Nick at Nite Goes for Originals

Jun 27, 2005  •  Post A Comment

To celebrate Nick at Nite’s 20th anniversary, President Larry W. Jones is inviting all 150 staffers Wednesday to his house in Connecticut, where water balloons and Good Humor bars will be served.

Mr. Jones was the first full-time Nick at Nite employee, and he has watched the network grow from one that thrived on reruns of classic TV shows to one that is beginning to develop and produce its own content.

So far this year Nick at Nite is up 14 percent in total viewers and is the No. 1 basic cable network among women 18 to 49.

A key project in the works features Darlene Westgor, the winner of Nick at Nite’s “Search for the Funniest Mom in America” contest. After taking the $50,000 prize, the single mother of two teenage boys quit her job in Minnesota to make the most of the other part of her winnings: a development deal with the network.

Mr. Jones said Nick at Nite is trying to connect Ms. Westgor with top-flight writers and showrunners. He expects the show to reflect her life as a single mother. “You write what you know,” he said, noting that such classic TV shows as “Seinfeld,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The Cosby Show” and “Roseanne” stemmed from their creators’ experience.

A pilot for Ms. Westgor’s show is expected in September and the network plans to test it the following month. If it gets picked up, it would air sometime in 2006.

The show would run in the 9 p.m. time period where Nick at Nite has begun slating its originals. Bill Cosby’s “Little Bill” runs there now and it will be joined by “Hi-Jinks” Aug. 1. In “Hi-Jinks,” parents pull playful pranks on their children. In one episode a mother pretends to get a tattoo, thoroughly disgusting her daughter.

The time period is where Nickelodeon ends and Nick at Night begins, Mr. Jones said. In that time period there is a lot of co-viewing by kids and adults, and that gives the network a chance to bring in new viewers.

Programming in that time period must conform to what Mr. Jones calls his four Fs: family-friendly, fun and familiar.

Putting original programming on Nick at Nite is risky because it can be expensive and unlike the classics, you never know whether a new show will have appeal. It’s also risky because shows such as “Full House” and “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” have “been kicking butt,” he said. “The bar is very high.”

But original shows have appeal to advertisers and “we think the viewers are open to us” too, so long as new shows fit the tonality of the channel,” he said.

Nick at Nite aims for viewers in the 18 to 49 demographic, with a sweet spot of about 31, Mr. Jones said. What makes those viewers nostalgic now are shows from the 1980s such as “Roseanne” that “defined a generation,” he said.

TV Land, which was spun off of Nick at Nite, is aimed at the 25-to-54 viewer, centering on 45-to-48-year-olds and plays older classics such as “Leave It to Beaver.”

The two networks worked together to mark the anniversary.

Since June 21, Nick at Nite has been airing shows that were on the broadcast networks in 1985, the year Nick at Nite started. Those shows include “Who’s the Boss,” “Growing Pains,” “Moonlighting,” “Family Ties” and “Night Court.”

And over the weekend of June 25, TV Land was scheduled to run a marathon featuring all of the shows that have aired on TV Land over the past 20 years, ranging from “Route 66” and “Dobie Gillis” to “Murphy Brown” and “Three’s Company.”

Nick at Nite is also planning to expand its Family Table campaign urging families to have more meals together. “Eating together can change young kids’ lives in a substantial way,” Mr. Jones said.

The network is planning an event on Sept. 26, when it hopes it can get 10 million people to pledge to dine with their families.

The network is partnering with the Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse, and will shoot spots with the group’s celebrity spokesperson, Jamie Lee Curtis. Other spots will feature Goldie Hawn, Paul Reiser and Roseanne Barr.