Network shuffles adult-centric programming

Nickelodeon is repositioning its evening-based Nick at Nite block as a destination for young families.

Once the domain for adults after Nickelodeon’s kid audience went to bed, Nick at Nite is adding more original series and events to attract multiple generations.

Nick at Nite’s traditional diet of off-net sitcoms remains, but the net this week will announce the primetime gamer “My Family’s Got GUTS,” as well as the canine competish “The First Annual Worldwide Fido Awards.” Both come from former Nick topper Albie Hecht.

According to Nick/MTVN Kids and Family Group prexy Cyma Zarghami, new franchises are part of Nick at Nite’s revived mission to target both young adults — some of whom grew up watching Nickelodeon — and their kids.

“We study our audience all year long, and among the trends we’ve seen in the family dynamic is kids and their parents are spending a lot more time together,” Zarghami said. “TV time is becoming much more valuable. Where we are now, the first generation of Nick viewers are now the first generation of Nick families. We think there’s a real opportunity here to connect with a family audience, something that’s not a part of Nick’s historical DNA. There’s a whole new opportunity for us creatively.”

Already, Nick at Nite has redesigned its logo, which now for the first time is similar in look and color to Nickelodeon’s. Also, the mix of off-net fare has become more family-centric — including “Home Improvement” and “Full House,” as well as “George Lopez,” which became the first off-net show to immediately bow on Nick at Nite in syndication.

That mix has helped Nick at Nite score double-digit increases in the first quarter of 2008 — up 32% with viewers, and 37% with adults 18-49.

Next up, Nick at Nite has picked up the initial off-net run of “Everybody Hates Chris,” which joins the sked next January. And the channel is about to announce it has secured syndicated episodes of 1990s hit “Family Matters.”

“The playing field is wide open in the family space,” Zarghami said. “We’ve seen an unbelievable increase in ratings thanks to the performance of shows like ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air,’ ‘Home Improvement’ and ‘Roseanne.’ It’s time to start experimenting with original programming. … By fall, Nick at Nite will have taken on a whole new sheen.”

First up, “Fido Awards” will air Sunday, July 27, and Monday, July 28, at 9 p.m. Competish will feature finalists in six categories: cutest dog, best dressed, best voice, most outrageous, best trick and dog/owner lookalike.

By night two, the Fido winner will be crowned in a live telecast.

“The pitch was, think ‘American Idol,’ but for dogs,” Zarghami said. “The whole family loves Fido. What’s not to like about an awards show that celebrates cute dogs?”

Hecht’s Worldwide Biggies shingle is behind the “Fido Awards,” as well as “Family GUTS,” which is an updated version of the mid-1990s daytime Nickelodeon gamer “GUTS.”

“There’s a community of people out there who grew up with Nickelodeon and want to reconnect with it in a different way, with their kids,” Hecht said. “It’s great for both audiences and producers like us. Our goal is to reinvent the family game, to be able to come up with things that will bring families together.”

“My Family’s Got GUTS” follows families as they compete in various extreme-sports games. Production begins this summer at Universal Studios Orlando on 20 half-hour episodes, plus two hourlong specials. Mike O’Malley (“Yes, Dear”) hosted the original version; the net and Hecht are still scouting for a host for the revival.

” ‘GUTS’ has equity with the audience, and it’s a great idea in today’s extreme sports environment,” Zarghami said. “Rather than invent something new, we’re tapping into a game we loved and had a lot of excitement built into it.”

Nickelodeon also recently announced the family-centric original telepic “Gym Teacher: The Movie,” which will air during Nick at Nite.

“I think that we need to do enough originals so that we have reasons for people to tune in periodically in bigger waves,” Zarghami said. “But we’ll always have acquisitions as part of the formal schedule.”

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