Monday, November 18, 2019

Nickelodeon Embarks on New Direction with its Biggest, Most Wide-Ranging Content Slate Ever | Nick Upfront 2019

Originally published: Thursday, February 14, 2019 at 4:22pm GMT.

Original Nickelodeon USA Press Release | Share the news:



Nick’s Iconic All That Sketch-Comedy Series to Return with New Cast of Kids
Alongside Original Cast Members; Kenan Thompson Set to Executive Produce

School’s Back in Session with Reimagined Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader
from MGM Television, Hosted and Executive Produced by John Cena

Brand-New Unboxing Adventure Series, Ryan’s Mystery Playdate,
Stars YouTube Sensation Ryan of Ryan ToysReview

America’s Most Musical Family (Working Title) Seeks to Crown
Best Family Act Through Nationwide Search and Competition

Multigenerational Animated Comedy Series The Casagrandes Bows This Fall

Simon Fuller and OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder to Produce Music-Based Series
Featuring New, Original Songs in Every Episode

Nick Developing Spin-Off Projects for SpongeBob SquarePants’ Characters for First Time Ever

New Shows Also Include Two New Titles Produced by The Intellectual Property Corporation, and the Acquisition of Paddington (Working Title) and LEGO® CITY

BURBANK, Calif.–Feb. 14, 2019–Nickelodeon is unveiling a new content slate created for today’s kids who are multicultural, family-focused, and in control of their entertainment choices across platforms. With a foundation of supercharging its globally powerful original franchises like SpongeBob SquarePants, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and PAW Patrol, and welcoming new, acquired properties into its ecosystem, Nickelodeon’s new slate represents a renewing of its commitment to serve all kids, through a multicultural lens; bringing in talent kids love from other platforms and formats; and opening up its demo to capture kid and parent co-viewing, to satisfy this generation’s demand for shared family time.

The slate, announced today by Nickelodeon President Brian Robbins, was put into development in October at the beginning of Robbins’ tenure and will begin to debut on Nick’s platforms this summer.

“We have a laser focus on who kids are today, and what they want, so we are making a wider variety of shows and series for them, and we’re working with brand-new kinds of talent and producers,” said Robbins. “We have a new creative team in place and a renewed energy that we’re harnessing to bring the buzz back to Nick.”

Nick’s new direction was developed against the network’s defining research insights into today’s kids, who: are the most diverse generation ever, with the fastest growing segment being Hispanics; who cite shared experiences with their parents and family as their top priority; and who are in near-total control of their entertainment choices, enabled by any one of the 12 connected devices found in today’s average household.

Added Robbins: “Kids today are their own programmers, so we have been working very fast to transfer our expertise as television content makers to all the new places and platforms kids are going to,” said Robbins. “Our vision for a new Nickelodeon is to fill up every screen, of every size, to make an impact on as many consumers as we can and to be at the forefront of conversation for today’s kids and families.”

Highlights of the new slate include: the return of Nick’s iconic All That sketch-comedy series, showcasing a whole new set of kids alongside members of the original cast, with Kenan Thompson serving as an executive producer; a reimagined version of Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader, hosted by John Cena; an all-new unboxing adventure series starring Ryan of Ryan ToysReview, titled Ryan’s Mystery Playdate; America’s Most Musical Family (working title), a nationwide search and competition to crown the next big family musical act; The Casagrandes, the animated spinoff from The Loud House, featuring a multigenerational Mexican-American family; an untitled scripted music-based series set in a boarding school for the performing arts, produced by Simon Fuller and OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, and featuring original songs and performances in every episode; and ideas in development to spin off the characters from SpongeBob SquarePants into their own stand-alone series, specials and feature-length movies.

Robbins continued: “Everything we’re making will have different formats, for all platforms, so we can travel the audience back and forth from one to the other, while being home base for all the shows, the biggest franchises, the characters and talent they love.”

Details of Nickelodeon’s New Content Slate:

Today’s kids represent the most diverse generation ever. Joining Nick’s diverse programming slate is content to super-serve Hispanic viewers, including:

  • The Casagrandes – Premiering in October, this companion to the animated hit The Loud House follows 11-year-old Ronnie Anne after she moves to the city with her older brother Bobby and her mom, where they now live with their big, loving and chaotic multigenerational Mexican-American family, the Casagrandes.
  • Santiago of the Seas (formerly The Swashbuckling Adventures of Capitán Calavera) This interactive animated series follows the adventures of 8-year-old Santiago Montes, a brave and kind-hearted pirate, and features a Spanish-language and Latino-Caribbean culture curriculum.
  • The Dora the Explorer Theatrical Release Paramount Pictures, Paramount Players and Nickelodeon Movies present in association with Walden Media the Dora the Explorer live-action movie, opening in theatres this August. Having spent most of her life exploring the jungle with her parents, nothing could prepare Dora (Isabela Moner) for her most dangerous adventure ever–high school. Always the explorer, Dora quickly finds herself leading Boots (her best friend, a monkey), Diego (Jeffrey Wahlberg), a mysterious jungle inhabitant (Eugenio Derbez), and a ragtag group of teens on a live-action adventure to save her parents (Eva Longoria, Michael Peña) and solve the impossible mystery behind a lost Inca civilization.

Nickelodeon is working with talent kids love from other platforms, while also creating content featuring their favorite formats and genres.

  • Ryan’s Mystery Playdate Created and produced by, this brand-new live-action preschool series follows YouTube superstar Ryan, of Ryan ToysReview, his parents and animated friends Gus the Gummy Gator and Combo Panda as they work together to tackle a series of imaginative, physical challenges and unbox puzzles to reveal the identity of his mystery playdate.
  • Simon Fuller/Ryan Tedder-Produced Untitled Project – A scripted music series set in a boarding performing arts high school, with original music in every episode. A nationwide search will be conducted to cast the show. Simon Fuller is a legendary, multi-hyphenate creator, producer and manager behind iconic franchises such as the global Idol phenomenon and Spice Girls. Grammy Award-winning Ryan Tedder is the frontman of OneRepublic and writer behind countless hit songs from artists ranging from Beyoncé and Adele, to Camila Cabello, Ed Sheeran and Kelly Clarkson, among others.

