Toronto studio) is also part of the appeal, she added.

"I think that that's one of the most special things about it, is the purity of the voices and they're so real and so genuine."

Melanson Cuperus said she thinks the show was also noticed by the Daytime Emmys because it's a simple, traditional alternative to the flashy children's shows out there.

"I think the biggest thing about it too is, we're all trying to get our kids to go outside and play and that's really the essence of the show, is go outside, play and be imaginative. I think also for co-viewing for parents, it brings us back to what we when we were kids, and trying to share that with our children I think is important."

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