Nick Made A Funny Mini-Series. Then They Sat On It For Years: Whatever Happened To ‘Bug Salad’?
Back in January of 2014, Cartoon Brew debuted Bug Salad, a promising and funny short created by Carl Faruolo, then a director on Nickelodeon’s Sanjay and Craig.
The quirky concept was part of Nickelodeon’s Animated Shorts program, the same initiative that spurred series like The Loud House and Breadwinners, but unlike those other projects, Bug Salad took an unwieldy, winding path through the world of television development that included the production of five additional shorts.
Finally, more than five years after Faruolo’s initial pitch, Nickelodeon recently premiered those shorts on its Facebook and Youtube. The timing seems somewhat odd, as Faruolo left Nickelodeon earlier this year to join the Animaniacs reboot at Warner Bros. as supervising director. We caught up with Faruolo to learn more about the project’s long gestation period.
Faruolo first pitched Bug Salad when he heard about Nickelodeon’s Animated Shorts Program a few months after he was brought on board as a director for Sanjay and Craig in 2012. The short he created for the program received a positive response right off the bat.
“They wanted to put it into development as a series potential, so we did an 11-minute [animatic] pilot,” he says. “The pilots went up for consideration, and they didn’t choose it. So the project was killed.”
Despite this disappointment, Faruolo was excited to have had the chance to develop his own content. He particularly appreciated the level of support and wiggle room the program afforded him.
“They supported my style of humor. It didn’t feel watered down,” he explains. “So when it got killed, I thought, ‘Well, I did my best and exactly the way I wanted to do it, so it’s okay.’”
Russell Hicks, who was president of content development and production for Nickelodeon at the time, wasn’t satisfied with the fate of Bug Salad. A couple months after the pilot, Hicks turned around and greenlit the stillborn project for five more shorts. By this time, Faruolo had moved on from Sanjay and Craig to become supervising producer on Pig Goat Banana Cricket, and began working on Bug Salad production simultaneously.
For a time, things seemed to be running along smoothly. A May 2016 Variety article announced that the episodes would debut as a “short-form digital series,” but listed no specifics about the release platform or timeline.
Eventually, it became clear that Bug Salad had been lost to the wind once again.
Faruolo believes that part of the problem, at least initially, was Viacom’s ongoing $1 billion lawsuit with Google and Youtube. In 2007, the media giant claimed that Youtube was benefiting from ad revenue generated by traffic to hundreds of thousands of copyrighted Viacom clips that were being illegally posted by Youtube users. Faruolo indicates that during this time, Nickelodeon was loath to post digital content on Youtube, but lacked an appropriate platform of its own. But in 2014, after seven years of legal battle and just a few months after Bug Salad’s Cartoon Brew debut, the two parties reached a non-monetary settlement. So what was the hold-up two years later?
An extremely high turnover rate at the executive level within Nickelodeon, according to Faruolo. He says he faced a new set of execs at every checkpoint, from pitching Bug Salad to finishing production on the five additional shorts. And then, in June 2016, Hicks, who had been Bug Salad’s staunch advocate, left the company, slowing the process once again.
Another champion of the shorts was Nick veteran Mary Harrington, who was in charge of the shorts program when Faruolo first pitched his idea, and served as executive producer on the first short. Harrington, however, also eventually moved to another department within the company. Despite his misfortune, Faruolo remains grateful of the support he received over the long and winding course of development.
“I really lucked out that, even with all the change from the executives and the studio at Nickelodeon, I did get support from each one,” he emphasizes. “It was set up where, since there was so much change within the company, if one person didn’t support me, I would have failed, which always freaked me out. Because every time it happened, I would be like, okay, here we go again. Let’s re-sell [Bug Salad].”
In fact, Faruolo is optimistic about Nickelodeon’s future potential, and approves of Chris Viscardi’s appointment to senior vice president of animation production and development.
“The good thing is they have Chris Viscardi in charge now, and he was one of the creators of [The Adventures of] Pete & Pete, and he was executive producer on Sanjay and Craig, so he’s from a creative background for sure. I honestly think things are going in the right direction now.”
Overall, the Bug Salad creator refuses to be bitter about his experiences with development hell. Rather, Faruolo seems to accept that this sort of process is part and parcel of development at any major studio.
“In general, with all these companies, what I’m hearing is that development just takes too long,” explains the 35-year-old Faruolo. “I have this joke where I tell people now, ‘What kind of show do I want to be a creator of when I’m 40?’ Because if I pitch something now, I’ve got to wait five years to hopefully get a green light.”
“Once you make your pilot, it’s completely out of your hands,” he continues. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, this is done really well, let’s make it.’ They’re going to test it with kids; [they’re] going to time it with the [rest of the] slate; there’s going to be inter-studio politics. It’s totally out of your hands as a creative person.”
What’s most important to Faruolo is that last fall’s launch of the Nickelodeon Animated Shorts Facebook page provided an accessible platform for Bug Salad to be shared with the world.
“There’s a lot of people who want me to be pissed,” says Faruolo. “‘Why now, why now?’ But I’m like, what do you mean? Wouldn’t it be worse if it never happened? I’m just glad they’re out there. It would be a total awesome bonus if we got to do more, but at the same time, it sure beats them just dying on a shelf somewhere.”