Nick’s insights reveal that family time is the most important passion point for kids and parents today, with their top priority being to spend time together and look for opportunities through shared experiences. Today’s families state that watching TV together is their favorite activity, corresponding to the current 10-year high in co-viewing, where 44% of kids’ viewing is with an adult. To capture co-viewing opportunities, Nick is producing shows with built-in appeal to every family member, including:

  • Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader The iconic family game show will return with all-new episodes hosted by John Cena, who will also serve as an executive producer. Mark Burnett, Chairman of Worldwide Television, MGM (Survivor, The Voice) and Barry Poznick, President, Unscripted Television, MGM (Beat Shazam, The World's Best) will return as executive producers of the reboot, which places kids squarely in the center of the action. The series is slated to premiere this year.
  • The Substitute In this new hidden camera prank show, celebrities are transformed by a team of special effects artists to go undercover as substitute teachers to surprise a class of unsuspecting students. A $25,000 donation will be made to each school. The Substitute is produced by The Intellectual Property Corporation, and Eli Holzman and Aaron Saidman (Undercover Boss), with Mike Harney serving as showrunner.
  • America’s Most Musical Family (working title) This brand-new competition series, produced by The Intellectual Property Corporation, and Eli Holzman and Aaron Saidman (So You Think You Can Dance), follows the nationwide search for the most talented family in America.
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark? The beloved anthology series will return this October as a brand-new miniseries and follow new members of the Midnight Society as they gather around a campfire in the woods to share scary stories. The miniseries will coincide with the upcoming Are You Afraid of the Dark? theatrical movie from Paramount Pictures, Paramount Players’ and Nickelodeon Movies, in theaters October 2019.
  • All That Pop-culture phenomenon All That is returning for a new generation of kids. The new weekly sketch-comedy series will showcase an all-new cast of kids, with cast members through the years making special appearances during the season. Kenan Thompson (Saturday Night Live) and Kevin Kay (All That, SpongeBob SquarePants, Lip Sync Battle, Lip Sync Battle Shorties, Yellowstone) will executive produce, with comedian Jermaine Fowler (Super Donuts, Sorry to Bother You) serving as consulting producer on the series slated to premiere this summer.

Nickelodeon is home to some of the biggest franchises kids love, and the network is taking steps to increase these properties’ reach and grow their footprint, as well as welcome in new franchises, to ensure Nick is the top destination for everything kids want:

  • SpongeBob SquarePants – Nick is commemorating the 20th anniversary with the “Best Year Ever,” a tribute that includes an original one-hour special, “SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout,” premiering Friday, July 12. Additionally, plans are in place to expand the SpongeBob SquarePants universe with spinoffs focused on the core characters into formats such as new series, specials and feature-length movies. The anniversary will culminate with the May 22, 2020 release of the new SpongeBob theatrical, It’s A Wonderful Sponge, from Paramount Pictures, Paramount Players’ and Nickelodeon Movies.
  • Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Season two of the 2D-animated series will premiere this fall, and follow the Turtles as they continue to hone their ninja skills, uncover new, powerful weapons and encounter a world beneath the streets of New York City. The franchise is also being expanded with an original, feature-length animated movie being produced by Nickelodeon Studios for Netflix.
  • Blue’s Clues & You! – This remake of the groundbreaking, curriculum-driven interactive series Blue’s Clues brings back beloved puppy Blue for an all-new generation of preschoolers. Premiering in November, the series features all-new CG animation, updates to favorite characters and stars Broadway actor Joshua Dela Cruz as the new live-action host.
  • Paddington (working title) – Actor Ben Whishaw (Paddington 1 & 2) will reprise his role as the beloved voice of the title character in the new CG-animated series, which follows a younger Paddington and his adventures in London with the Brown family and their friends. Paddington is a Heyday Films and STUDIOCANAL production in association with Copyrights, helmed by Adam Shaw of Blue Zoo (Go Jetters, Digby Dragon, Miffy, Q Pootle 5), and developed for television and written by Jon Foster and James Lamont (The Amazing World of Gumball, Cuckoo, Paddington 1 & 2). The series will be produced by multi-award-winning David Heyman (producer of all eight Harry Potter films, Gravity, Paddington 1 & 2), Karen Davidsen (formerly with Disney and HIT Entertainment) and Simon Quinn (Isle of Dogs, Fantastic Mr. Fox). Paddington is executive produced by Rosie Alison (Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Paddington 1 & 2) and co-produced by Rob Silva.
  • LEGO® CITY – The all-new high-stakes CG-animated comedy, created and produced by LEGO Group, depicts the funny, smart, and dynamic slices of life within the sprawling and diverse LEGO CITY community. Set to debut this year, the series follows the intertwining paths of the city's everyday heroes as they work together to stop a mysterious master criminal who begins to wreak havoc on their town.

Nickelodeon, now in its 39th year, is the number-one entertainment brand for kids. It has built a diverse, global business by putting kids first in everything it does. The company includes television programming and production in the United States and around the world, plus consumer products, digital, recreation, books and feature films. Nickelodeon’s U.S. television network is seen in more than 90 million households and has been the number-one-rated kids’ basic cable network for 22 consecutive years. For more information or artwork, visit Nickelodeon and all related titles, characters and logos are trademarks of Viacom Inc. (NASDAQ: VIA, VIAB).

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Key Artwork:

Also, from Variety:

‘SpongeBob’ Spinoffs Planned as Nickelodeon Chief Brian Robbins Tries to Win Back Young Viewers

In an era when young TV viewers are increasingly abandoning the traditional TV screen, Brian Robbins wants to make it very difficult for kids to give up on Nickelodeon.

The veteran producer who was named Nickelodeon’s president in October hasn’t spent his first months in the role noodling over the formula for the network’s famous green slime. He’s been working to fill its programming pipeline with new shows, even as he and other executives realize Nickelodeon’s target audience is more likely to be watching video on YouTube and Netflix via smartphones as they are to watch the TV set in the family room.

Robbins’ goal — simple to state but hard to achieve — is to make hit shows that viewers will seek out on any screen.

“There are definitely headwinds, and for all of linear television. In many ways, the kids’ business has been more affected by it,’” Robbins told Variety, pointing to young viewers’ quick adoption of streaming and mobile devices in recent years. Still, he notes, “if you make content and shows that kids want to watch, they will show up for it.”

