By Allison J. Waldman, Special to TelevisionWeek
Imagine an award show that’s so popular it does turnaway business, with more fans than can fit in the audience, celebrities lining up to be presenters and Nielsen ratings that climb higher each year. No, it’s not the Oscars or the Golden Globes; it’s Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards.
This year is the 20th anniversary of the award show, and Nickelodeon is determined to make it the best yet, starting with the host, music star Justin Timberlake.
“This will be the biggest, loudest, messiest spectacle in the show’s history, and Justin Timberlake is just the superstar to lead the fun,” said Marjorie Cohn, executive vice president, development and original programming, Nickelodeon and an executive producer of the award show. “Justin is a big kid at heart, and kids love that about him. He’s a Kids’ Choice Award winner, presenter, performer and slime recipient. Best of all, he’s a great sport who’s always game for anything.”
That anything-goes attitude is one of the factors that make the Kids’ Choice Awards such a kids’ favorite. The show is a funfest from start to finish. “There’s nothing like this show on television for kids. There’s nothing even close,” said Bob Bain, president of Bob Bain Productions, which is producing the show with Nickelodeon Productions. He’s an executive producer for the March 31 event.
Mr. Bain, who has executive produced a myriad of award specials, including the Billboard Music Awards, the Essence Awards and the Teen Choice Awards, claims the Kids’ Choice as his all-time favorite. “This is my sixth Kids’ Choice Awards, and it’s the most fun award show I do.”
Mr. Timberlake concurs. “I’m revving up to have an even bigger blast than usual at Nickelodeon’s 20th Kids’ Choice Awards, and I’m thrilled and proud to be hosting,” he said. The winner of three Kids’ Choice Blimp Awards, for Favorite Musical Group (‘N Sync, 1999) and, twice, Best Burp, Mr. Timberlake added, “There’s nothing like Kids’ Choice for ‘un-adult-erated’ fun. While honoring kids’ opinions, it taps into the kid in all of us.”
“In order to maintain the attention of this kind of an audience — kids — you’ve got to make this thing nonstop fun,” said Mr. Bain. “It cannot be just about giving awards or getting awards. It needs to be a variety spectacular, and we depend a lot on the celebrities to bring that variety because they come to play. They love the show, their kids love the show, and they will do things on this show that they will never get to do on serious award shows.”
Unlike traditional award shows, the Kids’ Choice Awards is devoted to kids’ favorites in movie, music and TV. This year’s ballot includes Favorite Video Game, Book and Athlete.
Being the favorite among millions of children is a very important thing for stars. “This demographic matters, regardless of whether you’re a movie star or a TV star,” said Mr. Bain. “It’s important that these kids are aware of you and like what you do.
“In addition, they love coming to this show because it’s fun. … [I]n many instances these stars have kids who are well aware of the program, and they watch Nickelodeon, and they make their parents do the show.
“Most of the time it doesn’t require much cajoling. The list of people that we do not have room for on this show would fill virtually every other award show that I do and make that show feel as if it was booked really big.”
Ben Stiller, who hosted last year’s Kids’ Choice Awards, strongly supports the show. “If you connect with kids who have seen movies you’re in, you can feel that connection. The enthusiasm kids have for what they like is very genuine. When you’re in that show, you can actually have fun and be a part of something that is very not cynical,” he said.
Another former host, Mike Myers, said, “Kids are the biggest, best audience in the world, and they deserve to have their say. And they say it out loud at Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards.”
In addition to presenting awards, the Kids’ Choice show has many other special features, none more unusual than sliming a celebrity. The stars, in fact, ask to be slimed. Among those who have been showered by the green liquid sludge are Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Jim Carrey, Mr. Stiller, even the esteemed James Earl Jones.
“We have a lot of flexibility in what we are allowed to create,” said Mr. Bain. “It’s about trying to design stuff that we really feel works for the audience. For example, the celebrity burp contest.”
Winners of the burp-off include Jessica Alba and the late Steve Irwin (they tied), Hugh Jackman and Cameron Diaz. “I chugged a Diet Coke before I went onstage and it was like ‘Bwaaapp,'” said Ms. Diaz, recalling her victory. “Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards rock.”
Clearly, irreverence and a no-holds-barred attitude are essential elements in the creation of the Kids’ Choice Awards. “We realized that when we instituted a category a few years ago called Favorite Fart in a Movie,” said Mr. Bain. “This show gives me the widest berth as a producer in terms of creativity, and for that I am grateful. There are not a lot of restrictions as it relates to goofy.”
There are also the world-record slime events. “Those slime stunts have become a major memorable part of the show,” said Mr. Bain. “We’ve done Tony Hawk doing a skateboard jump into a vat of slime. We’ve had a guy jump out of a plane at 14,000 feet riding a bicycle and parachuting into slime. We’re going to do a world-record bungee jump into slime this year.”
The Kids’ Choice Awards originally were a modest conceit. Nickelodeon in 1987 launched the Big Ballot, a national poll of kids’ choices, and that poll blossomed into an award show. The Kids’ Choice Awards in the following years evolved into a bigger and bigger production, and now more than 25 million children cast their votes each year.
For Nickelodeon, the show’s success increased dramatically when Rosie O’Donnell become the host in 1996. She continued in that capacity for a record seven shows.
“In large part, Rosie’s devotion to the show and her willingness to help grow it and help book it, put the show on the map,” said Mr. Bain. “She was very much responsible for taking this show to the next level, to what it has become. … I found her extremely easy to work with, and appreciate that she’s got a real connection with the kids.”
“There’s nothing like Kids’ Choice excitement, and it really is a party,” Ms. O’Donnell said.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Kids’ Choice Awards, the producers have many surprises in store. “We have a lot of special stuff planned,” Mr. Bain said. “I can’t address any specifically right now because we don’t want to give away the weapons. Suffice to say that we want this thing to be something memorable relative to the other 19 years. That is not an easy task, because I feel we have really raised the bar in terms of production values for this show and it is difficult to raise the bar every year, but we have pulled out just about all the stops.
“We are going 20 minutes longer,” he added. “What we have found is that 90 minutes, compared to the other award shows I’ve done, is very short. We’re racing through things to get everything in.”
Nickelodeon’s TurboNick is the interactive broadband home for the Kids’ Choice Awards. The video service on Nick.com will offer children a chance to personalize their viewing experience. In addition, there will be multiple themed playlists, video clips, games and links to the official Kids’ Choice Awards Web site. Also, iTunes and Nick.com offer free promotional Kids’ Choice Award podcasts.