Nickelodeon

SpongeBob SquarePants Delights Critics in Broadway Debut

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Following an audience-wowing run in Chicago, Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants The Broadway Musical officially landed in New York City last week, greeted by captivated fans and an ocean’s worth of critical praise.

“Skeptics better tie themselves to the mast if they want to survive this tempest of effervescent candy-for-the-spirit,” writes Vulture’s Sara Holdren. “Even if you venture into the Palace feeling Squidward  -ish, it’s a truly gloomy soul who’ll be able to leave without mirroring the dopey grin with which the show’s absorbent yellow hero responds to his buddy’s existential angst…”

The Tina Landau-directed story, in brief: while the ever-more-fiercely trembling Mount Humungous threatens to bury Bikini Bottom beneath a tsunami of lava and ash, a number of subplots playfully expose the absurdity of contemporary real-world issues in the non-animated realm in which we all dwell. Sandy the squirrel faces land-animal xenophobia from her sea fellows. Plankton’s attempts to win business through hypnosis has echoes of an online fake-news sales job. “Tidal warming” threatens to upend daily life.

With music from an all-star jukebox’s worth of musicians, a riotous set and costumes perfectly channeling the cartoon’s manic aesthetic, and a cast preternaturally suited to their undersea identities, the show is a complete work, tuned both to its obvious target audience of children and to theatergoers entranced by the spectacle of big-time Broadway productions.

Critics, many of whom expressed only a vague familiarity with the show prior to stepping into the Palace theater, were delighted. Here’s a sampling of what they liked:

The set design

Twenty years in, SpongeBob fans are well acquainted with the whimsical animated set pieces that constitute Bikini Bottom. But even long-time observers will be delighted by the maritime decor, a boldly colored and meticulously curated bazaar of pool noodles, floaty-devices, and the discarded effluvia of the consumerist human world above – shopping carts, umbrellas, surfboards and more.

“[Set designer]  David Zinn, a master designer, seems to have been fed an herb meal before devising the set and costumes that transform the noble old Palace into a trippy mindf!ck that’s equal parts Rube Goldberg and Electric Circus,” writes Deadline’s Jeremy Gerard. “I doubt there are any colors on view that exist in nature, or that you or I have seen since black light met ingested pholiotina cyanopus.”

Sesley Taylor as Sheldon Plankton (center) and company. Photo by Joan Marcus, 2017.

The costumes

Bikini Bottom is crowded with characters of odd shape and dimension, and Zinn, who in addition to set designer is also the show’s costume designer, does not try to interpret this cartoon fantasyland literally. Instead, the actors’ decidedly human-proportioned outfits match their character’s familiar color palette, evoking their essence while individual performances complete the profile.

“The production smartly shuns prosthetics to match the characters’ looks from the animated series. Instead, undersea denizens are given human form but retain telltale traits,” writes Joe Dziemianowicz in The New York Daily News. “It’s a smart decision that broadens accessibility — fans and non-fans, adults and kids.”

Pictured: The company of SpongeBob SquarePants. Photo by Joan Marcus, 2017

The music

SpongeBob’s Broadway debut packs an outsized catalogue of that key element to so many big-time stage productions: music. The play brims with songs – many of them originals created for this production – by a deep well of musicians: Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alex Ebert, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, T.I., David Bowie, Tom Kenny and Andy Paley.

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2017 Nickelodeon HALO Awards: Doing Good Never Sounded So Great

Ten-year-old Zoe Terry is the Miami-based CEO of Zoe’s Dolls, a nonprofit organization that collects and donates dolls with darker skin tones to girls of African, Hispanic, Caribbean and African-American descent. Terry founded her company in 2012 at age 5 to give these girls an opportunity to play with dolls that looked like them—something she felt was lacking in her community.

Since then, nearly $20,000 in dolls have been donated to more than 4,000 young girls in the U.S., Haiti and Africa. On Nov. 26, the Nickelodeon HALO Awards honored Terry and three others for their philanthropic efforts.

Nick Cannon and our 2017 HALO Honorees Raegan Junge, Caleb White, Zoe Terry, Andrew Dunn. (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Nickelodeon)

The HALO Awards celebrates young leaders who are changing their communities and the world by “Helping and Leading Others.” Rapper Nick Cannon created the awards show in 2011, and returned this year to host the ceremony.