The Viacom-owned cabler is ready to take some big swings after a long ratings slump. Nickelodeon’s fortunes are central to the earnings of the parent company, which makes Robbins’ mission of rehabilitating the brand that much more urgent.

Among the new properties heading to Nickelodeon is the first-ever spin-offs of characters from its mainstay animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Nickelodeon has acquired the rights to develop series featuring Paddington, the popular British bear, and characters from the recent spate of Lego movies. There are some revivals of Nick favorites in the works as well – and new moves to make Nickelodeon content available on platforms that kids like to watch.

Robbins unveils his first Nickelodeon programming slate just as the TV industry is looking to the start of its annual “upfront” derby, when U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming season. Kid-focused networks have suffered in recent months: Nickelodeon — which still boasts a larger total audience than its primary linear competitors, WarnerMedia’s Cartoon Network and Disney Channel — saw its audience between 2 and 11 years of age decline 24% in the fourth quarter compared to the year-earlier period. Cartoon Network’s audience in that age range was down 37% in that time period, while Disney Channel’s was off 30%.

Robbins brings with him, however, a long history with Nickelodeon programming. He was a co-creator and producer of the channel’s popular sketch program, “All That” and its many spin offs, as well as series on other networks, such as the WB/CW dramas “Smallville” and “One Tree Hill. More recently, Robbins founded AwesomenessTV, the teen-focused content factory that was acquired by Viacom in 2017.

Millions of dollars are at stake for Nickelodeon as upfront season begins. Nickelodeon nabbed approximately $729 million in advertising revenue in 2018, according to Kagan, a market-research firm that is part of S&P Global Intelligence. The Nickelodeon empire, which also includes Nick Jr. and other cable networks is the largest division of parent company Viacom and thus its performance is highly scrutinized by investors.

“Brian Robbins is a terrific executive who, thanks to his work at Awesomeness, understands the psyche of his audience,” said Michael Nathanson, a media-industry analyst with the firm MoffettNathanson. “But his challenge on the linear side is quite large.”

Robbins realizes Nickelodeon must make changes that acknowledge the big changes in its audience’s viewing habits.

”The cable model was a rinse-and-repeat model. Today we live in a binge-viewing world. Give me a fresh show. Give me another fresh show. I want to watch it, eat it up and go on to the next show,” Robbins said. “What used to be OK was having one or two hits, then making a zillion episodes of them, and then repeating them. That was enough to satisfy the kid audience because they didn’t have choice. I think today we need to make a volume of quality franchises, but not necessarily feed a million episodes of those shows. We need to keep a constant number of new shows coming, and not necessarily make one show with 80 episodes.”

He plans to bring new talent to the network from some of the venues that have lured young viewers elsewhere. “Ryan’s Mystery Playdate,” for example, is a live-action series that follows Ryan, the kid star of the “Ryan ToysReview” on YouTube, along with his parents and some animated pals. The series features its players working through physical challenges as well as puzzles to reveal the mystery in the title. “Playdate” is slated to debut in the spring.

And he’s hoping to lure kids with some star power. WWE’s John Cena will host new episodes of game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader.” Producer Simon Fuller and OneRepublic singer Ryan Tedder will produce a scripted music series set in a boarding performing arts high school, with all-new music and performances in each episode. The Lego series, “Lego City,” is a CG-animated comedy that follows many characters as they seek to stop a master criminal. “Paddington,” featuring actor Ben Whishaw as the voice of the title bruin, follows the famous bear through adventures in London.

Some franchises are being readied for new venues. Nickelodeon already unveiled a deal to make movies featuring “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “The Loud House” characters for Netflix. A live-action “Dora The Explorer” movie is slated for release in August, with Isabela Moner in the title role and Benicio Del Toro as her nemesis, Swiper. “We know that linear television is the most important thing to us, but beyond that, the idea is to fill up every screen of every size,” said Robbins.

Robbins is eager to broaden Nickelodeon’s slate of shows that kids and parents watch together, to deliver the co-viewing demographic that is prized by some advertisers. One such entry is “The Substitute,” a hidden-camera prank show that has celebrities go undercover as substitute teachers; a $25,000 donation will be made to the school hosting each new episode. “America’s Most Musical Family” will mount a nationwide search for the most talented family in America. And Nickelodeon intends to revive “Are You Afraid of the Dark,” the anthology series that boasts scary stories, as a new miniseries that will coincide with a movie based on the show slated for Oct. 20.

Robbins also aims to bring more diversity to Nickelodeon’s air. “Santiago of the Seas” is an interactive series slated for 2020 that follows the adventures of a kind-hearted, 8-year-old pirate, and features a Spanish-language and Latino-Caribbean culture curriculum. “The Casagrandes” is a companion series to “The Loud House,” and focuses on a chaotic multi-generational family.

The decision to broaden “SpongeBob” may be Robbins’ most surprising move. The series has been a staple of Nickelodeon since 1999, which means it has multiple generations of fans to reach.

“That’s our Marvel Universe,” Robbins said. “You have this amazing show that’s run for almost twenty years.”

While he pledged that Nickelodeon will always make “SpongeBob,” Robbins sees ample room to explore other characters. Among the options on the table are to “tell an original story about SpongeBob and Patrick, or maybe tell a Sandy Cheeks stand-alone story, or can Plankton have his own?” Robbins mused. “I think the fans are clamoring for it.”


From Adweek:

Why Nickelodeon Did Away With Its Usual Upfront Kickoff Event This Year

Network opted for 'intimate' meetings where new chief Brian Robbins could share his vision

Last year's splashy upfront event featured celebs like John Cena, but Nickelodeon is opting for smaller meetings going forward. - Getty Images

One year ago today, Nickelodeon held its upfront presentation, which has long served as the unofficial kickoff to the annual upfront season. But this year, the network isn’t holding its usual big upfront event. Instead, it’s following in the footsteps of its Viacom sibling networks—and many others through the industry—and swapping spectacle for smaller agency meetings.

The changes come as Nickelodeon enters the upfront with a new leader for the first time in 13 years: Brian Robbins, who came on in October following the June exit of longtime Nickelodeon Group president Cyma Zarghami.

