When Houston Texas-born Gabriel Garza was selected to be part of the Nickelodeon Group Writers’ Fellowship Program back in 2009, he did not imagine he would be co-creator and co-executive producer of a Nickelodean series making its debut in January 2015. “I was just hoping to get on a writing staff someday, “ he recalls. “This goes way beyond anything I expected.” As it turns out, Garza and writing partner Jonathan Butler have launched their own live-action comedy series, Bella and the Bulldogs, airing Saturdays (9pm) on Nick at Night.
The series focuses on Bella Dawson (Brec Bassinger), a Texas middle school cheerleader who segues into the position of starting quarterback on the school’s football team due to an injury to the school’s star athlete. “This is not farfetched,” affirms Garza. “We are witnessing a number of girls who have the ability to play with the boys and are being given the opportunity.”
Garza actually believes it is more improbable that he is co-creator of an actual primetime television series than it is that a girl would become a quarterback on a boy’s team. “The writers program was only a year long. There were no guarantees that anything would happen beyond that.” But Garza must have accomplished something positive during that year because he was given assignments to write episodes for two Nickelodean series—The Penguins of Madagascar (2011-2012) and Monsters vs. Aliens (2013-2014).
When Garza and Butler were in the writing program they weren’t writing partners. Each believed he was going to forge a career as a solo writer. Garza recalls, “Then, through the program, we realized we had so many common interests and worked so well together. We were like, ‘Oh, let’s try and pitch some things together.’ So, we sold the show but the first time that we actually sat down to write a script together was after we had sold this series, and we’re like, ‘Can we even work together?’”
The fledgling writing partners knew that the core of the show would be a girl entering a boy’s world and those two worlds colliding. They eventually agreed on sports. Garza recalls, “Well, I’m from Texas, and I naturally thought of football. You’re always looking for what’s going to be the most difficult for my protagonist. If a girl’s going to succeed in a sport, football’s the one you would pick just for dramatic value. There’s so much to overcome.”
Garza feels that being a Latino does give him a perspective that is different from his partner, an Anglo from Buffalo New York. He is confident that their differing backgrounds offers them that much more perspective as a writing team. He affirms, “I credit Nickelodean’s writing program for schooling me in how this can all work. The program really tries to find diverse voices. During the selection process, the covers of scripts are torn off. They don’t know age. They don’t know gender. They don’t know race. They don’t know anything but what is on the page. That’s where they want to hear your voice. I am just happy I have the opportunity to express mine.”
Along with Garza and Butler, Bella and the Bulldogs is executive produced by Jeff Bushell. Series regulars include Brec Bassinger, Coy Stewart, Buddy Handleson, Lilimar, Jackie Radinsky and Haley Tju.