Nick Cannon and Raegan Junge on stage at the 2017 Nickelodeon HALO Awards (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Nickelodeon)

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Nickelodeon Helps Break Bread and Boundaries for Child Refugees

Children mingle with SpongeBob at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters during a UNICEF Refugee Welcome Dinner in partnership with Purpose and Playworks. Photo by Tatiana Cadet.

Twenty people are forcibly displaced every minute as a result of conflict or persecution. This adds up to 65.6 million people around the world, 22.5 million of whom are refugees – a person forced from their country to escape war, persecution, or a natural disaster. Unfortunately, these stateless wanderers are not always met with open arms. Many are denied a nationality and access to basic rights when the countries they flee to struggle to cope with the influx.

Companies across the U.S. have stepped up for refugees who struggle to find a community and a place to call home. Here at Viacom, Nickelodeon’s pro-social team recently participated in UNICEF’s Refugee Welcome Dinners, along with the organization’s local partner agency, Purpose, and Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play partner Playworks, which uses play to improve children’s physical health and social and emotional learning. UNICEF brought kids and families from Guatemala, Mexico, Guinea, Venezuela, Botswana, and the Central African Republic to the Lodge cafeteria at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters to join the Playworks kids for a Nickelodeon-style pizza party.

The gathering was complete with a Paw Patrol AR pictures booth, a four-square recess game, and a dancing SpongeBob SquarePants. Kid-friendly Top 40 music filled the air, and the kids showed off their best Backpack Kid dances. Tables topped with orange table cloths and piles of candy adorned the space and a Nickelodeon promo video took over the Lodge television screens.

Children mingle with SpongeBob at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters during a UNICEF Refugee Welcome Dinner in partnership with Purpose and Playworks. Photo by Tatiana Cadet.

Regardless of race or creed, each guest came together and broke bread and boundaries, in the true spirit of Viacommunity. The event in its entirety made a powerful statement about the importance of tolerance, positivity and acceptance. Above all, it showcased the true impact that joining together in play has on the wellness of children’s souls.

Nick Follows MTV OTT Success in Return to Japan

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Nickelodeon legends SpongeBob, Dora and Leonardo and his shell-clad gang are packing their passports. Their destination? Japan.

But they won’t be rolling up in the turtle’s party wagon or following Dora’s Map to get there – this crew and more Nickelodeon favorites will arrive in the Land of the Rising Sun via an over-the-top (OTT) and mobile channel on Japanese subscription service dTV-Channel.

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“Over-the-top and mobile offer an important growth path for Nickelodeon and our other flagship brands in mature subscription TV markets like Japan,” said Mark Whitehead, president and managing director of VIMN’s Asia Pacific region. “This is another strong example of Viacom forging deep and innovative partnerships with OTT and mobile distributors, like NTT DOCOMO’s dTV-Channel™ in Japan, to make our ‘must-see’ content available when, where and how consumers want to view it.”

When the new channel launches in the first quarter of 2018, it will bring Nick content back to the nation of 127 million for the first time since 2009. With its re-entrance into Japan, Nick will have a home in every major international market that it is able to enter, with the exception of China.

The launch of the Nick channel follows a strong run for MTV’s OTT product in Japan, where online viewership (on AbemaTV and MTV MIX on Hulu Japan), now surpasses that on linear versions of the channel.

Nickelodeon’s Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie Is No Ordinary Field Trip

This Thanksgiving, Nickelodeon is serving up a feast of nostalgia with a feature-length TV movie revival of its iconic 90s cartoon, Hey Arnold! 

Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie will finally answer some unresolved questions about our football-headed hero and his missing parents. If you need a brief refresher, the show left off with a cliffhanger. Arnold discovered a clue regarding the whereabouts of his long-lost parents, leading the 9-year-old to believe they had disappeared into the Central American jungle.

And that’s where the two-hour TV movie special will take us.

Any 90s kid who grew up watching Nick’s idiosyncratic animated series will recall Arnold’s unconventional upbringing. He was raised in a fictional metropolis, evoking gnarly vibes of midtown Manhattan circa 1970.