Instead of its traditional upfront event—last year’s presentation included appearances by John Cena, JoJo Siwa, Nick Cannon and the cast of the SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical—Robbins and Sean Moran, Viacom’s head of marketing and partner solutions, opted for a new approach this year.

Nickelodeon kicked off its upfront business at last month’s Toy Fair in New York, announcing its new programming slate at a presentation for toy clients. Over the next two weeks, it held two additional meetings in the Viacom building for agencies and holding companies, during which Robbins shared his new vision for the network and Moran made his upfront pitch. Robbins will then represent Nickelodeon alongside the other Viacom programming chiefs next month at the company’s upfront agency dinners, which Moran has been holding since 2017.

During those client and agency meetings, attendees “got a real sense for where we’re going, for the enormity of Brian’s vision and how we’re trying to make the complexity of reaching kids and family something that Nickelodeon can provide as a one-stop shop,” said Moran.

This year’s upfront changeup speaks to the team’s new mentality, “which is making sure that people see us as a solutions provider,” said Moran. “We’re making it more tailored and intimate to them so that we really think about their needs going forward.”

Viacom, which held five lavish upfront presentations as recently as 2016 for its various networks, scrapped most of those events two years ago in favor of smaller agency dinners. BET held an event in 2017 before it also made the switch, leaving Nickelodeon as the company’s last upfront event in 2018.

“At Nickelodeon, we can bring people to the most connected influencer, and that influencer is going to have the ability to connect clients online as well as on-air.” —Sean Moran, Viacom’s head of marketing and partner solutions

As Moran trimmed those presentations under his watch, he held onto the Nickelodeon event, in part because of the efforts to push the network’s brands and IP into other platforms, like Broadway. So last year’s Nickelodeon upfront was held at New York’s Palace Theatre, the home of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical. Had that opportunity not been available last year, “you would have seen me make this change a little sooner,” said Moran.

During last year’s upfront, Zarghami, then president of Nickelodeon Group, talked about the year’s theme of “reinvention.” She didn’t realize at the time how extensive that reinvention would be: three months later, Zarghami was out, exiting the company after three decades. In October, Nickelodeon tapped Robbins to replace her.

SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical, which Zarghami said was central to the company’s “reinvention” plans, is also no more, as it closed in September without recouping its $18 million cost.

So it’s no surprise that Nickelodeon wanted to turn the page for its first upfront under Robbins, who began his career as an actor before becoming a producer and director of several ’90s Nickelodeon shows and later founding AwesomenessTV.

“We really wanted that intimate setting where folks could get a true sense of Brian Robbins’ vision and who he was as a person. We didn’t think that could come across the same way in a big theatrical performance where he just does an intro or an outro,” said Moran.

Revivals and spinoffs

Nickelodeon declined to make Robbins available to discuss his new vision and his upfront message to advertisers, but in those meetings last month, he pushed the network’s new content slate. This includes a revival of sketch comedy series All That, which was co-created by Robbins back in 1994 and ran for 10 seasons, to be executive produced by Kenan Thompson, who starred in the original.

The network is also rebooting the game show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, which originally ran on Fox and will now be hosted and executive produced by John Cena. Its Blue’s Clues revival, which was announced at last year’s upfront and is called Blue’s Clues & You!, will premiere in November.

Other new shows include a music competition series to find America’s most musical family, a Lego City animated series and a Paddington animated series with Ben Whishaw voicing the titular bear, as he did in the two recent live-action Paddington movies.

Also, as SpongeBob SquarePants celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, Nickelodeon is developing spinoffs based on the show’s characters that could end up as new series, specials and movies.

“He sees it as our Marvel,” said Moran about Robbins’ SpongeBob plans, “to be able to have so many successful franchises come off what has been the most successful franchise for kids programming ever.”

During those upfront meetings, Moran touted Nickelodeon’s ability to deliver not only kids audiences, but co-viewing via families with shows like Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

“The highest co-viewing level of any genre is kids programming,” said Moran, noting that last year, 44 percent of kids’ TV viewing occurred with an adult, which he said was the highest number in 10 years. For Hispanic families, the co-viewing number is “closer to 50 percent.”

And those adults “aren’t just in the room, but they are paying attention,” said Moran. Viacom conducted a study with TVision that found that “adults are 61 percent more attentive when watching TV as a family. They pay 77 percent more attention to commercials and are more likely to recall the products advertised.”

This year’s co-viewing push is one way Moran is trying to reposition the network as the entire kids TV category has struggled with steep linear ratings drops.

“We’re surrounding the viewer no matter where they are, so certainly Brian is very excited to be pushing into other platforms and working with talent in new ways that are surrounding that platform,” said Moran. He also noted that Nickelodeon’s share of kids TV is at 46 percent of kids 2–11, up four points from a year ago, and is continuing to grow. “Our clients can’t lose sight of that,” even with the migration to other platforms, said Moran.

During this upfront, Moran is also pushing Nickelodeon’s relationships with influencers, spanning everyone from DJ Khaled, who is hosting the Kids Choice Awards on March 23, to 8-year-old YouTube superstar Ryan, of Ryan ToysReview, who will star in the new series Ryan’s Mystery Playdate.

“At Nickelodeon, we can bring people to the most connected influencer, and that influencer is going to have the ability to connect clients online as well as on-air,” said Moran. “And where Brian’s taking even the linear formats, making sure we have the No. 1 franchises [like SpongeBob and Lego], really brings an energy and a reach to a place where I think we’re going to be affecting business results for clients in a way we’ve never been able to before.”



Nickelodeon’s Brian Robbins on New IP, Reboots

Nickelodeon President Brian Robbins speaks to TV Kids about his strategy for keeping young ones tuned into Nick and Nick Jr.

In October of last year, Bob Bakish, the president and CEO of Viacom, tapped Robbins to lead Nickelodeon at a challenging time for kids’ channels. “I have asked Brian to drive the innovation and transformation that will ensure the brand remains the dominant force with young audiences,” Bakish said in announcing Robbins’ appointment. Robbins had already been part of the Viacom family, having run Paramount Players, and was familiar with meeting the needs of young audiences on digital after founding Awesomeness. Robbins has significantly ramped up Nick’s content slate since becoming president, unveiling new IP, adding a slate of unscripted shows and developing a smattering of reboots, including All That, which he originally produced for Nickelodeon in the 1990s.

