Mike Caron is doing a lot more with his favorite program than just binge-watching it.
Caron has long worked on the Nickelodeon series “Henry Danger,” and directed the first episode of a new sequel series, “Danger Force. “ The show, which debuted earlier this year, centers on a team of four young super-novices and the more experienced veteran, Captain Man, who must train them.
The heroes have their work cut out for them tomorrow night – and Caron is quietly helping them behind the scenes.
On Saturday night, Nickelodeon will present a special episode of “Danger Force” that is not among the ViacomCBS network’s initial order for the series. With production of many shows shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic, “Force” producers and cast thought they could entertain fans by making an extra “Danger” episode with the cast scattered at their various homes – playing their characters hunkered down in a room, a closet, a home garage. Caron will direct once again.
“This episode has a very, like, let’s-all-get-together-in-the-treehouse-and-put-on-a-play feel to it,” says Chris Nowak, the executive producer and showrunner of the series.
Other TV series are trying to find a way to get back on the air despite restrictions on big crowds gathering. Late-night talk shows have all moved out of the theaters and studios that housed live audiences and now their feature hosts working from home and talking to celebrities via video-sharing technologies. At NBC, “Saturday Night Live” has moved to an “at home” show that relies on taped segments. Discovery’s Food Network can no longer dispatch Guy Fieri to various “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” so he’s making the recipes he sampled while traveling to those places while at home. And CBS recently broadcast an episode of “All Rise” showing central character Judge Lola Carmichael holding a virtual bench trial with Zoom, FaceTime and other new-tech tools.
But regular kids’ series have yet to nod to the pandemic. And Caron hopes viewers will be able to enjoy the episode on Saturday, and in the future. “It will always be representative of something that was made in the quarantine age. There’s no getting around it. But I’d like to think that with the song and the dancing – it’s funny. Our hope is that five years from now, I think it will still play fine.”
Few heroes can see into the future, but getting fresh content on Nickelodeon despite a pandemic is a mission even the network’s top executive can embrace. ViacomCBS brought Brian Robbins aboard its kids-media empire in 2018 with a mandate to win back a legion of kids who have a dizzying array of content aimed at them streaming on any number of outlets. “If you make content and shows that kids want to watch, they will show up for it,” Robbins told Variety in 2019 as he introduced a new programming lineup that revived the Nickelodeon classic “All That” while vowing to keep kids interested by giving them a wider array of content to consider.
The “Danger” franchise is not to be ignored. “Henry Danger” has grown to be one of the network’s most popular shows and made a star out of Jace Norman, the young actor who played Henry Hart, a novice sidekick to Captain Man. When the series wrapped earlier this year, the network made certain to do so with a storyline designed to keep viewers interested in the spin-off. “We just really tried to bust our butts to end ‘Henry Danger’ strong and keep riding it into “Danger Force,” says Nowak.
No one at the network mandated the super-hero team get back to work. But Ben Giroux, who plays the super-villain The Toddler on “Danger Force,” and Cooper Barnes, who has played Captain Man since “Henry Danger” launched in 2014, started making videos in character on Tik-Tok urging followers to stay safe amidst the pandemic. Nowak showed the funny videos to executives at Nickelodeon, who asked “Could we do something like that with our cast just to keep ‘Danger Force’ in people’s minds during this quarantine?’” the showrunner recalls. “I thought it was a joke.”
It wasn’t. And producing the episode required serious thought.
Actors and producers had to figure out how to make various rooms in different homes look like they belonged to the characters, not the people who actually lived there. Cooper Barnes started putting little knick-knacks in his garage that would remind viewers of previous “Henry Danger” episodes. One of the kids lives in a different time zone than the others, spurring producers to try to figure out how to change the lighting to emulate the time of day portrayed elsewhere. Families rearranged home décor and furniture to help the actors stage a more convincing setting. Could producers orchestrate a fight scene between The Toddler and Captain Man? “How do you punch someone virtually?” asks Caron.
The entire staff has tried to add interesting touches to keep viewers intrigued. Samantha Martin, a supervising producer at the show who gained some notice last year by creating a musical episode of “Henry Danger,” devised a new song about flatulence for the cast to sing toward the end of the program. And Nowak’s wife, a dancer and choreographer, created a short 20-second routine for everyone to do.
To help the cast, Nickelodeon arranged for the characters’ masks to be sent out via contact-less delivery. Their colorful super-hero suits were another matter. “We don’t have a lot of them, and they are pretty expensive,” says Nowak.
Defeating super-villains is the easy part. “We are literally constructing this from scratch,” says Caron. Viewers can decide tomorrow night if “Danger Force” carries the day.