Monday, August 25, 2014

Nickelodeon Gets Smart With Their New Preschool Lineup

In the highly competitive preschool space, where global demand for cross-platform content that both entertains and educates continues to grow, kidcasters are increasingly looking to develop quality new concepts that best reflect the changing needs of today's early learners and their parents.

In a series of special article, below, Kidscreen and The New York Times takes a look at Nickelodeon's legacy of delivering high-quality preschool shows driven by engaging characters, stories and interactivity, such as "Blue's Clues" and "Dora the Explorer", and a look at Nickelodeon's preschool programming highlights for the networks 2014-2015 season, including "Dora and Friends: Into the City!", "Blaze and the Monster Machines", "Shimmer & Shine" and "Fresh Beat Band of Spies", plus brand-new episodes from current preschool series such as "PAW Patrol", "Bubble Guppies", "Dora the Explorer", "Peter Rabbit" and "Team Umizoomi"! The articles also talk about why Nickelodeon Preschool decided to delay the release of their highly anticipated Nick Jr. App until Fall 2014.

Nick gets smart with its new preschool lineup

In the highly competitive preschool space, where global demand for cross-platform content that entertains and educates continues to grow, kidcasters are increasingly looking at new concepts that best reflect the changing needs of today's early learners and their parents.

For Nickelodeon, which has maintained a legacy of delivering high-quality preschool shows (Blue's Clues, Dora the Explorer) driven by engaging characters, stories and interactivity, its 2014/15 season is notably significant.

It marks Nick's biggest ever in terms new content production across multiple platforms, demos and genres. And the kidsnet is zeroing in on its youngest viewers with particular vigor. Stateside, more than 100 episode premieres are lined up for the channel's preschool block, from a bevy of brand-new animated series including Wallykazam!, Dora spin-off Dora and Friends: Into the City!, Blaze and the Monster Machines, Shimmer & Shine and Fresh Beat Band of Spies. (Also on-deck are a whack of new eps from current preschool series such as PAW Patrol, Bubble Guppies, Dora the Explorer, Peter Rabbit and Team Umizoomi.)

"Two years ago we made a decision to increase our pipeline by developing and producing more content than ever before, and now we are seeing the fruits of our labor," says Teri Weiss, EVP of production and development for Nickelodeon Preschool. "With every market, there is more content and stronger worldwide competition than ever, especially in the preschool space. So it's crucial that we cut through the clutter and remain best-in-show for kids content."

Playful learning

A big reason for Nickelodeon's success with preschoolers is its ongoing commitment to research and curriculum diversification. Among its new shows, Wallykazam! is Nick's first literacy-themed series. Blaze and the Monster Machines is billed as the first preschool show dedicated to all aspects of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Dora and Friends: Into the City!, meanwhile, examines social-emotional skills like community service and peer relationships. Shimmer & Shine stresses learning from mistakes in its emotional-intelligence curriculum, while Fresh Beat Band of Spies teaches problem-solving.

"What we bring is the strength of our characters and storytelling, combined with a really unique way to approach the curriculum of each show, and integrate it in a way that feels very organic. This is our domestic and global challenge," says Weiss.

She points to Wallykazam! and Blaze and the Monster Machines as great examples of how Nick is integrating curriculum in new ways. For both series, in fact, Nickelodeon took its usual storybook episode-testing and curriculum consultations a step further.

"In addition to educational consultants, we started to integrate preschool and kindergarten teachers into our collective group for feedback, which was tremendously helpful. They could really identify what kids are struggling with and the things they are interested in/responding to," says Weiss.

To ensure STEM concepts in Blaze would resonate with its youngest audience, for example, Weiss says Nick paid special attention to visual and musical cues. "When you talk about force, adhesion and inertia, they can be very heady concepts. But because we have the ability to demonstrate them visually by showing vehicle impact, or the way car suspension works, it helps get the difficult concepts across more easily," she says. The use of catchy songs is also a good method to help kids define scientific terms, she adds. "If kids can recite the songs in their heads, the science will stick. Repeat viewing is really important, too."