TV KIDS: It’s been a year since you were tapped to lead Nickelodeon. What did you identify as key strengths of the brand at the time, and what areas did you feel you wanted to work on?
ROBBINS: It’s been a fast and fun year. The reason I came here—and I had a very nice job before this at Paramount running a movie division—was looking at the landscape and realizing what a powerful brand Nickelodeon is in kids’ and families’ lives. I looked at all the assets that we have: one of the largest animation studios in the world, multiple linear networks, a pretty large digital footprint, consumer products and live entertainment. There’s so much strength in the brand and so much great history and so much IP at the company. Ultimately that’s what drew me here. The truth was, in the last several years before I got here, clearly led by the digital disruption to linear television, the brand lost its way a little bit. There was definitely a lack of IP in the pipeline and talent in the pipeline. And talent in front of and behind the camera. So that’s what I focused on right away.

TV KIDS: What are some of the major lessons you brought from your time as a producer and running Awesomeness and Paramount Players?
ROBBINS: Only make good shows! [Laughs] And, honestly, before I got to Paramount, I was never an executive. I always was a producer and director and ran my own business. Even Awesomeness was a startup in my own company. I’ve always been an entrepreneur and a builder. I think I’ve carried that same attitude here to Nickelodeon. When you’re an entrepreneur, you have to go fast. And you have to build. And you have to be bold. You have to make decisions and own them and not be afraid. So that’s how I approached it.

TV KIDS: The channel has quite a few reboots and spin-offs in the works. What factors do you take into consideration when bringing back a beloved brand like All That?
ROBBINS: We definitely have a handful of reboots and spin-offs in the works. It’s actually a small percentage of our overall slate. That said, people talk about the reboots and spin-offs because it’s known IP and that’s kind of why we’re doing it. Bringing back All That seemed like a no-brainer to me. Obviously, it was my show and I have so much love for it. But All That was such an important part of the history of Nickelodeon because it brought so much talent to the air. It led to Kenan & Kel and The Amanda Show. Then The Amanda Show led to Drake & Josh, it led to iCarly and so on and so on. If you look at that family tree, it’s pretty impressive. When I got here, there weren’t a lot of live-action hits. Henry Danger was kind of it. We didn’t have a whole lot of on-air talent to work with. So [the new All That] was a great way to bring in a bunch of new talent and diverse talent and jumpstart the show. I also knew that All That reached a diverse audience, which was an audience that we needed to reach, especially in the world we live in today. Coincidentally, the show did another thing for us: it brought back the older girl audience to the network. So it’s done three really great things for us. Actually four, because it’s getting good ratings!

TV KIDS: Tell us about how Kamp Koral came about, and what the plans are for the SpongeBob universe.
ROBBINS: Literally my second or third day here, I was asked to go to a SpongeBob season 12 or 13 pickup meeting. I asked a lot of questions. What I realized is that we’ve made a lot of shows over many, many years, but the shows basically stayed the same. We had all these great characters in the world of SpongeBob, but we never individually explored their origin stories or their histories or put them in their own environments. So we decided to put a room together and really look at what the SpongeBob universe looks like. And out of that came the Kamp Koral idea and actually a couple of other ideas. Kamp Koral is the first show. It will be a limited summer series. I just saw amazing animation tests and conceptual art that blew us all away. It’s basically about how Patrick and SpongeBob met in summer camp when they were kids. It’s not SpongeBob babies, so to speak, but it is in CG, and they’re younger and cuter. Sandy is really cute in it. She has braces. It’s really fun and it looks different but still feels like SpongeBob. I couldn’t be more excited about it.

TV KIDS: And you have The Casagrandes, a spin-off of The Loud House, coming up.
ROBBINS: I can’t take credit for that. It was happening before I got here. But I must say I’m super proud of the show. First of all, it’s the first animated show starring a multigenerational Mexican-American family. And it couldn’t be a better time to have that show. Besides that, it is hilarious. It’s so well written and the characters are so good. And I can’t wait to share it with the world. I think the show is terrific.

TV KIDS: How are you discovering and incubating new talent?
ROBBINS: All That was a big step for us in bringing new talent on the air. One of the first shows we greenlit when I got here that’s been a big hit for us is Ryan’s Mystery Playdate. We took one of the biggest stars on YouTube and were able to develop a television format in longer form that played into what he did on YouTube. We were able to migrate a large portion of that audience that watches him on YouTube, that wasn’t watching linear television, to watch his show here. So we’ll continue to be opportunistic about people and ideas like that.

TV KIDS: What role do acquisitions play in the Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. lineups?
ROBBINS: Acquisitions are still an important part of filling out the schedule. And more than just filling out the schedule. We had LEGO City Adventures on this summer and we have LEGO Jurassic World running now. That’s a great partnership with LEGO. Ricky Zoom, which just premiered, is another acquisition for us. So we have a handful, and we’re always on the lookout for more.

TV KIDS: What other shows are you working on now that you’re particularly excited about?
ROBBINS: First of all, we have the relaunch of Blue’s Clues in November, which looks amazing. And then we’re launching a show I’m really excited about, called America’s Most Musical Family. It’s a music competition but through our lens. So you have to be either a brother and sister or a whole family. So you’d have to be The Jackson 5 or Donny and Marie. I’ve got to say; it just kills it. It’s so good, and it’s so exciting. I’m also excited about our all-new version of the hit U.K. game show The Crystal Maze, which is going to bring that family competition craze to the U.S. The show features a team of family members who work together to take on a range of physical and mental challenges through escape room-style gameplay. It will definitely bring a whole new type of action and storytelling to Nick.


From Realscreen:

Close up with Joe Livecchi: Rob Bagshaw, Nickelodeon

Rob Bagshaw, EVP of unscripted at Nickelodeon, likes to accomplish the impossible. He’s done it over and over again in his career but my first thoughts upon meeting him are how he is the most extroverted private person I have ever met. You sit with Rob (pictured above with Alyssa Milano) and his energy is electric; his manners, textbook old school British; and for decades, his personal life was strictly off limits to everyone. Over an hour of conversation with him, all that changed —so much so that this interview needs to be shared in a different way.

