Upfront 2012: Scenes from the Nickelodeon Upfront

by Mark Jafar, Viacom

With more than 650 new episodes across every genre in the pipeline, Nickelodeon was most definitely not lacking for variety in its annual upfront presentation Wednesday in New York.

Nickelodeon President Cyma Zarghami took the stage at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall to unveil a host of upcoming programming and projects across television and film, live-action and animation, on-air and digital – all part of the network’s master plan to cement its leadership with kids.  In addition to announcing new episodes of hits SpongeBob SquarePants, iCarly, VicTorious and other returning series, Nickelodeon treated the packed house to performances and sneak peeks at all-new shows.

Below is a photo tour of just a few of the highlights…

Big Time Rush opened the evening with a performance of “Music Sounds Better With U” before welcoming the crowd and recounting its whirlwind rise to massive popularity on Nickelodeon.  “We’ve performed for over hundreds of thousands fans around the world, including  opening for Justin Bieber in Mexico.  And the other night, we played to a sold-out crowd at Radio City Music Hall for the  first time,” said Rusher Carlos Pena, Jr.  His bandmate Logan Henderson looked genuinely stunned to recall that Big Time Rush’s first live performance ever was only two years ago at the Nickelodeon Upfront.  The group will embark on a 50-city U.S. tour  of its own this summer.  Big Time Rush also talked its Big Time Movie – a reimagining of The Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night – which pulled in 13 million total viewers over in its debut over the course of last weekend.

UK sensation One Direction followed touting a debut album, Up All Night, sitting atop the U.S. iTunes chart and generating tremendous buzz among the tween set (an MTV marketing exec we sat next to said that her 14-year-old daughter was reduced to tears at the band’s recent Radio City gig opening for Big Time Rush).  Sort of The Stones to Big Time’s Beatles (with apologies to Mick and Keith),  One Direction recently appeared on an episode of iCarly and will perform at the upcoming Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards on March 31st.

The telenovela format has borne fruit for Viacom networks across the globe – most notably in Latin America with Nickelodeon’s Grachi and MTV’s Niñas Mal  – and Nickelodeon continues its expansion of the format in the U.S. with the upcoming Hollywood Heights, debuting on Nick at Nite in June.  Nickelodeon introduced the cast (above) during the presentation, which includes Brittany Underwood, Melissa Ordway, Cody Anthony Logan and Justin Wilczynski.   Also, awesomely, the  show has signed James Franco for a four-episode arc. 

After an earth-rattling sizzle reel of his greatest hits – from The Rock to Pearl Harbor to the Transformers trilogy – Michael Bay gave the crowd a first look at the previsualization – filmmaker speak for a 3D, digitally animated storyboard – for Ninja Turtles, Paramount Pictures’ live-action reinvention of the franchise set to hit theaters next year.  “We want this film to have the impact of a Transformers one,” said Bay.  If the stunning previs is any indication, Bay is making good progress against that lofty goal in his role as producer.  Another tidbit he offered up is that the Turtles origin story has been updated, from the decidedly 80s radioactive waste accident to an alien planet.  The “teenage mutant” remains intact, however, for the brand-new CG-animated TMNT series debuting on Nickelodeon this fall – good news for those of us who grew up in a time when the names Leonardo and Donatello were more closely associated with pizza and kung fu than art.

Nick  Cannon, who counts Chairman of TeenNick among the many hats he wears, brought  stars Keke Palmer and Max Schneider on stage to preview Rags, a modern-day, gender-reversed TV movie take on the Cinderella fairy tale.  Cannon got nods of approval from the crowd  when he invoked the Michael Jackson/Diana Ross musical The Wiz as his inspiration for the new project.


14-year-old  Rachel Crow of X Factor fame closed the show with a G-rated version of Cee Lo  Green’s “Forget You.” Nickelodeon is developing a show for Crow that will no  doubt make good use of her preternatural pipes.

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  1. I’m all for ‘reinventions’ but ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ as aliens is pretty questionable. How many ‘alien’ movies have we seen in the past few years? And yes that includes Bay’s Transformers. By taking out the ‘mutant’ part out, it makes the franchise less unique. It’s like making Thor an alien instead of a God from a fantasy world. Who cares if the franchise is decidedly 80’s. That’s why we like it, and a part of the charm.

    It’s like the reinvention of GI Joe. Not that great of a film, hence possibly a more faithful sequel.

  2. Sounds interesting. I’d rather have “alien” turtles than some sort of cross-breeding for a new origin.

  3. Was there any winx club previews?

  4. Thanks for the recap Mark. I wasn’t able to attend, but wondering if you could put me in touch with a sales rep so we could schedule a media buy with Nick (our rep is AWOL). Thanks for the help!

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