Building momentum

So far, Nick's 2014/15 programming strategy for preschool is paying off. As of April, its preschool block's year-to-date average sat at 4.9 for kids ages two to five on US television—an 11% increase versus the same period a year ago, according to Nielsen ratings.

PAW Patrol and Wallykazam! also filled the number- one and two spots, respectfully, as the top-rated preschool shows for kids ages two to five on all US cable TV for the same period.

As new shows continue to roll out (Dora and Friends in late summer, Blaze this fall, Shimmer & Shine and Fresh Beat Band of Spies in 2015), Weiss says the future is bright for Nick's preschool production, noting the importance of cultivating talent internally and identifying new talent outside the network through its Nick Jr. animated shorts program.

"Our success rate for developing preschool series out of our shorts program has been terrific, and we'll soon be able to showcase shorts on the Nick Jr. App, giving us another great opportunity to expose talent," says Weiss.

The Nick Jr. App, originally slated to launch in the US this spring, is now expected to debut this fall, according to Nickelodeon's SVP of digital Matthew Evans. "It gives us a better opportunity to launch with our upcoming new shows like Dora and Friends," he says. "And it gives us extra time to ensure we will have double the amount of interactive activities and more original content. It will ultimately be a stronger experience for our audience and better reinforce our focus on curriculum."
Also, from
Television That Is More Than Child's Play

TV Networks Aim to Develop Quality Shows for Preschoolers

Talking trucks. Dinosaur trucks. Builders who use elaborate trucks. Then there are space adventurers, animal and alien, as well as genies and fairies. Television networks and their online streaming equivalents are awash in new characters intended to appeal to preschoolers.

In recent years, adult television viewers have reveled in an overflow of quality programs that critics have called a new golden age. So why shouldn't preschoolers be equally spoiled?

At a family-focused charity benefit on a sultry June day in Central Park, kids lined up to strap into the "Astroblast! Zero Gravity Bungee Jump" hovering high overhead. The lengthy wait was encouraging to executives at Sprout, a cable channel for preschoolers that this summer is taking this ride and other attractions on a seven-city tour to raise awareness for its newest show, "Astroblast!" That animated series chronicling the adventures of the smoothie-drinking animal crew of a space station is based on Bob Kolar's books and will debut next Saturday.


Sprout is just one of several channels and online outlets going to great lengths to court 2-to-5-year-olds. PBS in September will double up on "Sesame Street," adding a half-hour version to its afternoon lineup, in addition to the traditional morning hour — all part of an effort to appeal to the younger set. Disney Jr. is prepping a cartoon spinoff of "The Lion King," one of its parent company's major franchises. Within the next year, its rival Nickelodeon will push out five new preschool series, many pegged to an educational curriculum, starting Aug. 18 with "Dora and Friends: Into the City!," a spinoff of its still-going-strong "Dora the Explorer."

Online, Hulu in April started rolling out 52 episodes of "Doozers," its first Hulu Kids original, based on the construction worker characters from the 1980s series "Fraggle Rock." Amazon's new shows include "Creative Galaxy" and "Wishenpoof!" from Angela Santomero's Out of the Blue Enterprises; her past hits include Nickelodeon's "Blue's Clues." Among the original preschool shows that DreamWorks Animation is making for Netflix are a remake of the religious theme "Veggie Tales" for this fall and "Dinotrux" for next spring.

Media companies are focused on preschoolers because there are currently so many of them: nearly 16 million in the United States, said Cyma Zarghami, president of the Nickelodeon Group. Her channel expects that figure to grow in the coming years. Get them early, the thinking is, and these viewers can be hooked for decades, shepherded through a media company's offerings, whether ad-dependent or subscription-driven, as the youngsters grow up. "As the generation turns over at this particular point in time, they're more important to us than ever before," Ms. Zarghami said.