This is Rob Bagshaw in his own words.

I grew up in the district of Kent just outside London, England. From four years old, I was obsessed with the performing arts. I loved dancing, singing and anything and everything that involved creative expression. I wasn’t interested in anything else. I would watch the news and feel the newscaster talking directly to me. For my 10th birthday my mom took me down to the local television station where they let me read the news in front of the cameras. For my 11th birthday we went backstage at a huge London musical in the West End. It was all I cared about.

My younger brother was a jock and my dad a firefighter. They tolerated my wild ambitions and amateur performances. As I got older it was clear that to really gain access to this world, I had to do it on my own. I was one of those kids who was always writing letters to celebrities, producers and the heads of networks. I wrote hundreds of letters and got hundreds of rejections. I never gave up. Sometimes they wrote back and all I wanted to know was, “How did you get your job?” I got invited down to shadow stage managers at London’s biggest shows: Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Cats.

As a teenager, I would dress up and ride the train to London with my friends to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show at much too young of an age. The closest person in the world to me was my grandmother. I would ride the bus 45 minutes or cycle to her house just to be with her. When she passed, it was the most outwardly emotional I had ever been in public in my entire life.

My parents divorced when I was 18. My dad moved to Spain and remarried and my mother stayed in England. It was a tumultuous time. As I was coming of age and starting my career, I wasn’t comfortable being open with my parents about who I am. I wasn’t comfortable being open with anyone.

At university, I trained in Media and Performance, working for cable news at the same time, and at graduation I got two job offers — dancing on a cruise ship for a lot of money or being a production assistant on a UK sitcom for very little money. I took the sitcom. From there I was a PA on game shows, panel shows and talk shows. I loved it all. As my career continued, I moved up the ladder in every position.

Some friends of mine had an idea for a show which I piloted in Morocco and pitched in the U.S. I didn’t know a soul in America. It wound up getting commissioned and suddenly I was in Hollywood, setting up the production. I found a location and was the only Englishman on the set. I came for three weeks and ended up staying six months.

That show was Paradise Hotel. I thought I would never see these people again in my life. It turned out being easier to open up to strangers than opening up to my own family. My whole life, I always thought how selfish it would be for me to go on about my life to someone. I didn’t want to be that person who was always talking about themselves. For a long time, I was also embarrassed of who I was.

Sometime after that I met the mother of Matthew Shepard. (Matthew was a student who was beaten, tortured and left to die for no other reason than being gay.) I asked her if Matthew ever came out to her before he died. She said he did, and she told me I should talk to my mom and then call her afterward to let her know how it went. I was so taken by this stranger who seemed to care so much about me. I thought, what if something happened to me or my mom and she never knew who I really was.

Instead of planning a ‘big reveal’, I just woke up one Sunday, called my mom and said, “I’m gay.” She said she thought this might be the case but wasn’t sure. I said, “Mom, why didn’t you ever just ask?” She said it wasn’t her place. It was mine to talk about when I was ready. She was very supportive, as she is about everything my brother and I do. I started to realize I could be more honest about who I am. That’s not me being selfish, it’s me being truthful.

For a long time, I didn’t tell my father I was gay. We didn’t really have a close relationship when I was growing up. He was a macho guy who believed you don’t really talk about your feelings. I thought I would tell him if a good reason ever came up. My brother was getting married and I didn’t want any secrets with my dad overshadowing my brother’s big day. So, I called my father and told him I was bringing a date to the wedding, “and his name is …” He said, “OK, cool.” My dad and my date wound up getting along well at the wedding. My father confessed he wasn’t so vocal supporting me when I was growing up because he was worried I was going into an impossible field.

I fully support gay and equal rights to marry but I never thought marriage was for me. I would think back to watching the pain of my parent’s separation and it was too much. I was also still struggling with being honest about my sexuality. I thought, why is it relevant to bring up personal issues in a professional environment? I just wanted to be known as a great producer.

For several years, I worked back and forth between the UK and the U.S. I was doing morning shows, late night talk shows, awards shows, all live. It gave me the muscle to understand the technical side of a broadcast, what was possible and how it was done. After Paradise Hotel, I was being asked to do a lot of competition elimination shows. I was saying yes to everything, always overlapping and rarely doing more than two seasons of the same show. I always wanted to do something new and do the hardest part, where you are figuring out a show from scratch.

I was the archetypical freelance producer. I wanted new, new, new. More, more, more. I wound up moving to Australia to run entertainment at a network. It was a different experience. In Australia, television doesn’t have the same power as it does here; people want to be outside enjoying their beautiful country. From Australia, I moved permanently to LA. I ran Top Chef Masters and after that was asked to figure out a spin-off for Project Runway.

They wanted a spin-off but didn’t know what they wanted other than it had to be different from Project Runway but still represent the brand. It wound up becoming Project Runway All Stars which I did for all seven seasons. That was my baby. For some reason I would have endless ideas for challenges for that show. I could come up with a hundred. After we figured out the right tone for the show, it became very clear to me what was a Project Runway challenge and what was an All Stars challenge. They were two very different things.

I went to BBC Worldwide where I was overseeing several showrunners. Through my career I have done a lot of reality competitions — good ones, bad ones, reinventions, new formats. I learned as a showrunner that you have to not disrespect anyone’s experience but still make a show work. You have to serve the needs of the network, the production company and the show, which are rarely ever the same thing. When I worked with Oprah, the Jim Henson family or other industry leaders, I knew they had very specific expectations. I would always be respectful but not be a yes man. As a showrunner you are doing everyone a disservice if you don’t speak up on behalf of the project.

I met Jonathan Murray who really taught me about storytelling, whatever the format. He said it’s not really about who’s winning and losing, it’s about relationships and the arcs your characters are going through.

I ended up opening the New York office of Bunim/Murray. I was still showrunning, pitching and developing, and doing All Stars which was a year-round job. I was doing two full-time jobs at once. I sold and ran shows but came back to LA to do a stint on RuPaul’s Drag Race, which is still one of the best reality competition shows ever.

