The kid-focused cable outlet will debut 20 new series and feature films in 2021 and ’22, both on its own platform and on parent company ViacomCBS’ recently launched streaming service Paramount+. The slate includes a dozen animated projects, several live-action series and four newly greenlit shows.
The slate, which Nickelodeon announced Thursday during an upfront presentation that took an animated trip through the “Nick multiverse,” also leans heavily on linear TV: While high-profile projects like SpongeBob SquarePants spinoff Kamp Koral and an iCarly revival are debuting on Paramount+, the great majority of shows will debut on Nickelodeon, which Brian Robbins, president ViacomCBS Kids & Family, calls the “biggest reach vehicle” for Nick’s core audience at the moment.
“We think the funnel of linear is the biggest funnel right now, and that’s where we’re putting the majority of our premieres and the majority of our weight,” Robbins told The Hollywood Reporter. “That might shift over time, but today it’s the most important reach vehicle.”
As part of its upfront, Nickelodeon set premiere dates for previously announced series Rugrats (spring on Paramount+ and later on Nick), SpongeBob spinoff The Patrick Star Show (June on Nick), iCarly (summer on Paramount+), Big Nate (September on Nick), The Smurfs (October on Nick), and both an animated series and live-action movie based on Mattel’s Monster High (both 2022 on Nick), among others.
Robbins’ division is also leaning into franchises. In addition to the Rugrats revival and the two SpongeBob spinoffs, Nick will also have animated series Star Trek: Prodigy on Paramount+ later this year and a live-action Loud House holiday movie on Nick in November. ViacomCBS also recently announced the creation of Avatar Studios, which will develop series and feature films set in the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra.
Nickelodeon has also handed out renewals to Danger Force and Tyler Perry’s Young Dylan and extended the first season of Side Hustle by six episodes.
The four new shows, all set to debut on Nickelodeon’s linear channel, are:
That Girl Lay Lay (summer): Teen hip hop artist and social media star Alaya “That Girl Lay Lay” High (who has an overall deal at Nickelodeon) will star in a comedy from Will Packer Media and creator David A. Arnold (Side Hustle, Fuller House). She plays an avatar from a personal affirmation app that magically comes to live and navigates life as a teenager alongside her best friend Sadie. Will Packer and Carolyn Newman executive produce for Will Packer Media along with Arnold, John Beck and Ron Hart.
Warped! (fall): Set at a comic book shop, the series centers on the teens who work and hang out there. Kate Godfrey (All That), Anton Starkman, Ariana Molkara and Christopher Martinez star in the comedy from creators Kevin Kopelow and Heath Seifert, who executive produce with Kevin Kay.
The Hamster Show (2022): A preschool animated series from animation studio Nelvana (Esme and Roy, Bubble Guppies) about a crew of hamsters who fancy themselves protectors of their 8-year-old owner, whom they’ve mistaken as their king.
ZJ Sparkleton (2022): Also from Nelvana, the animated series follows a 10-year-old vlogger named Ruby who teaches her space alien friend ZJ about the ways of life on Earth while he tries to control his unpredictable powers. There’s also a con-artist squirrel named Earl.
Robbins talked with THR about how he wants to position Nickelodeon in a multi-platform world and the lean into franchise programming. This interview has been edited and condensed.
You’re touting the biggest slate of original programming you’ve ever had. Practically, what does that mean in terms of production lead time, marketing, all the machinery to get it launched?
I’ve been here two years and change now, and this is a long time in the making, because as you know animation takes about two years. All of this has come together at the right time, because not only are we proud to have a lot to talk about, but we also have a lot of places to put our content, starting with linear. That’s still the biggest and most important platform for us, and it’s the biggest reach vehicle still to reach kids.
With the launch of Paramount+, it gives us another mouth to feed, but more importantly, another great reach vehicle for kids and families.
How do you think of Nickelodeon now? Are you a network, a content company, a distributor, all of that?