Just as grown-ups now expect hundreds of cable channels along with YouTube and streaming services to serve up an endless supply of video discoveries, so, too, do preschoolers, who increasingly are joined in their viewing by parents. (The number of adults 18-49 watching Nick with their preschoolers has risen 18 percent in two years, according to the channel.) "There's a premium put on new," Ms. Zarghami said.

At least some of the frenzied competition also reflects the entry of deep-pocketed players. NBCUniversal bought full control of Sprout in November, and in May the Sprout chicken character Chica walked the red carpet along with the Kardashians and the "Sharknado" cast at an event for advertisers. This fall, Sprout's live morning show will move from Philadelphia to a studio in NBCUniversal's 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where Sprout executives hope celebrity guests will stop by when in the building for "Today." The company's Universal Studios Hollywood theme park will help with Sprout's marketing, and its sister channel Syfy will run 90 minutes of "Astroblast!" the morning after the premiere.

When Scholastic Media pitched "Astroblast!," said Sandy Wax, Sprout's president, the channel was drawn to the graphic style and the concept of a group of friends in space. The show, she said, also has humor that will appeal to parents and older siblings, and with all sorts of aliens stopping by the space station, "an embedded diversity message."

"There were not really that many space shows," she added. Both Amazon and American Public Television have since introduced space-theme preschool programs.

Next year, Sprout, which broadcast reruns of "Caillou" and "Bob the Builder," among others, when it started in 2005, will introduce a new original show every quarter. Two others feature aliens.


The proliferation of outlets has been good for program producers. Sprout picked up "Astroblast!," which now promotes social and emotional themes, after PBS passed on its original incarnation as a show with a math curriculum. The Jim Henson Company, which is co-producing "Doozers" for Hulu and also produces PBS's "Dinosaur Train" and "Sid the Science Kid," is developing shows for Amazon and others. "We have a very supportive, mutually friendly relationship with PBS Kids, but they only launch one or two series a year, and their real estate is quite rare and hard to get," said Lisa Henson, the company's chief executive.

The barriers to getting a show in front of the audience "are pretty much dissolving in front of us," said Ann Daly, chief operating officer at DreamWorks Animation.

Creators with a good idea have more of a shot, too. Nickelodeon's coming "Shimmer and Shine" is from a first-time creator. "The number of people who make preschool programming is not unlimited," said Linda Simensky, vice president of children's programming for PBS, who has been seeking out authors to convince them to try their hand at a preschool show. Competition, she said, "has made everyone hungry for new voices."

The online services, in particular, are providing "more opportunity for a more diverse slate of programming to be available," said Deborah Forte, who is president of Scholastic Media, which produces "Clifford the Big Red Dog," and executive producer of "Astroblast!" She added that until recently preschool television had been stuck in something of a rut, with each outlet locked in to specific brand parameters. "They really are open to new and inventive things," she said.

Photo: Characters from "Dora and Friends: Into the City!" Credit Nickelodeon/Viacom International, Inc.


But the glut of new shows has made getting attention more challenging. Scholastic will use its book fairs to promote "Astroblast!" Henson is in the early stages of a project to make "Doozers" the subject of a traveling children's museum show. And Nickelodeon, which will debut a Nick Jr. app in the fall, is taking the unusual step of starting the "Dora" spinoff, featuring an older version of the Hispanic title character even as the original show remains on the air.

"Dora" still has what Ms. Zarghami called a "magical" relationship with viewers, so Nickelodeon decided it did not make sense to "recreate a second heroine when we already had one."

The new Dora has grown to the age of 10 and with her friends works to give back to her community. Despite 14 years of success with the original Dora, nothing is being left to chance. At a March testing session at a Chelsea preschool, three groups of progressively older children gathered in lines on the floor to watch Alyssa Mazzei, a research assistant, read aloud a flip-page storyboard of an episode in which the group saves a golden parrot and the hidden city of El Dorado.

