Nickelodeon’s Hicks Looks for Fresh Ink

Nickelodeon will barrage its target audience of 6-to-11-year-olds this year with more than 400 hours of new and returning animated and live-action shows across its linear channel, including and other digital outlets. Network president of content development and production Russell Hicks spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about Nick’s new programming projects and its concerted efforts to find up-and-coming writers and animators to create new content for the network.

MCN: How do you define Nickelodeon right now in terms of its content and its audience?

Russell Hicks: We’re on a mission to make the best content we possibly can for this audience. Our audience, of course, is 6-to-11-year-olds, and they’re really coming of age right now. We also have a new postmillennial generation, and the great, interesting thing that’s happening is, at the same time we have the post-millennials, we have the first generation of kids who grew up on Nickelodeon coming into the workforce who want to create for us.

MCN: What does the competitive nature of the business mean for Nickelodeon? How important is it for you guys to develop quality entertainment that you own?

RH: I think it’s job No. 1. We want to be the best at what we do. It has always been a competitive marketplace. When I worked at Warner Bros., they owned 75% of all of Hollywood’s output, and it was still competitive. So we want to listen to our audience — we do a lot of research and we’re talking to kids every day about their dreams and their desires. We’re not focused as much on what they want to watch but rather who they are, and then build programs that fill their needs and desires. Then we go out and create the best programming that we can possibly make.

MCN: What new shows should we keep an eye on from Nickelodeon?

RH: We have A Hundred Things to Do Before High School coming out in April, about a girl and her two friends who are in middle school and they see that high school is looming close to them, so they want to make the most out of their last year of being a true kid and come up with a hundred adventures to do. We also have 400 returning episodes of our current shows, including The Thundermans and the The Haunted Hathaways. The new season of SpongeBob [SquarePants] will be starting in the summertime. So we have a lot of exciting and great stuff.

MCN: How are you incorporating kids who grew up on Nickelodeon into your decisions on what programming to offer to a younger generation of viewers?

RH: We have a new generation of creators who are ready to work and we have a lot of programs that we’ve put in place to help train these guys to be able to create for this audience.

This year, we have a live-action show, Bella and the Bulldogs — about a girl who is a cheerleader at a Texas junior high and she falls into being the star quarterback of the football team — that we’re really excited about. It’s been created by two of the writers that came out of this fellowship, Gabe Garza and Jonathan Butler. Jonathan started out as a plumber in upstate New York. He sent in a script, we read it, and it was fantastic and so we got him into the writer’s program, and that’s where he met Gabe, who had just come out of school. They met and became writing partners, and then they were placed on two shows and now they’ve created their own show.

MCN: You mentioned thatBellais a liveaction show. How do you differ between liveaction and animated? How much of each do you want on the schedule?

RH: We do both exactly the same. We do a lot of live action and we do a lot of animation. And in animation, we have the same types of programs in place — the mentorships and the writers’ fellowships and the artists’ fellowships — and a shorts program.

We have three new shows coming out this year. One is Bad Seeds, created by Carl Greenblatt and coming out of the shorts program. We have a show called The Loud House that we’re really excited about, and another show that came from the shorts program is called Pig Goat Banana Cricket about a pig, a goat, a banana and a cricket ... what more is there to say? [Laughs.]

I always say that when you create a character for kids, it goes with that person for their lifetime. When they’re 20, they talk about the same characters when they’re 50. Kids talk about SpongeBob at 30, yet it’s still fresh for the 6-to-7-year-olds. They carry these characters forever, and you can’t really say that in the adult space. It’s an exciting and a great place to be.