Nickelodeon Kicks Off Upfront Season; Is SpongeBob SquarePants Headed for Broadway?

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We're back on the Upfront patrol, and from now until mid-May, we'll review what transpires. As always, we break things down into five categories -- venue, presentation, news, host performance and overall --rating each on a scale of 0-5 Jacks. Five Jacks are the best. As for zero Jacks … don't go there.

Nickelodeon

Venue: Skylight at Moynihan Station, the wide open space around the corner from the U.S. Post Office's big branch on 8th Ave. Used sparingly as a Digital Content NewFronts site the last two years -- AOL in 2013 and Microsoft for its now-defunct XBox Entertainment Services unit last April. After several years at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Nick shifted its presentation here. A wide stage and screen with orange shadow graphics welcomed visitors to the main presentation room, connected to a second room for the after-show reception. (Early on, new Viacom Kids & Family Group President Cyma Zarghami invited audience members to give the screen itself a round of applause ... and they did!) The on-screen graphics were colorful throughout, including patchwork-type murals of Nick's cartoon personalities. A similar mural was posted outside on W. 33rd St. in front of construction for Moynihan's underground extension of Penn Station (opening in 2016-17). One on-stage miscue: A clip for a new series ran twice, the second time in place of another new series clip. That other clip never ran. Grade: 4.5 Jacks

Presentation: The focus went back and forth from what new series Nick and its sister services (Nick Jr./Nicktoons/TeenNick) will offer to how those new series will live online and other ways beyond the TV screen. For example, Game Makers, a forthcoming series from iCarly/Victorious/Sam & Cat creator Dan Schneider about two girls who launch a new games venture, will turn whatever games get created by this scripted pair into online destinations and smartphone/tablet apps. (Suggestion: Don't forget smart TVs and devices that make TVs smart, such as Roku, Google Chromecast, etc.) Other series will be positioned for merchandising/advertiser tie-ins through a new Inside/Out Solutions unit. Meantime, Nick perennial SpongeBob SquarePants may be headed for Broadway in musical form. If the opening number showcased (directed by Tina Landau) is a barometer, parent Viacom may have just the thing to break into the family-friendly musical scene dominated by Disney. Solid pace and plenty of clips to view, supported by a wry appearance from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-star Will Arnett. Echosmith continued Nick's string of solid Upfront event musical wrap-ups. Grade: 4.5 Jacks

News: Of more than 600 new/returning series episodes promised for the 2015-16 season, about 100 will turn Nick's experimental efforts in daily scripted serials the last two years (House of Anubis and lately Every Witch Way) into a year-round staple. At least three new series will play: Make It Pop (three girls form K ... short for Korean-pop band), Talia's Kitchen (girl moves in with grandma and creates magic in her family's restaurant) and Every Witch Way offshoot The W.I.T. Academy. Every Witch will return with new episodes this summer. Other Nick premieres include Roll Call (middle school life, shot in mockumentary/Modern Family-style fashion); School of Rock, based on the hit Jack Black movie, and Pig Goat Banana Cricket (originally announced last February), in which four animated characters get their own adventure each episode, then unite in the final segment. The Nick Jr. newbies include Mutt & Stuff, marking the return of kid-vid creators Sid & Marty Krofft (dog school goes wild), and genies-in-training cartoon Shimmer and Shine (another 2014-announced series). Nick left out info on when most of these series will launch, or in the case of Pig and Shimmer, launch at last. Grade: 4 Jacks

Hosts: Spread among Zarghami, Content Development President Russell Hicks, Chief Marketing Officer Pam Kaufman, Sales chief Jim Perry and Chief Operating Officer Sarah Levy. All did the trick. Grade: 4 Jacks.

Overall Grade: 4.5 Jacks Nick has mastered the art of upfront tale-telling in an hour or less. More notable: doing so in an engaging, versatile manner.

Next up: Spike TV, another Viacom channel, steps up after a long absence from the scene.

Other notes from the TV passing parade:

Add Nuvo TV and The Weather Channel to the growing list of event absentees. Nuvo (and Fuse, acquired by them last year) will do a conference call with reporters next week. Meantime, no word yet from AMC, FX Networks and other key programmers on whether they'll do something soon, or back off. Same with new nets that entered the scene last year, such as El Rey and Revolt.

Social Media Week NY put on a great afternoon session devoted to local start-ups February 24. Six of the 10 companies presenting have smartphone/tablet apps that should strongly look at adapting their work to smart TVs/devices. They are Alfred (household chore service), Dots (game studio), Beautified (health/fitness appointment bookings), One Month (online video learning service), Shyp (merchandise shipping) and Spring (shopping mall for women).

Every new TV content or technology venture based in the Big Apple, or looking to settle in there, should consider participation in Digital.NYC, the new online display of the local digital scene. In very watchable fashion, this site lists start-ups and local financial resources from venture capital, angel investors and incubators to meet-up groups and trade associations. Extremely comprehensive and watchable. This could lead to breakthroughs by TV start-ups from new networks to interactive TV apps in landing investment. Every TV organization up and down the chain, trade associations included, should have a listing on Digital. NYC. This format should be copied all over the nation. Bravo to its organizers and design team.

Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!

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