Two researchers and a camera monitored the kids' faces. After each episode, the kids answered questions to determine if they had followed the plot, learned the Spanish, absorbed the empathy lessons, seen anything that made them sad and thought the parrot was funny. A subsequent test of an animated black-and-white storyboard would check at what point the young viewers' eyes wandered.

Chris Gifford, co-creator of both "Dora" shows, sat in the back taking detailed notes, miming story actions along with the kids and laughing silently as Ms. Mazzei squawked like a parrot.

But when it came to cutting dialogue that the kids didn't understand, he was ruthless, reworking the episode on the fly. "We write these lines, and we laugh and laugh," he said. But ultimately, he said, it would be the children who would determine what made the cut.

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Nickelodeon Star Paola Andino Talks About "Every Witch Way" Season Three

To celebrate Nickelodeon commissioning a brand-new third season of the networks hit fantasy television series "Every Witch Way", Just Jared Jr. recently unveiled a exclusive interview with Nickelodeon Star Paola Andino, who plays Emma Alonso in Nick's EWW!

As part of the interview, which you can read below, Paola talks about how her character has evolved during the shows first two seasons, what she hopes to see happen to Emma in season 3, what its like working with her "Every Witch Way" co-stars, her recent Imagen Award nomination, her personnel style, the actors Latina roots, the differences and similarities between herself and Emma, her future plans, and her role models!:

JJJ caught up with actress Paola Andino, who plays Emma on the show ["Every Witch Way"], to get the scoop on her character, what's coming in season three and more.


JJJ: Tell us how Emma has changed since season 1, where do you think the final episode of season 2 left her character?
Paola Andino: Emma has evolved and matured so much since season 1, not just as a witch but as a teenage girl. She is a lot more responsible with her powers and less naive. She showed everyone this season that she's not afraid to stand up for herself. That made me really happy because it was something I could relate to and I hope the audience could, as well. The final episode of season 2 left her stronger than ever. After the epic battle with her evil clone, she proved that she really will do anything to protect her loved ones, like Daniel and Andi.

JJJ: What would you love to see happen with Emma in season 3?
PA: After all of the relationship drama in the first and second season, I would love to see a more independent Emma that focuses her time on the amazing powers she has. Girl power as a teen and witch! I also think it would be so cool if she could get a puppy. How adorable would that be?


JJJ: Tell us about working with your co-stars?
PA: After working with the same people for 2 seasons, my co-stars are definitely my second family. We spend so much time together and are so comfortable around each other. I think that's the best thing about working with them. We can all be ourselves.

JJJ: Congrats on your Imagen Award nomination! What did it mean to you?
PA: Thank you so much! It meant so much to me to be nominated for an Imagen Award; a huge honor. It was all about recognizing that I'm Puerto Rican, Latina, and so proud. The night of the awards was an incredible experience and it was great to spend quality time with other Latino/as that are working hard and successful in this industry.

JJJ: You looked amazing at the awards, tell us about your personal style?
PA: Sometimes I just like to be a casual, jeans and t-shirt kinda girl but a few of my favorite designers include Rebecca Taylor, Rag and Bone, Alice & Olivia, Elizabeth and James, Parker, Top Shop, and BCBG!

JJJ: We hear that you speak fluent Spanish! How old were you when you left Puerto Rico? Tell us about what your Latina roots mean to you.
PA: I was almost 3 years old when I left Puerto Rico and moved to Dallas, TX. When it comes to my roots, I am constantly sharing the fact that I'm Latina. There aren't very many Latinas in this industry. I think it makes me different than other girls, almost like a little flare that hopefully makes me stand out. I want my name to be remembered and it would mean the world to me to have young Latina girls believe that they can succeed in whatever their hearts' desire because I know exactly what that feels like.

