EXCLUSIVE: An animated series based on Robert C. O’Brien’s Rats of NIMH book series is in the works at Fox as the broadcast network further bolsters its animation drive.

Deadline understands that the network has handed a script commitment to NIMH, which comes from Fox Entertainment and MGM’s Orion Television. The animated drama, which is searching for a writer, is based on the trilogy of books that began in 1971 with O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. It was followed by Rasco and the Rats of NIMH and R-T, Margaret and the Rays of NIMH, both written by O’Brien’s daughter Jane Leslie Conly.

The series follows Mrs. Frisby, a mouse, who in an effort to save her family goes on a spectacular journey through an unfamiliar and underground world to discover a colony of escaped super-intelligent lab rats who help her on a thrilling adventure to relocate her home before the plows and exterminators arrive.

The project is based on the books, rather than The Secrets of NIMH animated movie directed by Don Bluth that came out in 1982. It is the latest attempt to reboot the story, with the likes of Neil Burger, Michael Berg and the Russo Brothers previously attached to turn it into a feature film.

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Fox Entertainment president Michael Thorn told Deadline that Fox would develop the project as an event series.

The development comes as Fox heads into the second phase of its animation strategy. Two of the key planks of this plan is ownership and expanding its animated slate to include more adult fare.

Ancient Greece mythology comedy Krapopolis, which comes from Dan Harmon and stars the voices of Hannah Waddingham, Richard Ayoade and Matt Berry among others, fits the former as Fox’s first fully owned animated series. It is set to air in 2022.

“We’re really ramping up our own content, making deals with creators to own our own animation,” said Thorn. “There are exceptions, where we’re working with other partners to help grow our slate, doing [The Flinstones project] Bedrock with Warner Bros and Clue with eOne, but ownership is definitely a key part of it.”

Fox is also looking for a broader swathe of animated series such as mysteries, romantic comedies, adventure series and workplace comedies. “We love our family shows, they’re iconic, but we’re looking to go beyond family and start to explore things that are more dramatic,” Thorn added.

It has been ramping up development with projects such as Shell Beach from Tyler, The Creator, Lionel Boyce and Davon “Jasper” Wilson; Prince Wawa, from comedians Tim Baltz and Lily Sullivan; rideshare comedy Cocky from the creators of The Knick; hybrid animated-single-cam project Demi-God from Katie Greenway; a semi-autobiographical animated comedy from Superior Donuts star Jermaine Fowler; and Ocean Village from Daniel Cardenas Katz.

Thorn revealed that Fox is about to see a handful of presentations representing its current crop of development in the next couple of weeks and expects to hand out at least one, if not two, greenlights.

The exec added that it expects to keep the likes of The Simpsons, which was handed a two-season renewal in March, taking it up to its 34th season, Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers, which similarly got two-season renewals last fall, for some time and said these shows were still operating at the “top of their game.”

These shows form part of its expanded Animation Domination block, which now airs on Sundays and Mondays, along with Duncanville, which premiered in February 2020 and has been renewed for a third season; The Great North, which is launching its second season later this month; and Housebroken, which was also renewed for a second season. Bless the Harts was canceled after two seasons.

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