Nick Spices Up Kids Block With ‘El Tigre’

Feb 26, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Nickelodeon thinks it’s good business to add more Latin flavor to its important Saturday morning programming block.

The top kids network on March 3 launches a new animated series, “El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera,” created by a husband-and-wife team from Mexico.

The series is designed to build on Nickelodeon’s multicultural success with shows for younger kids on Nick Jr. such as “Dora the Explorer,” and to capitalize on the expanding Hispanic advertising market, which is projected to grow to $5.5 billion in 2010, according to Kagan Research.

“Shows like ‘Dora’ and ‘Go Diego Go’ have proven that when we have lead characters with Hispanic origins, you can still have an enormously popular show that is heartfelt for the entire audience,” said Tom Ascheim, executive VP and general manager of Nickelodeon Television. “We think ‘El Tigre’ is going to be a big hit with our entire audience, and we expect it to be.”

Nickelodeon also recently launched “Just Jordan,” a show with an African-American lead, to strong ratings. It plans to launch “Ni Hao, Kai-lan,” with a lead character who teaches young viewers words and phrases in Mandarin Chinese, this fall.

Multicultural programming is likely to be a continuing theme next week at the network’s upfront presentation for advertisers. “Our ad sales business has thrived during this entire experience,” Mr. Ascheim said. “Advertisers are desperate to reach the market in a way that feels appropriate to people who are watching. We’re giving them vehicles that allow that.”

Ad buyers say Nickelodeon’s multicultural strategy is on the right track.

“They are trying to position themselves not only as a network that understand minorities, but they also understand that viewership among Hispanics is growing,” said Halim Trujillo, head of the expanded multicultural unit at MindShare.

Mr. Trujillo said Hispanics in the U.S. are becoming more affluent and increasingly subscribing to cable. Their kids are starting to watch networks such as Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network as they enter American schools. The kids also have a major influence on purchases because Hispanics tend to go grocery shopping as a family, he said. The parents may not know American brands, so “the kid is the one that’s going to say, ‘I want you to buy this’ because they’ve seen it on Nickelodeon,” he said.

Shows with Hispanic characters and language “seem to play extremely well amongst all kid audiences, regardless of ethnicity,” said Isabella Sanchez, VP and managing director of the Miami office of Tapestry, Starcom’s multicultural agency. “Kids are growing up in a multicultural world. That’s just their reality.”

As those kids grow up, “I believe there will be more and more programming that crosses ethnicities,” she said.

Ms. Sanchez said shows such as “Dora” and “El Tigre” attract both English-language and Hispanic-targeted media. With the Hispanic networks such as Univision airing a limited amount of children’s programming, “This would certainly provide another option for Hispanic dollars, but it wouldn’t be limited to that.”

Mr. Ascheim said he expects “El Tigre” to be a hit because it’s got “great stories, great characters and terrific creators,” who provide the show with a unique perspective and voice.

Two weeks after Jorge Gutierrez and Sandra Equihua met during high school in Tijuana, he proposed to her. She turned him down, but they continued to date for eight years while both studied animation and design in school. They then married and began working on cartoons together.

Some of their early ideas were rejected by American studios. “We would get a response like, ‘Well, this is a little too Mexican for a mainstream audience,'” Mr. Gutierrez said.

Then they decided to make a cartoon based on their childhood memories, so that the culture would be ingrained in the concept. “Nickelodeon responded like we never expected,” Mr. Gutierrez said. “To them the cultural Latin side of it was a bonus, as opposed to a problem.”

They’ve packed the show with small details that Latin viewers would pick up — like exclamations Ms. Equihua’s aunt used — but that won’t confuse English-speaking viewers.

The cartoon is based on a boy, his father and his grandfather, said Mr. Gutierrez, who imagined his own grandfather, a general in the Mexican Army, as a supervillain, and his father, who worked as an architect in a clean white office, as a superhero. “I love them both, but did I want to grow up to be like my grandpa or do I want to be like my dad?” Manny, the boy in the cartoon, faces the same dilemma.

The girl character, the only member of her family not in law enforcement, reflects Ms. Equihua, whose family was mostly in medicine and questioned her career in the arts. In the show, “The only one that turned out to be a little weird and screwy was Frida, so she’s totally based on me,” she said.

The couple has an interesting working arrangement. He draws the male characters. “I love drawing the macho men with mustaches and facial hair,” Mr. Gutierrez said.

“There are very few male artists out there that can actually draw a female with a feminine touch, if you know what I mean,” she said.

For now, this is the only project the couple is working on. “We like to say ‘El Tigre’ is our first-born,” he said.

She added: “We’re not ready for any more kids.”