I like to think of ourselves as a brand. We don’t talk about ourselves as a network. We have a network business, but we’re really a brand. I love to say that if a brand is a promise, then the promise of the Nickelodeon brand is our content. That’s what we’re focused on: making the best kids and family content that we possibly can. We’re fortunate enough to start out with a brand that kids love and franchises that have been around a long time and are revered. It’s a nice position to start with.
How much more consideration do you have to give now to which platforms shows should land on vs. even when you came to Nick in late 2018?
There’s a definite strategy involved. To give you an example, Kamp Koral, our SpongeBob spinoff, premiered on Paramount+ at launch. But it wasn’t just, “Let’s move Kamp Koral there.” It was, we’re going to debut the next SpongeBob movie there, and for the first time ever the entire SpongeBob library will be available on an SVOD platform. So let’s make it the biggest and best SpongeBob opportunity for those fans, and have it all there.
At the same time, we knew we were going to quickly follow with The Patrick Star Show in June. We felt like, let’s put that on linear in June because at that point the first run of Kamp Koral will be over on Paramount+, and we’ll debut that show for SpongeBob fans on linear and have a big summer event for our audience and give them a new show.
We look at each one of these things very strategically, and ultimately there’s going to be a flywheel between Paramount+ and linear. We think the funnel of linear is the biggest funnel right now, and that’s where we’re putting the majority of our premieres and the majority of our weight. That might shift over time, but today it’s the most important reach vehicle.
The lean into franchises and familiar IP is a companywide thing at ViacomCBS, but what does that mean for Nick? A kid might not know Rugrats, but their parents probably do.
Correct. Each one of these franchises is different. A franchise like Rugrats, we’re bringing it back, and it’s twofold. We know that the nostalgic parent of today who grew up on Rugrats years ago is probably going to be excited to introduce that show to their kids. And a franchise like SpongeBob, kids are still watching it and excited to get more and a different version. So each of these gets a different strategy.
What we’re blessed with at Nickelodeon is a really great collection of franchises, whether it’s SpongeBob or Ninja Turtles or Avatar or Star Trek, now, or Rugrats, Blue’s Clues or Paw Patrol. These are all big franchises for kids and families, and we’re going to continue to make sure these franchises live on all platforms in different iterations. … We want our brand and our content to be ubiquitous, and we want to reach kids in whatever way they’re consuming, when they’re consuming. If you have a child, you know that’s in so many different ways.
Why did it take so long to spin off SpongeBob?
When I first got to Nickelodeon, one of the first meetings I was asked to be in … was a SpongeBob pickup meeting. I joked, “Yeah, like I’m gonna be the guy who comes in and cancels SpongeBob.” But we go into the meeting, and they hand me the budget and the plan, and I asked a question: It’s been 20 years — has anyone thought about doing anything else with this great cast of characters? I didn’t really get an answer, but that was the jumping off point to explore it. There are so many amazing characters in SpongeBob. … It’s just an amazing collection of stories and characters. So we went from there.
How do you see your live action strategy evolving?
Live action is still very, very important, even though consumption has changed and obviously, with as many SVOD platforms as there are now, there’s a lot more choice in the live action space. I think it’s very important for us to have stars, real life kids, on our air. And I also want Nick to be more than just one thing. We’ve had a long history of making some really successful live action shows, and I want to keep that going.
That doesn’t mean that live action shows all just need to be sitcoms. We’ve done some cool things like bringing back Are You Afraid of the Dark? That was very successful for us. I’m really proud of our show with Imagine, The Astronauts. That was a real departure for us, and we got nominated for a bunch of awards for that, including a DGA Award. We’re going to keep trying different things, but we don’t need to keep doing them the way we did 10 years ago. I believe we have to have a portfolio and keep learning and trying new things. And most importantly, we have to make stars.
One of the first shows I greenlit was Ryan’s Mystery Playdate, to bring that kid from YouTube to Nickelodeon. If you’re in showbiz now and don’t know that YouTube stars are as big or bigger now than mainstream television and film stars, you’re not awake. [laughs] Especially when it comes to kids. My brain doesn’t even work that way anymore. I don’t think of them as “YouTube stars,” I just think “Oh, that kid’s a big star.” Whether it’s YouTube or NBC or film or TikTok, a star is a star.