Arnold lived with his eccentric grandparents in a dilapidated boarding house. But he slept on a retro Queen Murphy bed and gazed at the sky through his bedroom’s glass roof. Growing up in the suburbs, I always thought this looked like the ultimate crib. It seems other young fans felt the same way:

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2017 Nickterns Spruce Up California Boys & Girls Club

The summer 2017 Nicktern class united to create a mural at the Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and Greater East Valley. The mural, which is one of their largest to date, covers more than 300 square feet and employs a number of Boys & Girls Club themes. The mural was designed by Colton Davis, Gabrielle Dolbey, Tom Fields, Courtney Lovett and Alyson Wong.

Setting New Records for Slime at KCA Sports 2017

In sports lingo, the 2017 Kids’ Choice Sports Awards was a slam dunk, touchdown and homerun. With thousands of fans and sports stars gathering in UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, as well as the multitude of viewers watching from home, the fourth annual rendition of the awards show treated its audience to cameos by the U.S. Olympic team’s Final Five, raucous events such as the Slime Mountain challenge, an award honoring legendary Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Michael Phelps, and much more.

Guiding us through it all was the incredible emceeing of third-time host Russell Wilson. As a football superstar and new father, Wilson easily took the head play caller’s role to steer a show celebrating both kids and sports.

Check out some of the highlights from Nick’s slime-filled sports extravaganza.

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Nick Nostalgia Trip Continues with Hey Arnold! and Rocko’s Modern Life Movie Trailers at Comic Con

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Nickelodeon unleashed a pair of nostalgia-infused trailers at last week’s San Diego Comic Con, promoting TV movies that will revisit fondly remembered series from the 1990s and early 2000s: Hey Arnold! and Rocko’s Modern Life.

“Nickelodeon rolled into Comic-Con 2017 with the most effective weapon they could possibly unleash on millennials: nostalgia,” wrote Katie Buenneke in L.A. Weekly. “As always, Nick isn’t just catering to kids — and now they’re specifically targeting the generation of now-adult kids who grew up on Nick’s animated programming.”

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Hey Arnold!, which ran on Nick from 1996 to 2004, is set in the streets of Hillwood, a sort of Portland-Brooklyn-Seattle mash-up where fourth grader Arnold lives in an inner-city boarding house with his grandparents. Kind and unassuming, Arnold is a low-key bully-battling hero who is perpetually helpful to those in need.

This no-judgement, all-are-welcome Mr. Fix It persona endeared Arnold to a whole generation of Nick viewers. “90s kids who grew up with the show Hey Arnold! love it because main man Arnold is earnestly cool and selfless to everyone in his neighborhood and PS 118,” writes Inquirer.net’s Niña V. Guno.

It turns out that nice ages well. Fast forward to 2017. Arnold has aged one year. He is prepping to enter sixth grade. Best bud Gerald has organized a rooftop tribute to Arnold’s relentless do-goodery. And then we find out that this crew is sending their urban hero to the (fictional) Central American nation of San Lorenzo, where his parents disappeared back in the 90s.

Hey Arnold! creator Craig Bartlett talks a bit more about the characters’ updated styles and teases Arnold’s destination:

Rocko’s Modern Life, which ran on Nick from 1993 to ’96, followed the titular anthropomorphic immigrant wallaby and his crew – Heffer the steer and Filburt the turtle – through the fantasyland of their fictional city, O-Town. Despite its short-ish run, the series retains a loyal fanbase.

“The fourth Nicktoon to debut, Rocko’s Modern Life boasts a sizable cult to this day, largely thanks to the fact that it tosses a bunch of goofily animated animals straight out of a brightly colored Sunday comic strip into the midst of decidedly mundane situations, from visiting the DMV to flying on a plane to cleaning an apartment,” A.V. Club’s Todd VanDerWerff wrote more than a decade and a half after the final episode aired.

That final episode – or at least what the creators intended to be the final episode – sent Rocko and his posse deep into space, where they have been floating about (along with an impudent monkey and bunches of bananas) ever since.

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Nick’s Famous Slime Is Not Made of What You Think It Is

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

One recent weekend, I found our kitchen counters overrun with items that did not have any obvious place in a kitchen: shampoo bottles, shaving cream, various lotions and creams commandeered from closets and bathrooms. My 8-year-old daughter stood amid these scattered and emptied containers, churning their contents in a mixing bowl. The counters and floor had become a showroom of the varied colors and textures to emerge from the bottles.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Making slime,” she replied.

