Nickelodeon’s Shorts Program Develops New Talent

Toon studio taps local, global talent for multiplatform content and more international reach

welcome to the wayne Nickelodeon
Courtesy of Nickelodeon

In the 25 years since Nickelodeon launched its animation studio, more players have entered the marketplace than ever before. And the playing field itself has expanded to include more than just television and movies, as audiences consume content on different platforms.

To keep up, Nickelodeon is reaching out to new talent through its successful Shorts Program and giving audiences small bites with its digital shorts and Web-exclusive series like “Welcome to the Wayne,” which proved so popular it graduated to a series on NickToons.

“Everything comes down to talent development for us,” says James Stephenson, senior VP of animation and games. “We have a lot of different ways to do that. We have a screenwriting fellowship that’s going into its 17th year. We have an artists’ program that’s six years in. We have the Shorts Program, which is a great way to find and develop talent.”

One of those talents is Chris Savino, whose new series “The Loud House” debuted on Nick this month, after being part of the Shorts Program.

“The Shorts Program, for me, was a really smooth operation. The short was greenlit for production in March 2013 and the actual series was greenlit a year and two months later, which is very fast compared to the normal development process,” Savino explains.

Savino isn’t the only Shorts Program graduate to have a project become something more at Nickelodeon. Carl Faruolo, one of Variety’s 10 Animators to Watch this year, will have his Shorts Program piece, “Bug Salad,” become a short-form digital series for Nick. In all, according to Stephenson, 47 different shorts have produced talent for the network in the last three years.

Nickelodeon is also using its Animated Shorts Program and Writing Program to mine new talent and develop content overseas. Pedro Eboli and Graham Peterson pitched their idea for a short called “Monster Pack” that is now being developed further as a potential series for the network. The filmmakers have been given guidance and financial support to follow through on their initial pitch.

“Once they worked with us on our ideas, they were really hands-off when we were making ‘Monster Pack,’” says Eboli. “We made the film in Brazil and when we were done they gave us feedback but they gave us a lot of trust.”

With Nickelodeon channels in more than 70 countries, the network is on a push to create content that will play in Turkey just as well as it plays in Peoria.

Nina Hahn, senior veep of international production and development, says they look to preserve the unique cultural footprint of their content creators while still coming up with programming that appeals to kids on a global scale.

Another area that’s crucial to Nickelodeon is games. “Games are hugely important to our audience,” says Stephenson, especially games connected with Nick properties. “We’re finding ways that the productions we’re doing are driving all different kinds of content, including games, so when the audience finds our games they feel like they are dynamically connected to the shows,” he says. Stephenson cites “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” as a notable success for the studio. “And we’re trying to figure out whether some of our newer properties like ‘Welcome to the Wayne’ and ‘Pinky Malinky’ can build productions that feed into all the different things at once.”

Pictured: “Welcome to the Wayne” was a Web-exclusive series that moved to TV’s NickToons.