Nick Adds Shows in Down Market

New York— Nickelodeon has seven new series in the hopper, including a spin-off featuring tween-aged Rugrats
and a live-action hip-hop comedy starring the father-and-son artists Master P and Lil' Romeo.

The new programs were unveiled last week during an upfront presentation here, at which officials touted Nick's progress in a difficult market.

Kids' viewing has declined 8 percent during the past year, according to Nielsen Media Research, but Nick's share of that market has continued to grow.

The Viacom Inc.-owned kids network will be spending $120 million to $130 million on programming this year, according to Nick general manager Cyma Zarghami. That will foot the bill for new series such as Romeo! ,
which features hip-hop mogul Master P and his son, 13-year-old hit recording artist Lil' Romeo.

Nick has ordered 20 episodes of the show, which centers on a music-industry executive who tries to maintain a normal life for his kids while managing the family band. Romeo!
will premiere this fall on Snick, Nick's Saturday-night block.

All Grown Up
will star the Rugrats
as tweens, with Nick ordering 13 installments of that series, as well as My Life As A Teenage Robot,
which is about a super-powered robot with a sensitive teen-aged heart.

In Drake and Josh,
Nick alumni Drake Bell of The Amanda Show
and Josh Peck of The Amanda Show
and Snow Day
are reunited as an odd couple of teen stepbrothers. Danny Phantom
is an animated action-comedy from Butch Hartman, the creator of Nick's hit The Fairly OddParents.

In its own take on the reality genre, Nick will be mounting a search for the funniest kid in America, with a first casting call April 5 in Los Angeles. Auditions in New York, Chicago and Atlanta will follow and. contestants can also mail in tapes.

Kids' viewing down

For its preschool audience, Nick has two new shows: The Backyardigans,
a 3-D animated series; and Rubbadubbers,
a stop-frame series about a group of bath-toy friends. Also on the Nick Jr. front, Whoopi Goldberg will be doing three live-action half-hour specials under the moniker Whoopi's Littleburg.
The children's TV arena has been a tough one this past year. Kids' viewing has decreased alongside a drop in the population of U.S. children. In addition, broadcast networks have cut back on kids programming in general, and many childrens' shows have been posted disappointing performances, according to Nick officials.

"We haven't seen any of that erosion at all," Nick senior vice president of ad sales Jim Perry said in a conference call after the upfront.

But even with kids' viewing down, Nick saw its season-to-date share of gross rating points for children 2 to 11 increase three share points to 52 percent, while No. 2 Cartoon Network's share has declined 4 share points, to 31 percent overall.

Perry said he expected mid-single-digit growth in volume for this year's kids upfront. Last year, the kids' upfront market was roughly $800 million.

"We see demand going up, we see it rebounding. Toy companies are really stepping up their spending," said Perry, noting Nick is already in discussion with advertisers.