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Cyma Zarghami, Nickelodeon’s Former Chief, Launches New Kids Content Studio

Pictured: Cyma Zarghami, President of the
JUSTIN STEPHENS/NICKELODEON

Cyma Zarghami spent the better part of her career overseeing the kids-media empire known as Nickelodeon. At last, she’s ready to come out and play.

Zargahmi, who left in 2018 as president of the Nickelodeon operations at the company once known as Viacom, has returned to the business of creating content for kids. She has launched MiMO Studio, a production company and consultancy that will put its initial focus on developing original movies based on properties she thinks will win over children and their families.

“I think kids under 11 are looking for something new to fall in love with,” says Zarghami in an interview. “I’ve had some success in that department.”

Zarghami started at Nickelodeon in 1985 as a scheduling clerk and over three decades became one of the most important leaders in children’s television in the U.S. During her time there, Nickelodeon introduced young audiences to everything from “SpongeBob SquarePants” to “Paw Patrol” to “Henry Danger.” Now, she hopes to hook audiences on “The Kid Who Only Hit Homers,” a live-action movie based on a popular children’s book by author Matt Christopher. MiMO has added modern-day touches to the 1972 story of young teen pitcher Sylvester Coddmeyer III, and includes a female character.  The author also wrote three sequels to his original book.

The series “has been around for a long time, and one of the things that has been very liberating for me is the idea that I’m not necessarily trying to serve the broadest possible audience” any longer, says Zarghami, who believes significant numbers of people will be interested in properties centered around “good family values and sweet emotional stories.” Rights to the books were available, she says, and “I thought it would be a great place to start, to have a calling card, so to speak.”

MiMO has already identified five other properties that run the gamut from live action to animation and pre-school, she says.

The studio will focus on projects that inspire positive family values and are mindful of the modern child’s sensibility, one that is eager to learn about the world and also interested in seeing authentic, multicultural characters. MiMO  will look to create limited series and movies; build content from favorite children’s book titles; and produce stand-alone specials with recurring characters. Zarghami says the properties she develops might be suitable for traditional kids outlets or emerging venues.

She is particularly interested in mining the “TV movie” format, one which has gained  traction in recent years on both traditional outlets like Disney Channel and Nickelodeon as well as on new streaming outlets. The movies aren’t necessarily the same length as the ones you might see at a theater, but give networks and streaming hubs the chance to break the traditional mold of presenting everything in multi-episode series.  In recent years, Disney has gained traction with “movies” such as its “Descendants” and  “Zombies” franchises. Nickelodeon found interest in a nearly hour-long musical episode of “Henry Danger.’ And Netflix developed the 104-minute holiday movie “The Christmas Chronicles” starring Kurt Russell.

“There is a tremendous amount of really special intellectual property out there that is ready to be told in the movie format,” says Zarghami. “There are not necessarily ready to be full-on series, but definitely should not be ignored, because they can come to life in full-blown, character-developed narratives in 45 to 50 minutes. In success, there is the potential to make more.”

Zarghami spent years overseeing a business that was reliant on making dozens of quick-burst episodes. To recognize the most financial upside, executives had to hope a series would be popular enough to spur a wave of consumer products, which could bring Nickelodeon millions in licensing revenue. But the kids’ business has become challenged, as young viewers have been the first to adopt new technologies that include watching favorites via mobile devices and in shorter bursts. Developing longer-lasting concepts for an audience that can quickly move on to the next big thing has become a more complex process.

“I lived through sort of the shift from linear to streaming and short-form and YouTube,” says Zarghami. ”I do think there has to be a different way.”