JJJ: What are the differences and similarities between Emma and Paola?
PA: Emma and I have a lot in common. She's honest, innocent, and always wants to fix problems when they come up, like me. The main difference between Emma and I is the way she handles all of the power she has. She's the Chosen One which means she's the most powerful witch in her generation but she lets people distract her sometimes. I wouldn't have time for boys or mean girls if I were a witch. My face would be glued to the Hexoren, the book of spells, and I'd always be practicing.

JJJ: Where do you see yourself in five years?
PA: In five years, I see myself consistently working and staying busy as an actress. I want to be known for my versatility and taking on unexpected roles. Making the transition from TV to film eventually would be great! I'm open to any genre but dramatic films have always been my passion, so it would be awesome to start doing those and show people a completely different side to me they've never seen before. I always love a good challenge in a role.

JJJ: Who are your role models?
PA: My role model is definitely my mom. She's the strongest, most beautiful woman inside and out that I know. I could go on forever listing the reasons why I love her. She's that one person I can count on to always be there for me. As far as actresses go, I really look up to Natalie Portman. She's had such a long, diverse career, and continues to surprise audiences with her project choices

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Saban Unveils Cast Of "Power Rangers Dino Charge" At Power Morphicon 4

The Anime News Network (ANN) is reporting the exciting "Power Rangers" news that Saban Brands revealed the cast who will be starring and the characters they'll be playing in the upcoming 22nd season of Saban's popular "Power Rangers" franchise, "Power Rangers Dino Charge", which Nickelodeon USA will start to premiere and show from early 2015! Saban Brands unveiled the cast of PRDC at their super-charged panel at Power Morphicon 4 on Saturday 23rd August 2014!

(Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Saban Brands; Via Saban's official "Power Rangers" Facebook profile page)

In "Power Rangers Dino Charge":

Brennan Mejia will play Lucas / Red Dino Charge Ranger;

Yoshua Sudarso will portray Koda / Blue Dino Charge Ranger;

Camille Hyde will play Shelby / Pink Dino Charge Ranger (2015);

Michael Taber will portray Ryan / Green Dino Charge Ranger;

James Davies as Chase / Black Dino Charge Ranger.

On pre-historic planet Earth, an alien secretly entrusted the powerful Paragon Prisms to 12 majestic dinosaurs for protection, but when asteroids hit and the dinosaurs went extinct, the prisms were lost. In "Power Rangers Dino Charge", set in present day, an intergalactic bounty hunter has arrived and starts sniffing around Earth, determined to locate the prisms, harness their power, and annihilate the world. To face this threat, a new team of heroic Power Rangers must join together, find all of the lost prisms, and use their prehistoric energy to charge up an arsenal of dino-powered swords, blasters, zords and Megazords in order to save the world! "Power Rangers Dino Charge" will adapt Toei's Jūden Sentai Kyōryūger special-effects television series.

"Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" actor Austin St. John, who played Jason Lee Scott, the original Red Ranger and first leader of the Power Rangers, also announced at the Original Rangers panel at the Power Morphicon 4 that he is currently in talks with Saban to return for the upcoming "Power Rangers: Dino Charge" TV series. However, he did not say in what capacity he would appear in the series.

Additionally, to celebrate Nick USA starting to debut more all-new episodes of Saban's "Power Rangers Super Megaforce" from Saturday 30th August 2014 at 12:00pm (ET/PT), Nickelodeon USA has digitally premiered the first new episode, "The Power of Six", online a week early on the networks official website, which fans in North America can watch in full here on!

During this brand-new episode, when his Ranger teammates are sidelined by an energy-sucking monster, Jake must put aside his jealousy of Orion and help him use the combined power of the past Sixth Rangers to defeat this terrible foe.

Plus, Lionsgate will debut the new "Power Rangers" live-action movie in theaters on Friday 22nd July 2016. Writers Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz are penning the script. The two writers previously wrote the "X-Men: First Class" and "Thor" films. "Star Trek" and "Transformers" writer Roberto Orci is also signing on as executive producer.

(Additional sources: IMDb, Den of Geek)
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