Serendipity Plays Role in Kids Hits

Mar 15, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Creating a hit children’s animated television series can be as elusive as hitting it big in Vegas.
“You can’t manufacture a success,” said Nickelodeon Executive VP of Development and Original Programming Marjorie Cohn. “You just know when you have something … and you feel like the luckiest person in the world.”
That’s what happened when creator Butch Hartman, who had been working at Hanna-Barbera Studios, brought “The Fairly OddParents” and its wacky husband-and-wife sprites Cosmo and Wanda to Nickelodeon. Cosmo and Wanda wreak mayhem as they “help” little Timmy conquer typical kid obstacles by granting him wishes, which have unintended consequences.
“I could barely stop laughing to listen,” said Ms. Cohn of the initial pitch. Since that meeting, “The Fairly OddParents” debuted on Nickelodeon-in March 2001-and immediately soared up the broadcast and cable television charts, ranking second only to “SpongeBob SquarePants” for children 2 to 11.
Mr. Hartman originally brought the show’s idea to his former boss, Fred Seibert, who had been president of Hanna-Barbera before forming his own company, Frederator Studios. Mr. Seibert had been co-executive producing “Oh Yeah,” an anthology show of short animated films on Nickelodeon, and he gave Mr. Hartman the green light to make a seven-minute film for the “Oh Yeah” block. It was an instant hit, prompting an order for six more shorts. “During [this] process … Nickelodeon decided it might be worthwhile to consider it as a series production,” said Mr. Seibert, who is co-executive producer of the series along with Mr. Hartman.
“Right from the beginning, the episodes were popular,” Ms. Cohn said. “Ratings just kept growing and growing. Repeatability was working as opposed to burning it out.”
The series relies on a fast, sharp sense of humor that can be enjoyed on several levels; Mr. Hartman, who’s now on staff at Nickelodeon, credits head writer Steve Marmel along with writers Jack Thomas, Scott Fellows and Cynthia True for keeping the scripts lively and fun.
“The Fairly OddParents,” a textbook model of vertical integration, is produced by Nickelodeon Studios in Los Angeles. All the pre-production tasks, from script writing to design and storyboarding, are done in-house. The Nickelodeon crew creates the X-sheets, which painstakingly note the timing of each character’s actions. All this information, along with background drawings, are shipped to Yeson Animation in Seoul, South Korea, which does the animation.
“We’ve been brought up to 70 half-hours, which is a big deal for any show,” said Mr. Hartman, who said he has a “small piece” of the back-end, including profit-sharing and merchandising. “We’re very grateful to Nickelodeon.”
To further market the series, Nickelodeon developed a President’s Day prime-time special, “The Fairly OddParents’ Big Superhero Wish,” featuring Jay Leno’s voice as the Crimson Chin. It brought in the series’ biggest audience to date: 5 million viewers and earned a 10.2 rating among its core 2 to 11 demographic and averaged 3.2 million kid viewers.
There’s also currently a tie-in with Burger King, which offers “Fairly OddParents”-themed toys. As for future ancillary revenues, “When the consumer group feels there’s a demand for it, they do go out with product,” Ms. Cohn said.