I have been lucky in recent years to be able to pick what I wanted to do next. From time to time I would get calls from networks but the jobs never really appealed to me. One day I got a call that Brian Robbins at Nickelodeon wanted to meet me. I had never done kids programming before but I was confident I knew how to make great TV. I went into the meeting with an open mind and came out determined to get the job.

I was enthralled by Brian and his vision for the network. He talked about how kids are consuming content on so many different platforms and watching more unscripted. He laid out his vision and said our audience deserves to have that programming put through a Nick lens — shows clearly made just for them. Brian, of course, comes from producing and directing. He was talking about creating great content for a changing market, from specials to live, from formats to docuseries. I was impressed by his passion, and we talked candidly, producer to producer. It was a serious conversation about changing a network and building a whole new division.

The opportunity he was describing was really exciting. He asked me, “Why do you want this job?” I told him, “What you just described is a dream. You are asking a freelance producer; do you want the chance to make multiple TV shows?” I turned down two other opportunities not knowing if I was going to get this. Brian and I had one more conversation after that and he asked, “How would you like to start this new division at Nickelodeon?” He said he was bringing creative producers into leadership roles and I would have great support from Viacom. Brian gave me this tremendous opportunity. It was a no brainer.

As an executive, I have been conscious about not giving notes reflecting what I would do as a producer. I go back and look at my notes and I check myself. If the note is not going to move the needle forward or doesn’t serve network needs, then I don’t give the note. That doesn’t mean you can forget the detail. The value I can give now is the research strategy of where the network is going and help pivot a project to fall in line with that strategy.

When we get to production, I manage things in a way that I hope helps producers while maintaining my agenda for the network. The show must originate from the showrunner or prodco’s vision. My job is to make sure the audience receives it well. Those are different jobs.

The work is bigger than I thought. It’s harder than I thought. This is the most excited I have been about TV and our industry in years. I am learning a lot as we go. Our audience is growing up a lot quicker today. With so much content on linear, digital and social, kids are their own programmers, and as a brand people trust we can be a destination they come to for their entertainment in so many different ways.

We like to think “funny first,” even in our music, awards and competition shows. Big stars love to have fun at Nickelodeon and we are doing more episodes of our hidden camera comedy The Substitute where celebrities go undercover with prosthetics as substitutes in kids’ everyday lives. We recently rebooted and reformatted Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, placing the kids at the heart of the action. We’re doing the American version of the hit UK format The Crystal Maze with families as contestants, and right now we are filming an original competition series called America’s Most Musical Family. These are great examples of co-viewing shows that can widen our demo and have a positive impact on families.

(Rob has shared so much at this point, but I ask him, “What is one thing you want to make sure people know about you?”)

To bring it back full circle, I want people to know that doing a good job and creating a good project is not the only thing in my life now. I am in a very happy relationship. Being a well-rounded individual and caring about others is now jumping ahead of just being a good producer.

With that Rob walks me out but not before stopping on the stage to watch a rehearsal of “America’s Most Musical Family”. He is literally bouncing up and down with the excitement of a four-year-old boy — the same four-year-old who, years ago in Kent, England, started on an impossible journey. As I walk away Rob turns his attention back to the stage, relishing the moment and living out a destiny he was so determined to create for himself.

Joe Livecchi is founder and CEO of the prodco Noble Savages. Through these monthly profiles, you’ll learn more about top executives through an unprecedented glimpse into their personal lives — as Livecchi says, “who they are and what made them that way.” For more profiles, keep an eye on and also check the Noble Savages site.


From The Los Angeles Times:

Nickelodeon once ruled kids TV. Can it make a comeback?

Nickelodeon President Brian Robbins at Nickelodeon Studios’ Burbank headquarters. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

Twenty-five years ago, Brian Robbins was an aspiring young producer, scouring the country for talent.

He assembled a troupe of teens for a sketch comedy show, “All That,” which became all that and more for Nickelodeon. The goofy show helped usher in a period of peak imagination for the children’s channel along with “Rugrats,” and then, “Blues Clues,” and “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Now, Robbins is back at the Viacom cable network in a much different role — and in a much different world.

As president of Nickelodeon, Robbins is trying to rescue the beloved operation from becoming a casualty of the streaming wars. Earlier this week, Viacom announced that Robbins soon will be segueing into a larger role as president of kids and family entertainment for the soon-to-be merged ViacomCBS. Robbins is tasked with not only turning Nickelodeon around, but also helping the entire company craft a comprehensive strategy to survive, and thrive, in the hyper-competitive streaming era.

The challenges are daunting. Back in the 1990s, Nickelodeon’s competition was Cartoon Network, PBS and Disney Channel. Now, the network is struggling to fend off incursions from Netflix,, Hulu and Disney+, the just-launched streaming service that secured 10 million customers in its first day. Disney has enlisted Mickey Mouse, Marge Simpson and Woody, the “Toy Story” cowboy, for its family-friendly, $6.99-a-month streaming service. WarnerMedia grabbed Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for its upcoming HBO Max service, and Apple TV+ is hoping to gain altitude with “Snoopy in Space.”

“We have to move fast, and continue to evolve as the business evolves,” Robbins said in an interview this week. He added that for the last 13 months, since he became president, his priority has been to recreate the excitement that once defined Nickelodeon. “We want to get back to that creative-driven culture that used to exist here.”

Indeed, for much of its 40-year history, Nickelodeon has been a leader in kids entertainment. When it launched in 1979, pay-TV operators correctly surmised that offering a dedicated children’s channel would lure parents who would pay for a TV subscription.

Nickelodeon grew in popularity and was distributed in nearly 100 million American homes. “Rugrats,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” “Dora the Explorer” and other shows became multibillion-dollar merchandise franchises (“SpongeBob” once attracted more than 3 million viewers an episode). Nickelodeon was so popular that pay-TV distributors, and millions of parents, found that they couldn’t live without it, so Viacom extracted premium fees for its programming.

Then came Netflix. The cable channel began licensing reruns of “SpongeBob” and other popular shows to the budding streaming service, which Netflix then offered commercial-free to its subscribers. Netflix quickly became a destination for kids. As cord-cutting accelerated, Nickelodeon’s ratings slide intensified.

The children’s network has lost nearly 60% of its audience since 2010, according to Nielsen ratings data. And in Viacom’s recently ended fiscal year, Nickelodeon’s viewership among its core audience of children ages 2 to 11 slumped 28% compared to fiscal 2018, according to Bernstein & Co.

