Seeking to continue its commitment to packing the sked with as much original British programming as possible, Nickelodeon UK has upped its budget for short-form series and is looking to acquire and produce new interstitial projects. Steve Shannon, the channel’s creative director who commissions interstitial output and oversees the whole on-air look, is after ‘anything ridiculous.’
The kidnet is producing another 12 one-minute spoof shorts of The Undersea Monkeys, a retro series that launched mid-May and centers around the homeward journey of three primates who escape from an underwater sea station after it explodes.
Twelve more one-minute episodes of live-action short series Magician are also on the Nick slate. Tapping into the growing popularity of street magicians in Britain, one segment of this series, which debuted in June, features an urban card wizard performing tricks for kids in an East London playground.
Nick is also working on spots with U.K.-based Picasso Pictures, and a Korean animation company about whose identity Shannon remains coy has been tapped to create two short series, one of which is done in Flash and will air on the web as well as on-screen.
Although none of the previous spots have been developed into longer-running series, Shannon is confident that this will happen in time. Nick UK has, like other imported channels in Britain, been criticized for its heavy North American content. But Shannon argues that despite the fact that most of the kidnet’s higher-profile programs, including Kenan and Kel, Hey! Arnold and Sabrina, come from across the Atlantic, 40% to 50% of Nick UK’s programming budget is spent on British fare.
Since Shannon joined Nick in 1997, the interstitial budget has increased year-on-year, with the channel now turning out about two hours of short-form fare annually. A full 70% of this output is live action. ‘We’d do more animation if we could, but we’re limited by budgets, and live action is generally cheaper to produce,’ explains Shannon.
While toon productions like The Undersea Monkeys and Talking with Dinosaurs (the antithesis to the slick CGI series Walking with Dinosaurs) are relatively low-budget at between US$200 and US$1,400 per minute, Nickelodeon is also working with Picasso Pictures on Monster vs Monster, a five x one-minute Flash series that will come in at between US$5,500 and US$14,000 per minute. Debuting in Q4, this series stars a brother and sister who fight pre-sleep ennui by constructing two monsters from objects in their rooms (moldy sandwiches, old socks, etc.) and pitting the creatures against one another in a till-death battle.
A similar volume of work is being carried on over at Nick Jr., with two full-timers under Shannon working on Music Monster, a Q4-launching series that features a 3-D monster in a lyrical 2-D world controlled by music. ‘Nick Jr. interstitials aren’t as mad or crazy. They’re often gently educational or reflect the younger kids’ world,’ says Shannon.
More good news for Euro producers is the rumor that Nick UK is to shortly announce a major co-pro initiative. The channel has not co-produced a series with European partners since hooking up with Sweden’s Happy Life, HIT Entertainment and TMO Films in Germany for The Three Friends and Jerry three years ago. Moreover, Happy Life’s Peter Gustafsson recently met up with MTV Networks executives, who have ‘expressed a wish to work closer with Happy Life in the future.’