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Nickelodeon Renews ‘Sanjay and Craig’ for Season 3 (EXCLUSIVE)

Order a big thumbs-up for a new ratings hero

ANNECY –Nickelodeon has renewed “Sanjay and Craig,” featuring voice stars Maulik Pancholy (“30 Rock,” “Weeds”) and Chris Hardwick (“The Talking Dead,” “Attack of the Show!”), for a 20 half-hour-episode Season 3.

The third season order comes before Season 2 (pictured) has begun to air next month. That’s a big show of confidence from the cable channel for an animated comedy about 12-year-old Indian-American Sanjay and his best friend, who happens to be a talking snake (Hardwick).

But the early renewal makes large sense. Created by Jim Dirschberger, Jay Howell and Andreas Trolf, and first broadcast May 2013, “Sanjay and Craig” has rapidly morphed into a ratings leader.

In the U.S., year-to-date through May, it is Nickelodeon’s No. 2 animated show across all TV, only trailing ratings stalwart “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Year-to-date episode premieres have averaged a 4.9 kids 2-11 rating and three million total viewers, per Nickelodeon sources.

“We really believe in the property, are very happy with the results. Jim and Jay and executive producers Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi and the whole crew are wonderfully creative, very smart and really professional and we all get along so well. Put all that together and you get your next season renewal,” said Rich Magallanes, Nickelodeon’s SVP, animation.

Season 1 highlights include Sanjay and Craig gleefully infiltrating a butt transplant at the hospital where Sanjay’s mother works; Craig pretending to be Megan Sparkles, Sanjay’s friend and a beauty pageant queen (nobody seems to notice he is a snake); the buddies falling down a landfill to find Chill Bill, an utterly laid-back guitar-playing bluesman who Craig thinks is just the coolest dude.

Season 3 will continue to develop Sanjay’s world.

“For the second season, we’ve been able to explore the characters more. There’s more of Sanjay as a kid. I don’t know if he visually or physically ages, but you can see him come into his own as most 12-year-old kids do at that time. We’re saying ‘more heart, less fart’ for Season 2,” said Dirschberger.

Howell added: “In the first season, we tried to set the show up and introduce the world to the world. Now we’ll be able to run wild, make a lot of callbacks. People will be used to the characters by then.”

For Magallanes, the show still has growth potential. In international, it remains a relatively new property, with Season 1 bowing on Nickelodeon’s international channels in September 2013.

Eyeballed in over 120 countries and territories around the world via Nickelodeon channels and syndication, “Sanjay and Craig” ranked as a top five program among kids 4-14 in its time slot vs. other kids’ channels in key international markets including Australia, Brazil, Germany, Spain, Poland, Hungary and South Africa.

Over Jan-March, it reached more than 18 million viewers across 11 countries including Australia, Brazil, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, United Kingdom and South Africa, per Nickelodeon International Research.

Why “Sanjay and Craig” has helped Nickelodeon gain new momentum is another matter.

Animation is all about “energy and spontaneity,” Aardman Animations Peter Lord said at Annecy Tuesday.

“Sanjay and Craig” rolls off both, thanks to an inclusive production structure. Writers work straight off storyboards with board artists. There’s no real division. That primes multiple in-put story creation.

Though sporting high-points of recent U.S. TV gross out comedy, “Sanjay and Craig” also relates to real experience, its creators argue.

“A good thing about being that age is exploring your neighborhood. I grew up in upstate New York and you could explore a block more every summer, making new friends, and so on. We’ll play off that natural progression and see more of the world, that means more weird dudes and crazy adventures,” said JD.

“Sanjay and Craig”also mixes it up. When it seems to be getting sentimental about the buddies’ bedrock friendship, the one is is punctuated by bathetic humor, or gross out, or a winning note of cynicism.

“I think it plays off a time when as a kid you’re experiencing weird emotional stuff, like the love story with Megan, but an hour later you’re throwing things on the road with your friends to watch cars run them over. We try to honor the emotional range of kids at that age,” said Dirschberger.

“When we’re concentrating on the kids, we think maybe we should do some more gross stuff, and then we say we should get back to the kids,” Howell added.

The renewal comes as Dirschberger, Howell and Magallanes have hailed into Annecy’s MIFA market for a special event on Wednesday: “Nickelodeon: The Story of Sanjay and Craig.”

The series’ story is in part Nickelodeon’s as well.

For Magallanes, “When we took on the show, we knew that it was weird, random, outrageous, sometimes silly and messy and that is really at the pulse of what Nickelodeon is all about, it’s a return to Nickelodeon’s roots. ‘Sanjay and Craig’ has helped anchor who we are and what we do today.”

“Sanjay and Craig” adds to an arsenal of shows. “We don’t have a house-style, but a vast, diverse range of shows. We don’t pick up shows which are in lock-step with each other, Magallnes added, citing “wacky shows” such as Sanjay and Craig” and “Breadwinners,” “which is even more cartoony on a level,” and shows which are “dynamic and artistically driven” such as “Avatar: the Last Airbender.”

At Annecy, said Dirschberger, Howell and he will “talk about our journey from internet cartoons to the professional animation world, growing up on Nickelodeon, wanting to make cartoons, etc. our journey from trash to cash, as we call it.”

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