Nickelodeon upfront forecasts a big year ahead

Spongebob Squarepants, NickelodeonCHICAGO – April 19, 2012 - There’s been a fair amount of buzz in the press about Nickelodeon‘s recent ratings decline, but the network put on its brave face today here in Chicago to to put its best foot forward at its upfront to advertisers and to a few of us in the press. As at its recent upfront in Los Angeles, the kids’ network announced the anticipated arrival of more than 650 new episodes of its various shows, in every genre, including new episodes of existing series as well as outright new projects. And I’m going to tell you about every one of them. Well, OK, no, I won’t, but I will give you my take on some of what I saw this morning.

Animation figures largely in Nickelodeon’s strategy, which is no surprise, given the popularity of some of the network’s animated offerings. (Lookin’ at you, SpongeBob.) In addition to the expected new episodes of existing series like SpongeBob SquarePants, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, The Penguins of Madagascar, The Fairly OddParents and others, Nickelodeon has some of its hopes rooted in a few of the following properties:

The Legend of Korra – This series spins off of the mythology established in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Fortunately, there don’t seem to be any big-name theatrical releases with Korra in the title, so at least this time Nickelodeon will be spared those identity issues. Centering on a stubborn and rebellious 17-year-old girl named Korra who aims to become a full-fledged Avatar, this series looks to appeal to the young girl demographic, though for Last Airbender fans of any age or gender, it’ll be something to check out, at least.

Raving Rabbids – I’m not sure what fans of the popular Raving Rabbids video games by Ubisoft will ultimately think of these vaguely creepy-looking bunnies going to Nickelodeon, but Nickelodeon was sure enough of them to order 26 episodes of the manic, physical-comedy series. Some of the initial online reaction to their transition to TV hasn’t been too kind, but this is the sort of thing that I could see attracting an entirely different audience than was initially intended.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – What to say about these reptiles? Nickelodeon is bound and determined to help revitalize this franchise that, frankly, was around so long in its initial incarnation that it still doesn’t seem like it’s been gone all that long. The series will be rendered in CGI, which is no surprise, but if the campy dialogue and predictable characterizations remain, I’m not sure the younger and ever-savvier generation will be having it. With a Michael Bay-produced live-action revival of the Turtles planned for early 2013, the timing seems propitious enough, but for what exactly, I’m not so sure.

It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! – The most hopeful animated entry in the bunch, given that the appeal spans numerous demographics, It’s a SpongeBob Christmas, airing (obviously) late in 2012, represents Nickelodeon’s first foray into the stop-motion animation field, inspired as it is by the Rankin-Bass specials that have been charming audiences young and old since the ’60s. Based in part on the 2009 SpongeBob song “Don’t Be a Jerk, It’s Christmas,” the story finds our dopey square hero plotting to get what he wants for Christmas by feeding everyone around him jerktonium-laced fruitcake, turning them all bad, presumably to make himself look good in the eyes of Santa Claus, voiced in this project by John Goodman.

On the live-action side of things, Nick fans can look forward, of course, to more episodes of the series that, to many, define Nickelodeon today, including iCarly, Victorious, Big Time Rush and its new series starring Cymphonique Miller, How to Rock. But there are a few new things to look out for, as well:

Marvin, Marvin – I can’t say I’m thrilled, but fans of Fred: The Show will be no doubt delighted to know that Nickelodeon has picked up 26 episodes of a new series starring Lucas Cruikshank (you know — Fred). Presumably named in honor of the famed Warner Bros. classic cartoon character Marvin the Martian, this half-hour comedy series follows the exploits of an alien teen, Marvin, who lives with a human family and tries to fit into life on our fair planet. We were told to “think Mork & Mindy,” which leaves me a little scared, I have to admit.

Rags – Big musical production numbers are still a must in this game, and Nickelodeon has its latest entry in the genre premiering sometime this spring. The two-hour original TV movie, executive-produced by Nick Cannon, tells the unlikely Cinderella story of a neglected orphan teen, Charlie Prince (Max Schneider), who dreams of becoming a singer and who happens to become friends with pop star Kadee Worth (KeKe Palmer). This actually looks rather cute, and may suck in the parents as well as the kids, though I found the teaser reel’s songs a bit heavy on the “n-ss-n-ss-n-ss-n-ss” for my own liking. (But I’m old, at least in this context.)

Hollywood Heights – I’m not one for soaps in general, but I give credit to Nickelodeon for the commitment to the idea of this series. Slated to air on Nick at Nite, this will be a daily series based on the popular Televisa telenovela Alcanzar Una Estrella. Currently, 80 one-hour episodes are in production, starring Brittany Underwood (One Life to Live), Melissa Ordway (17 Again), Cody Longo (Piranha 3-D) and Justin Wilczynski (Kaya), describing the harrowing highs and lows of life and love in the world where movies are made and dreams are shattered on a regular basis. No footage was shown at the upfront, but expectations should be high for anything this risky.

Daddy’s Home (working title) – Not an entirely finished product, at least in name, but this series puts Scott Baio back in charge, so to speak, as a dad who’s been away shooting a television series much of his kids’ lives, and finding that adapting to life at home has him a bit in over his head. It’s a little hard to judge how this will go down based on the clip we saw, but it looks better than Charles in Charge to these eyes, though I’m looking forward much more to Baio’s return as hilariously named lawyer Bob Loblaw in the — fingers still crossed — revived Arrested Development due from Netflix.

One of the most interesting developments Nickelodeon has been announcing at its upfronts has been the development of a programming block dedicated to mothers, airing on Nick Jr. starting in fall. Offering a bit of catharsis for moms beleaguered by the relentlessness of parenting, NickMom keeps it light with its slate of mostly comic programming, a couple of which are particularly worth mentioning:

NickMom Night Out – This series takes mom out for a night of stand-up comedy from the comfort of her own couch. At the upfront in Chicago, Dena Blizzard offered a sampling of her insights on the joys and pitfalls of parenting to great effect. I have no doubt that a lot of moms will appreciate this sort of thing. I think the struggle will be in simply overcoming the expectation that turning to Nick Jr. in the prime time hours will lead to something other than a potential pre-bedtime meltdown for the younger children at home.

What Carol Brady Thinks – In what could be described as a riff on the Pop-Up Video formula, this series presents original episodes of The Brady Bunch overlaid with graphics that illustrate exactly what the title milieus — what one of television’s most iconic mothers, Carol Brady, is really thinking while she’s smiling through the maelstrom of a blended family with six children and only one bathroom. It was disappointing that no preview footage was shown, but this is easily the sort of thing that will catch viewers as they flip through channels and, before they realize it, they’ve watched the whole episode.

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Image: Nickelodeon

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