“Nickelodeon is in a tough spot because of the switch to online viewing, and then you have the launch of Disney+,” said Derek Baine, longtime cable TV analyst with S&P Global Market Intelligence. “It’s not a good time to be a cable network.”

That’s why Robbins hesitated when Viacom Chief Executive Bob Bakish approached him last year about becoming Nickelodeon president.

At the time, Robbins was happy working at Paramount Pictures on Melrose Avenue, where he was in charge of Paramount Players, a unit that mines MTV and Nickelodeon for film projects. Nickelodeon’s problems seemed enormous. Even his 5-year-old daughter watched as much content on YouTube as television. (Although she is a big fan of “Paw Patrol” on Nickelodeon.)

“I knew that there were enormous headwinds confronting television,” Robbins said. “But then my wife asked me the question that I like to ask everybody, which is: ‘Why not?’ ”

Nostalgia also played a role. It was his first TV show, “All That,” the kids version of “Saturday Night Live,” that Robbins produced for Nickelodeon, beginning in 1994, that helped launch his producing career. (The show also was comedian Kenan Thompson’s break-out hit).

“It’s a big responsibility that I don’t take lightly because the brand is so beloved and treasured,” Robbins said.

Unlike most TV executives, Robbins has found success in both the traditional and digital worlds. “Hiring Brian Robbins was a smart move,” said Eunice Shin, the Los Angeles-based head of media and entertainment for Prophet, a San Francisco-based digital consulting firm. “He is well-respected in the industry on the creative side, as well as the business side.”

The 55-year-old Brooklyn native began his career as a child actor in the 1980s, including in an ABC sitcom, “Head of the Class.” He went on to direct the films “Varsity Blues” and “Norbit.” He also produced young adult shows, including “Smallville,” “One Tree Hill” and “What I Like About You.”

In 2012, Robbins and his producing partner, Joe Davola, recognized that pre-teens and teenagers weren’t watching TV like previous generations but were gravitating to stars on Google’s YouTube platform.

So Robbins and Davola built an online network called AwesomenessTV with game shows and sketch comedies to attract viewers who were turning away from Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central. In 2013, Jeffrey Katzenberg’s DreamWorks Animation acquired Awesomeness. Three years later, DreamWorks was absorbed by Comcast Corp., which placed a value of $650 million for AwesomenessTV. Last year, Viacom bought Awesomeness from Comcast for considerably less, underscoring the challenges facing internet-only media businesses.

Earlier this week, in a move tinged with irony, Viacom said that in addition to the Nickelodeon networks, Robbins once again would be in charge of Awesomeness. “It’s near and dear to my heart,” he said.

After taking the job as Nickelodeon president in October 2018, Robbins discovered just how much work needed to be done.

“The cupboard was sort of bare,” Robbins said. “We still have some hits, for sure, in ‘SpongeBob,’ ‘Henry Danger’ and ‘Loud House,’ but we needed new hits because we live in a world where we are competing with so much fresh content all of the time.”

He raced to put together a creative team, including a new head of animation, Ramsey Naito, and worked to repair Nickelodeon’s reputation in the Hollywood community. He encouraged producers and writers to bring projects to Nickelodeon’s animation studio in Burbank.

“We really needed to get back to having a culture of creativity because Nickelodeon was always such a creative place,” Robbins said. “When the digital disruption took place, I’m not sure people knew how to react. I think it took a toll on people and people lost confidence.”

Geraldine Laybourne, who served as Nickelodeon’s first president from 1984 to 1996, said the problem stemmed from Viacom’s reliance on “businessmen,” not creative executives, to run its operations.

“There was a lot of pressure put on the channels to be cash-cows,” Laybourne said. “I’m thrilled that they finally hired a creative person to head Nickelodeon. And because Brian is such a skilled producer, who has produced on so many different levels, I would certainly bet on him.”

Although it’s too early to evaluate the success of his efforts, Robbins scored a major coup last summer when he landed a project with A-list director Ron Howard and his Imagine Entertainment.

Howard, in an interview, said that he and producing partner Brian Grazer hadn’t had opportunities in children’s programming until the last year when they expanded their company with a kids and family entertainment division. Until now, Howard said, Imagine’s financiers weren’t too interested in developing kid-centric TV shows (even though that’s how Howard got his start).

“It’s fun to figure out what concepts will work and then test them on my grandchildren to see what sparks their interest,” Howard said, adding that he’s enjoyed the collaboration with Nickelodeon. The producers of Oscar-nominated “Apollo 13" are now developing a live-action series set in space in collaboration with showrunner Daniel Knauf (“Carnivàle,” and “The Blacklist”).

“You got the sense from the first conversation that Brian Robbins and his team really wanted to take big creative swings,” Howard said. “He’s giving Nickelodeon a big energy boost.”

As part of Robbins’ efforts to ramp up production at Nickelodeon Studios, the company announced that it had signed a multi-year output deal to provide Netflix with original feature-length animated movies and TV shows, creating spinoffs using supporting cast members from “SpongeBob” and other Nickelodeon shows. The deal doesn’t include reruns of the original productions.

In the past year, Nickelodeon has brought back beloved programs, including “Blues Clues,” and new incarnations of “All That,” “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader,” hosted by popular wrestler John Cena, and “Are You Afraid of the Dark,” which has been delivering more than 1 million viewers an episode, according to the network. The new show “The Casagrandes” launched last month and quickly became the top show among Latino kids ages 2-11, the network said.

“They are so far behind, and they have a lot of work to do to catch up. They have to start creating new IP [intellectual property],” said Shin, the analyst. “If you look at what Disney has done, that company has built an empire around incredibly valuable IP.”

Robbins said he gets it. As part of his expanded duties with ViacomCBS, Robbins also will be in charge of Nickelodeon’s domestic consumer products and Nickelodeon experiences, including live shows.

“Nickelodeon is a lot more than a living room television set,” Robbins said. “It is a brand that truly matters to kids and families and it’s mattered for a long time. I want Nickelodeon to be the home for everything that kids care about.”


Additional source: @snorbertd1, @RugratsAddict95, Chicago Times.
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