Skip to main content

Girls, Diversity Figure in Nicks Picks

New York -- Nickelodeon, bent on fending off its cable
network rivals while keeping its lead over the broadcasters in kids' ratings, has
ordered five new series for 1999, as well as 238 fresh episodes of 11 current programs.

Asked about Nick's 1999 production spending at a press
briefing here last Tuesday, Kevin Kay, senior vice president of production, said only that
Nick's commitments would amount to "tens of millions of dollars."

In addition, Nick has greenlighted pilots for seven
additional shows targeted for 2000.

All told, Cyma Zarghami, Nick's executive vice
president and general manager, described the network's 1999-2000 production plans as
its most aggressive yet. For the five new-for-1999 series, she said Nick's order
comes to 85 half-hours.

Although Nick has increased emphasis on girls and
minorities in key roles in its upcoming shows, Bob Igiel, executive vice president of ad
agency Young & Rubicam and its media division, The Media Edge, maintained,
"It's more important that they're continuing to ride a lot of original

Nick's dominant total day share is on par with its
fourth-quarter level of a year ago, the network boasted last week: Its fourth-quarter
primetime ratings among kids 2 to 11 are up 30 percent, and Nick won on Saturday mornings
through the November sweeps, Zarghami said.

But she pointed out that overall persons-using- television
(PUT) ratings among kids 2 to 11 for total day are down 13 percent in the fourth quarter
so far.

Zarghami didn't try to explain that erosion, but other
industry sources have lately cited the Internet and video games. Noting that kids
indicated their viewing was up in the recent MTV Networks leisure-time study, she did say
MTVN should explore that apparent discrepancy.

Nick and Cartoon Network have been the main drains on the
Big Four TV networks' kids audiences, said Gary Carr, senior vice president at the ad
agency Ammirati Puris Lintas, but Fox Family Channel hasn't yet made a big impact.
Still, things can change fast in the kids' market, he said, since "kids get
bored quick."

At Y&R, Igiel said the PUT slippage could be due to the
Web and video games, "or it could also be due to the [mild] weather." In other
words, youngsters may be spending more time outdoors. Carr, while "convinced"
that the Web is hurting kids' viewership, agreed: "Maybe it's the warm
weather too."

Nickelodeon's standouts among this fall's
entries, Zarghami said, are The Wild Thornberrys and Cousin Skeeter, its
highest-rated live-action show. Another new live-action series, Animorphs, also is
"doing well on two of the most competitive nights of the week" (Friday and
Saturday) in terms of drawing kids 9 to 11 to the primetime Nickel-O-Zone hour, she added.

New to Nick's fall 1999 schedule will be:

  • Stray Dog, a live-action series coproduced by Lynch
  • Rocket Beach, an animated show from Klasky Csupo, SpongeBob
    , a "Nicktoon" from Nick's studio in Burbank, Calif.;
  • Little Bill, based on Bill Cosby's children's
    books; and
  • A revival of Are You Afraid of the Dark? from Cinar

The latter, "a great [ratings] performer" before,
will bow early, on Feb. 6, and Cosby's project probably will join the Nick Jr.
preschool roster before the third quarter, Zarghami said. Jimmy Neutron -- about a
10-year-old boy genius -- is being developed as Nick's first computer-generated 3-D
cartoon by one of the creators of Jim Carrey's Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. The
pilot will get a tryout on Jan. 15, Kay said.

Ammirati's Carr felt that Nicks' paying more
attention to the girls' market than the competition "has always been kind of
their thing." The use of live-action shows also "has been a big part of their

Cases in point are Stray Dog and Rocket Beach.
The former, which Kay said is "about a [troubled 13-year-old orphan] girl's
coming of age," shows her trying to fit in with a Montana family. Rocket Beach
is about friendships among preteens, developed against a Southern California backdrop of
extreme sports, he said, adding that one of the main characters is a girl.

"In animation, there are not a lot of girl
heroes," Kay observed.

That relates to Nick's overall strategy, which
Zarghami said is to target "where kids are underserved."

In daypart terms, she said that means Nick likely would
stay with originals in primetime, and with repeats on Saturday mornings, where
they're not underserved.

"Primetime will remain a priority going forward,"
Zarghami said, but doubted that Nick will expand further into Nick at Nite's
primetime, since kids' viewing drops off after 9 p.m.

Nick's emphasis on girl characters and multicultural
characters will continue into 2000, Kay indicated. Two such live-action projects are The
Amanda Bynes Show
, an All That spin-off, and The Noah Chronicles, a
serialized sitcom about junior high schoolers in New York.

Cartoon projects in the works include The Carmichaels,
a Rugrats spin-off, and The Proud Family, featuring a suburban teen-age

Going with spin-offs from Rugrats and All That
is a smart move, Y&R's Igiel felt.

Looking ahead to the arrival of Nick's digital network
GAS, Kay said parts of that service's games-and-sports content may run on Nickelodeon
as well.

The network executives have yet to decide on time slots for
the 1999 series crop, Zarghami said.