NEW YORK — Already the highest rated network among kids from 8 p.m.-8:30 p.m., Nickelodeon will expand its primetime programming lineup to a full hour each night.
Newly dubbed “Nick-O-Zone,” the 8-9 p.m. kids block will feature three new originally produced series and new episodes of three returning Nickelodeon shows. The primetime block, which will air Sunday through Friday, will launch Monday, Aug. 31. Nick’s long-running SNICK block will remain on Saturday night.
Cyma Zarghami, executive VP and general manager of Nickelodeon, said that Nick began programming original kids shows at 8 p.m. in the fall of 1996 because the network’s execs believed that the broadcast networks had largely abandoned the concept of the 8-9 p.m. “family hour.”
Previously, Nick-at-Nite programmed the 8 p.m. slot with off-network reruns.
Nick’s primetime bet paid off immediately. The Viacom-owned channel beat all competitors in the kids 2-11 race from 8-8:30 p.m. for the 1997-98 TV season with a 4.8/16, according to Nielsen Media Research. Fox was a distant second with a 3.0/11.
Zarghami predicted Nick will maintain its 4.8 rating in its new 8:30 p.m. time period, partly because kids HUT (homes using television) levels remain the same throughout the 8-9 p.m. hour.
The so-called “Nick-O-Zone” environment will be hosted by a real-time animated character “O,” voiced by comedian and former MTV VJ Kevin Seal. “O” will welcome kids to the Nick-O-Zone, introduce the shows, tell jokes and phone viewers at home.
“We try to give the channel a personality, and each daypart a personality of its own,” Zarghami said. “It’s our ambition to make this the best place for kids in prime.”
The block’s premiere programs will be “The Wild Thornberrys,” an animated series from “Rugrats” creator Klasky Csupo; “Cousin Skeeter,” a live-action comedy series from Tollin Robbins, which created the Nick series “All That” and “Kenan & Kel”; and “Animorphs,” a live-action adventure series produced by Scholastic Prods.
Returning series will be “The Journey of Allen Strange,” “Hey Arnold!” “Kablam!” “The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo” and “Nick News.”
Kraft, Burger King tie-ins
To get the word out about the new Nick-O-Zone, Nickelodeon has set up promotional tie-in deals with Kraft and Burger King.
In August, 7,400 Burger King restaurants nationwide will give away five different toys based on Nick-O-Zone shows in Kids Meals. A different toy will be given away each week. Toys will include a finger puppet version of the mischievous puppet star of “Cousin Skeeter” and a toy collection based on the bumbling action figure heroes from the “Action League Now” segment of “Kablam!”
The Kraft promotion will feature the giveaway of “O-Scopes,” which will enable kids to solve riddles and word games by holding up the O-Scope to the television screen. More than 100 million packages of 13 Kraft brands will include an O-Scope during the August back-to-school period. Brands include Post Raisin Bran, Honey Nut Shredded Wheat, Oscar Meyer Lunchables, Kool-Aid Bursts, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and HandiSnacks Cheese & Crackers.