Kids’ Choice Awards grows up

Actors, studios use event to promote projects

Since launching in 1987, Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards have staked their claim as the “fun” awards, where stars play videogames, compete for best burp, and ambush each other with emerald slime.

Yet for celebrities who show up each spring, and studios whose movies they star in, the KCAs are anything but funny business.

“Everybody knows,” says longtime DreamWorks marketing head Terry Press, “that culturally, kids rule the roost. The numbers for kids and the age they adopt things like iPods (and) cell phones … all show that kids are growing up faster. If you make records or something you want consumed in the culture, you have to resonate with kids.”

Sure enough, according to a 2006 Euromonitor Intl. report, global tween spending recently hit an all-time high of $170 billion — which means for actors and studios eager to promote summer kidpics, there’s no better platform than the KCAs.

“The number of family films has increased tremendously over the past 10 to 15 years,” says Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon and head of MTVN kids and family group. “(So) for … studio advertisers, the Kids’ Choice Awards is like the Super Bowl: Showcase your movie in the Kids’ Choice Awards, you’re sure to have the best possible exposure to set your movie up for the rest of the year.”

While there seems to be little direct connection between a star’s appearance on the show and the dollar count of his or her next film, publicists agree on the KCAs’ importance as a marketing machine.

“Any association you have with it registers with kids,” says Press, who’s promoted such hits as “Over the Hedge,” “Madagascar” and all three “Shrek” films. “We have a list of things we want (our stars) to show up for, and the Kids’ Choice Awards is the first thing (next) to our own premieres.”

This is why the show has become a virtual Who’s Who of Hollywood. The past three years alone included Jennifer Lopez, Justin Timberlake, Halle Berry, Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller, Jim Carrey and Kirsten Dunst.

There is such demand to appear on the show, in fact, that Nickelodeon senior veep of talent Paula Kaplan finds herself turning people away.

“I start getting calls two weeks after the show about the following year and who can do what,” she gushes. “There’s no way to accommodate everybody.”

For talent, of course, appearing on the show’s not just about priming the box office. It’s about the spirit of the evening, which has several advantages over other award shows.

First of all, stars can wear jeans and T-shirts. Secondly, it’s a disciplined 90 minutes, which means stars can bring their families, get in, get out and get home … all before bedtime.

But most importantly, there’s nothing like strolling the orange carpet in front of thousands of screaming fans. And when it comes to the KCAs, we’re talkin’ screaming.

“It’s (the kids’) big night out,” says Baker Wynokur Ryder publicist Matt Labov, who reps KCA alumni Jack Black and Will Ferrell. “They see their favorite stars interacting and doing live stuff, (so) they’re pretty amped up.”

For Cole McNamara, there was a certain justice in seeing green goo dripping from Johnny Depp’s face during the 2005 Kids’ Choice Awards.

“Everybody liked that,” says the 12-year-old founder of KidsPickFlicks.com, an online movie review site for children, “because I guarantee you every kid thought Tim Burton disgraced Willy Wonka.”

Oh sure, some obviously tolerated Burton’s version of Wonka, which earned $206 million domestically. But more to the point, like millions of other American kids (almost 5 million, according to last year’s Nielsens), one of McNamara’s favorite pleasures is watching celebrities get slimed on Nick’s annual awards show.

For hordes of half-pint fans, the KCAs are bigger than the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and ESPYs rolled into one.

“I enjoy the Oscars,” says Cole, who added his votes to the 27 million cast last year, “(but) the Kids’ Choice Awards is more important to me. (They’re) totally focused on the comedy.”

Undeniably, stars feel the love at the KCAs like at no other award show. And at the end of the day, after all the receipts have been counted and household ratings tallied, that’s what being a star’s about.

2007 Kids’ Choice Awards nominees:

“Big Momma’s House 2”
“Night at the Museum”
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”

“Happy Feet”
“Ice Age: The Meltdown”
“Over the Hedge”

Jack Black
Johnny Depp
Adam Sandler
Will Smith

Halle Berry
Dakota Fanning
Keira Knightley
Sarah Jessica Parker

Ashton Kutcher, “Open Season”
Queen Latifah, “Ice Age: The Meltdown”
Julia Roberts, “The Ant Bully”
Bruce Willis, “Over the Hedge”

“Bad Day,” Daniel Powter
“Crazy,” Gnarls Barkley
“Hips Don’t Lie,” Shakira, featuring Wyclef Jean
“Irreplaceable,” Beyonce

Chris Brown
Jesse McCartney
Sean Paul
Justin Timberlake

Christina Aguilera
Jessica Simpson

Black Eyed Peas
Fall Out Boy
Red Hot Chili Peppers

“American Idol”
“Drake & Josh”
“Fear Factor”
“The Suite Life of Zack and Cody”

“The Fairly OddParents”
“Jimmy Neutron”
“The Simpsons”
“SpongeBob SquarePants”

Drake Bell, “Drake & Josh”
Jason Lee, “My Name Is Earl”
Charlie Sheen, “Two and a Half Men”
Cole Sprouse, “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody”

Miley Cyrus, “Hannah Montana”
Emma Roberts, “Unfabulous”
Jamie Lynn Spears, “Zoey 101”
Raven-Symone, “That’s So Raven”

LeBron James
Shaquille O’Neal
Alex Rodriguez
Tiger Woods

“Madden NFL 07”
“Mario Kart”
“New Super Mario Bros. “
“SpongeBob SquarePants: Creature From the Krusty Krab”

“Harry Potter” (series)
“How to Eat Fried Worms”
“Island of the Blue Dolphins”
“A Series of Unfortunate Events” (series)