EXCLUSIVE: A reflection of the shifting landscape in the children’s TV animation industry in which cable networks have to cater to a digitally-distracted generation of kids and compete with programming on Netflix and Amazon, Nickelodeon today announced its first greenlight for a TV series based on a digital short-form series.
The network has ordered 20 episodes of the comedy-adventure series, Welcome to the Wayne, created by Emmy Award-winning writer and composer Billy Lopez (The Wonder Pets, Phineas and Ferb). Scheduled to debut in 2016, the show follows the adventures of Olly Timbers and Ansi Molina who live in an action-packed New York City apartment building, The Wayne, with mysterious characters and unpredictable happenings on every floor and behind every door.
The show’s setting—a tall residential building—provides plentiful opportunities to introduce side characters, whose stories will be fleshed out in “The Wayne” app that will be released and updated in tandem with the series. “The TV show is going to basically be telling you a story, but with the app you get to explore the story at your own pace,” says Russell Hicks, Nickelodeon’s president of content development and production, who spoke exclusively to Cartoon Brew about the the series pickup. In addition to expanding the universe, the app will offer an interactive experience comprised of games, puzzles, and clues that will unravel a bigger mystery about the show.
Welcome to the Wayne launched last August as the first web-exclusive series produced by Nick. Six 4-to-5 minute episodes were offered on Nick.com and the Nick App, and the strong viewership on those platforms played a role in Nick’s decision to upgrade the show into a half-hour series (each episode will be comprised of two 11-minute cartoons).
Welcome to the Wayne evolved out of Nickelodeon’s New York shorts program, overseen by James Stephenson. Staying true to its New York roots, pre-production for the series will be done out of Nick Digital’s Hudson Street studio in Manhattan, a rarity for the network which typically produces only Nick Jr. animated series on the East Coast. The animation production will be handled by Toronto-based Switch Animation (formerly Yowza! Animation).
Hicks credits the show’s creator Billy Lopez—brother of Frozen songwriter Robert Lopez—for having envisioned the series as a transmedia property from the get-go. “This is the first time we’ve ever had somebody come in who actually had the whole world mapped out for us,” he says.
Hicks won’t go so far as to say that cable is a thing of the past, but his words suggest that the network is hedging its bets on the shrinking role of cable in the entertainment ecosystem. “In the future, you will access properties everywhere,” he says. “It won’t just be about television as perceived by our generation. You’ll watch it on your iPhone, your iPad, on your computer, or even on your watch.” (That last bit isn’t hyperbole; the Nick Jr. app launched on the Apple Watch just a few days ago.)
“What we’re doing is testing the grounds everywhere to see where it goes. The one thing we know is that when someone loves a property, they access it everywhere. They’ll go to watch YouTube videos, they make their own short-form content, they do drawings and put them on their own websites, they just post their love everywhere.”
Creators who pitch TV shows today may not necessarily plan for the various multi-platform experiences that a viewer can have, but they’ll have to acknowledge this reality in the coming years. “Creators need to have their mind open to the possibilities,” says Hicks, “[and be] thinking of the broader consumption of content because content consumption comes in so many more different ways today than it did in the past.”
He observes that adapting to this multi-platform mindset is not as much of an issue for younger artists. “The new generation of kids coming into the studio grew up with this. They’ve had it practically half their lives. The next generation, it’s all they’ve known. They’re already thinking this way. Anyone who hasn’t adapted, we have a digital department that can actually help train people in thinking broadly about their work.”
In announcing Welcome to the Wayne, Nickelodeon is also ushering in a new paradigm for animation viewers and creators alike. In other words, welcome to the future.