“Making slime?”

“Yes”

“Where did you learn how to do that?”

“On YouTube!”

Of course. This is the same child who recently asked me if I’d ever considered making a YouTube channel when I was little. When I confessed that I hadn’t, she wondered why. I told her that it had a lot to do with the fact that it didn’t exist until I was 27 years old.

This amazed her (“What did you do!?”), but I was pretty amazed, too, that even in the YouTube era, slime is something that still draws kids like birthday cake.

I grew up in the heyday of You Can’t Do That on Television, a youth-oriented sketch-variety program that ran on Nickelodeon throughout most of the 1980s. The show was also the birthplace of modern slime, which dropped like waterfalls from the ceiling anytime someone said, “I don’t know,” which seemed to happen a lot.

Decades later, as slime is having this DIY cultural moment, Nick is still the king of the gooey stuff. Just check out Pitbull’s Green Slime promo for the upcoming Kids’ Choice Sports Awards:

And if, like my daughter, you think that looks like fun, here’s how you can try making your own, Nick-sponsored slime:

But what was in that original Nick slime? Business Insider’s Chris Snyder recently put together this video where former Double Dare and What Would You Do? host Marc Summers reveals the composition of the torrential green downpours:

Footage courtesy of Chris Snyder and Business Insider. Used with permission.

We can’t confirm or deny  that Summers was correct – or whether Nick’s slime recipe has changed over the years – but it’s pretty fun to watch those old slime shots. In a world that has changed so much so rapidly – there was no real internet to speak of in the ’80s – some things, like slime, appear to be timeless.

SpongeBob SquarePants Follows Season 12 Renewal With Voyage to Broadway

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

The power of positive thinking has been working out pretty well lately for SpongeBob SquarePants. The eternal optimist will star in his third movie in 2019. Last month, Nickelodeon greenlit a 12th season, which will correspond with the show’s 20-year anniversary when it debuts in 2019. America’s favorite talking sponge continues to be the most popular cartoon on the block, scoring the top ratings slot among core kids demographics.

And now, there’s even more to celebrate:

The play – in which an unnamed savior rises to save Bikini Bottom from volcanic annihilation – moves east after a successful run in Chicago, landing at Broadway’s Palace Theatre, which sits just a couple blocks north of Viacom’s global headquarters in Times Square.

“We could not be more thrilled to bring Nickelodeon’s iconic SpongeBob SquarePants to the theater in an original musical conceived specifically for Broadway,” said Nickelodeon President Cyma Zarghami. “We are also incredibly honored to be in such a gorgeous house as The Palace, where audiences will be immersed in the fun and surprising world of Bikini Bottom.”

SpongeBob is pretty happy about it too:

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And so are the folks who watch Broadway for a living: “While we’ve been so excited about plenty of other great plays for kids, this one surely takes the cake,” writes Time Out New York’s Allie Early.

There’s a lot to be amped up about. The Chicago run was well-reviewed, with high praise for many of the disparate parts that seamlessly merge into a big-time stage production. Let’s take a look at a few highlights.

The story

SpongeBob has built a reputation as an all-ages crowd-pleaser, and the musical continues that tradition.

In his television review for Chicago local station WGN 9, Dean Richards observed, “Instead of kid-like dialogue,  the story is multi-layered for kids and adults. It all adds up to one of the most fun, well-produced, and best-acted shows Chicago has seen in a long time.”

And while the plot is relatively simple – a volcano is about to destroy their world, how do we save it? – the production’s subtext is ground in a greater, unnamed sophistication that addresses the issues of the larger troubled world we all actually inhabit.

Writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, Hedy Weiss noted, “Part allegory of the precarious world in which we all now dwell, and part satire on everything from the bureaucratic babble of modern-day politicians to the hunger for moneymaking, the bloated egos of pop music groups, messianic leaders and the eternal lure of stardom, the show is full of wildly energetic performers and playful, imaginative stagecraft that might best be described as one part lavish Dollar Store ingenuity, one part Cirque du Soleil and one part childlike invention.”

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