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The Next Mutation: Nickelodeon Reinvents ‘Turtles,’ ‘Blue’s Clues’ for a New Generation

Cowabunga, dude. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is about to get a reboot at Nickelodeon, where the network is ready to introduce the characters to a new generation of viewers, one of several venerable properties the network is reviving. And the net knows this generation of kids will want new things from these series.

“In order to reach [our audience] we’re going to have to use our entire ecosystem,” says Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon Group. “And our ecosystem includes some social, some digital, a relationship with our retail and toy partners, so we have the ability to mobilize the scope of our business to help make something successful. It’s a different vision of prioritization now that we have so many more tools now.”

The re-imagined turtles will appear in “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” a 2D-animated series co-executive produced by Andy Suriano, who previously did character design for “Samurai Jack,” and Ant Ward, former supervising producer on “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Veteran voice actor Rob Paulsen is voice-directing the new 26-episode series, which follows the turtles as they explore a mysterious world located underneath the streets of New York City.

Voice performers for the new show include Josh Brener (“Silicon Valley”) as Donatello, Omar Miller (“Ballers”) as Raphael, Ben Schwartz (“Parks and Recreation”) as Leonardo, Brandon Mychal Smith (“You’re the Worst”) as Michelangelo and John Cena as Baron Draxum, a warrior mutant who seeks to turn all of humanity into mutants.

“Nickelodeon has been great about integrating this series into a multiplatform experience, so we want to make sure our storytelling can extend beyond week to week episodes into all the other media components and social media components and live experiences,” says Suriano. “It’s exciting to be part of something kids will experience in many different ways, and this is a show that was big for so many generations of kids before that it’s fun to imagine how we can push it further.”

“We’ve earned the respect of the true fans with what we’ve done already and now we look to make it fun for new fans to discover and enjoy all the turtles,” Zarghami says.

Nickelodeon, whose core audience is kids 6 to 11 years old, has also slated a spinoff of its hit “The Loud Family,” “Los Casagrandes,” as well as a reboot of “Blue’s Clues” designed for younger, preschool-age children. The original show, created by Traci Paige Johnson, Todd Kessler and Angela C. Santomero, aired for six seasons.

Santomero, who also worked on “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” plans to update the look, but keep many of the original aspects of the show.

“Of course we want to engage, in some way, previous fans and we also want to make it relevant today,” says Santomero. “We believe that preschoolers are universally developmentally similar, but things are a bit different so we’re incorporating a new live-action host and new CG animation. We’re going to push the level of interactivity even further. We know that preschoolers are surrounded by media in all different areas and they’re interacting with apps and games that push education to the next level. But when we talk about it, it’s really more about giving kids a voice and practicing skills. And we’re interested in pushing that even further.”

The re-invented “Blue’s Clues” series will focus on an energetic puppy named Blue who asks her viewers into her animated world to help solve the day’s puzzles. A live-action host will guide the young viewers through the show.

Young kids are encouraged to interact with the action on-screen by answering questions and identifying clues.

“We still use research religiously,” Zarghami says. “This audience is different than the one before it for a lot of reasons. Being born into a digital world is part of what makes them different. So they have an expectation that if something is important that it is available to them everywhere.”

>Zarghami points out the shows chosen for reinvention have reached a level of cultural relevance that only comes after catching on with viewers, who then become adults but still love the show and the characters. And Nick knows as well as anyone how potent those associations can be, with the net’s SpongeBob Squarepants having found new life as an unlikely Broadway star.

“Each one of these properties that we’re reinventing have a couple of things in common, starting with [the fact that] they’ve been able to withstand the test of time,” she says. “They’ve been around for 10 years or more, they’ve all reached a level of ubiquity in the grown-up world. So, you’ll see sort of a random person at the airport wearing a [Teenage Mutant Ninja] Turtles T-shirt. And each one of these properties is a global success so they don’t just work in the domestic market, they work everywhere. Each one has managed to manifest itself well beyond television, whether its fruit snacks or toys or theatricals. When you have one of those, it feels like our responsibility to make sure we keep bringing them back for the new generation.”

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