To be a part of Nickelodeon’s creative production team, one has to truly be in touch with one’s inner child. Marjorie Cohn, executive VP of development and original programming for the network, has no trouble channeling the kid inside. She understands fun and never forgets that her mission is to make her viewers — the kids — as happy as can be.
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Kids’ Choice Awards, Ms. Cohn spoke with TelevisionWeek correspondent Allison J. Waldman about putting together a comedy-filled show that celebrates such kids’ favorites as the best burpers in show business and the unexpected joy of being slimed.
TelevisionWeek: What do you have in the works for the 20th anniversary of the Kids’ Choice Awards?
Marjorie Cohn: For the 20th anniversary, we really feel like we have to pull out all the stops, and so we’re going to try and make the show 20 times more exciting than ever before. We’re also very excited that Justin Timberlake is going to host because he’s a guy who comes out to play and have a good time.
TVWeek: The Kids’ Choice Awards show is irreverent and so much fun; was that always how it was intended to be?
Ms. Cohn: It was originally designed to celebrate kids’ favorites. I think if you look at the crowds, they are people who respect kids and who like to play. They really understand what it means to deliver to kids.
TVWeek: Who are some of the presenters you’ll have on the show?
Ms. Cohn: We haven’t announced the celebrity presenters yet, but we have an embarrassment of riches. There will be some returning favorites, but I have to tell you that over 50 percent of our guests will be new. We’re very, very excited. It’s going to be fresh and new. We’re also adding a special element: We’re going to have kids vote — real-time voting — on who should get slimed at the end of the show.
TVWeek: What kind of reaction do you get from children about the Kids’ Choice Awards?
Ms. Cohn: They just love it. For one thing, it showcases the stars that they love. We already have an unbelievable amount of voting and we’ve only had the voting open for a week. We’re already over 5 million votes, and it’s only been promoted since the weekend, so the kids are just ready to go. And if you are in the arena during the show, the kids are shouting before the show starts, they shout during the show, they shout nonstop. They scream out with applause and enthusiasm and love for an hour and a half.
TVWeek: Wasn’t it Rosie O’Donnell, who has hosted seven times, who said about the experience, “You won’t be able to hear a thing, but just go with it”?
Ms. Cohn: “Just go with it.” … I think when these stars come out for the first time it is fairly shocking because the kids aren’t respectful, but they’re listening even as they’re screaming and yelling. It’s an experience unlike any other. It’s certainly very, very different from the Oscars, but it’s our version of the Oscars.
TVWeek: Over the years Nickelodeon has made many changes to the show, but what was the original concept when you and your colleagues were brainstorming 20 years ago?
Ms. Cohn: The original inception was really about giving kids a voice. It was not called “Kids’ Choice Awards.” It was called “Big Ballot,” and it was a little piece of a movie review show that we had been doing for less than a year. But then it evolved into the Kids’ Choice Awards, so it’s certainly come a long way from where it began.
TVWeek: How do the Kids’ Choice Awards do in the ratings compared with your regular programming?
Ms. Cohn: It does better than our normal schedule. It’s a great big event, and last year was our highest-rated Kids’ Choice Awards ever. We’re hoping we can best that this year. We’ll broadcast the show twice and then we’ll do a cut-down, 30-minute version, too. It’ll also be on VOD.
TVWeek: How do you determine the nominees each year?
Ms. Cohn: The ballot is based on kids’ favorites from that year. We use a tracking system that’s based on box office sales and all the charts that are legitimized by the industry. We then lop off the top four in each category, and those are the nominees.
TVWeek: When did you first see a major uptick in the number of kids who were getting involved and voting?
Ms. Cohn: Kids have always responded in big numbers, but what’s changed, really, is the Internet. Kids’ ability to vote online and on their cellphones has been tremendous. The way it was before the Internet — phone calls — was just too limited. Any kid can vote now.
TVWeek: What do other award show creators and producers think of the Kids’ Choice Awards?
Ms. Cohn: Our producer, Bob Bain, has done a bunch of different awards and he says this is his favorite one. Everybody wants to come out for the kids, and when they come, they just know instantly they’re going to have a good time.
TVWeek: Is an audience of kids less judgmental and more accepting than adult audiences — you know, they’re there to have fun and they don’t care about what someone is wearing?
Ms. Cohn: I think that’s absolutely true. We do have an orange carpet — as opposed to a red carpet — and we will cover the pre-show both on-air and online. We’re also going to have behind-the-scenes cameras streaming online.
TVWeek: One of your more colorful awards is the Best Burp Award. How did that come about?
Ms. Cohn: I think one of the things associated with our being outrageous and fun is burping. When we thought about what makes kids laugh, we know they think burping is funny. They’re not offended by it. So we thought that celebrities are people, too, and they burp. There are probably a lot of talented burpers out there — let’s give it a whirl. The enthusiasm they showed and the competition that ensued was pretty heavy. Then when we had beautiful Cameron Diaz win the first Burp Award, well, that was just icing on the cake.
TVWeek: What’s it like to call Justin Timberlake’s management and ask if he would be in the burping competition?
Ms. Cohn: At this point, he insists on being in the running. He’s won two Best Burp Awards. When we first approached him about it, it was on the red — I mean, orange — carpet, and the man is just a talented burper. He was just happy to share that with the world. Sometimes other people have tried to participate only to develop stage fright, and their gas supply is cut short. They can’t produce those big volume burps.
TVWeek: What did Rosie O’Donnell bring to the show in her appearances as host?
Ms. Cohn: Everybody knows Rosie’s devotion to kids and how much she loves them. She really brought the show up to another level for us with her willingness to play, her connection to celebrities and just her great connection to kids. When Rosie was hostess kids were in the driver’s seat, and she really helped set the tone for future Kids’ Choice Awards.
TVWeek: Do you have an all-time favorite host?
Ms. Cohn: My favorite is whoever is hosting at the moment. Each show is so exciting. We’re thrilled this year that Justin Timberlake wants to do it and that he wants to play as hard as we think he’s going to play. He’s got some great, funny ideas and I can hardly wait to see what happens.
TVWeek: Is it rewarding in business terms to be revered by the kids?
Ms. Cohn: I think so because they are the future consumers. They are also the present consumers, I might add. Kids can make or break box office sometimes as well. I think families are always looking for movies they can see together, and if the kids are happy, parents are happy.
TVWeek: Looking into the future, do you see the Kids’ Choice Awards continuing for another 20 years?
Ms. Cohn: I think so, because there are always new crops of kids, and they will always have their favorite
s that are different from their parents’ favorites. There’s a place for this show. Look at Jack Black and Will Ferrell at the Oscars saying they will never win an award because comedians don’t win at the Oscars. Even Jack Black called out Kids’ Choice as his award, so hopefully we’ll always have a special place.