With a mandate to provide educational fare for kids, 10-month-old Noggin (the intelligent, ad-free offspring of Nickelodeon and the Children’s Television Workshop) is making the move from a library-based slate into original, longer-form (half-hour and up) series production geared to the six to 12 set. ‘The education media marketplace has served preschoolers better than older kids,’ explains Noggin GM Tom Ascheim. ‘There’s a gap in the market. And a part of the reason why it’s hard to reach older kids is that as kids go to school, they look to TV for entertainment, not education.’
The network plugs 50% to 60% of its annual budget into original programming. Although Noggin likes to take on serious topics, Ascheim says: ‘We’re not looking for talking heads that explain things to kids.’
Noggin’s serious bent is evident in the 13 x half-hour, live-action series A Walk in Your Shoes, produced in-house by Noggin in association with New York-based Bullfrog Productions. ‘With A Walk in Your Shoes, we’re taking on issues of diversity and race, but kids are exploring the topic,’ Ascheim says. Slated to air in April 2000, the show revolves around two people who trade places-literally. Each episode features a different pair from opposite circumstances. The first ep, for example, looks at a country kid and a city kid. Future episodes will examine differences in race and geography.
Noggin embarked on an interactive promo for the show, offering a contest winner the chance to trade places with Ascheim. The winner ran the network for a day in January, while Ascheim trundled off to school. The switch was filmed, and Ascheim and the winner kept an Internet journal of their experiences. Ascheim says the promo fulfilled Noggin’s mandate of putting kids in charge. ‘To do something powerful, like run a TV network, is a genuine kid fantasy.’
As a part of the net’s latest strategy involving turning short-form shows into long-form productions, Noggin recently commissioned Boston-based prodco Fablevison to create two new short-form toons, Cecil and Her Very Own Universe and Swamp Dog, scheduled to air later this year. Both shows will be between three and 10 minutes in length-with an undetermined number of episodes skedded to air in early 2000-and will be eyeballed for half-hour series potential. Cecil stars a 12-year-old girl who lives in a futuristic underground world with her robot dog. Swamp Dog looks at the life of 10-year-old Gyro, who belongs to an intergalactic flying circus.
George Newall and Phil Kimmelmean from Geomar Philms (of Schoolhouse Rock fame) are working on an animated order that incorporates music to examine technological breakthroughs of yore. The duo is also plugging away at a creative piece that centers on alien time travelers. Tom Snyder Productions, the prodco behind Dr. Katz, is developing a project that takes a humorous look at language, and Hodgson Bros., the company that created Mystery Science Theater 3000, is working on a co-pro with The Jim Henson Company that will get kids to make their own TV show. Noggin also ordered 10 more installments of the hour-long The Phred on Your Head Show.
Ascheim says the Network isn’t focusing on acquisitions. ‘There aren’t that many great shows for older kids that are educational to pick up. ‘ A recent exception was Bill Nye the Science Guy, which Noggin acquired this fall. ‘We’d like to make our mark, so we need to invent,’ Ascheim says, though he stresses that he is always on the lookout for shows that fulfill Noggin’s mandate of providing fun, educational programming that places kids in charge.
Noggin also focuses on interactivity to draw kid eyeballs to its slate. ‘We are more convergent than many of our brethren. [The Internet] is very much half of what we do,’ says Ascheim. For example, the upcoming toon Swamp Dog will incorporate on-line elements by giving kids a chance to advise the show’s protagonist Gyro on his escapades. Traffic to Noggin’s site (www.noggin.com) has increased exponentially since the network’s launch, when it drew 20,000 users a month. Ascheim says it now draws close to one million.