In October of last year, Bob Bakish, the president and CEO of Viacom, tapped Brian Robbins to lead Nickelodeon at a challenging time for kids’ channels. “I have asked Brian to drive the innovation and transformation that will ensure the brand remains the dominant force with young audiences,” Bakish said in announcing Robbins’ appointment. Robbins had already been part of the Viacom family, having run Paramount Players, and was familiar with meeting the needs of young audiences on digital after founding Awesomeness. Robbins has significantly ramped up Nick’s content slate since becoming president, unveiling new IP, adding a slate of unscripted shows and developing a smattering of reboots, including All That, which he originally produced for Nickelodeon in the 1990s. Robbins speaks to TV Kids about his strategy for keeping young ones tuned into Nickelodeon and Nick Jr.
TV KIDS: It’s been a year since you were tapped to lead Nickelodeon. What did you identify as key strengths of the brand at the time, and what areas did you feel you wanted to work on?
ROBBINS: It’s been a fast and fun year. The reason I came here—and I had a very nice job before this at Paramount running a movie division—was looking at the landscape and realizing what a powerful brand Nickelodeon is in kids’ and families’ lives. I looked at all the assets that we have: one of the largest animation studios in the world, multiple linear networks, a pretty large digital footprint, consumer products and live entertainment. There’s so much strength in the brand and so much great history and so much IP at the company. Ultimately that’s what drew me here. The truth was, in the last several years before I got here, clearly led by the digital disruption to linear television, the brand lost its way a little bit. There was definitely a lack of IP in the pipeline and talent in the pipeline. And talent in front of and behind the camera. So that’s what I focused on right away.
TV KIDS: What are some of the major lessons you brought from your time as a producer and running Awesomeness and Paramount Players?
ROBBINS: Only make good shows! [Laughs] And, honestly, before I got to Paramount, I was never an executive. I always was a producer and director and ran my own business. Even Awesomeness was a startup in my own company. I’ve always been an entrepreneur and a builder. I think I’ve carried that same attitude here to Nickelodeon. When you’re an entrepreneur, you have to go fast. And you have to build. And you have to be bold. You have to make decisions and own them and not be afraid. So that’s how I approached it.
TV KIDS: The channel has quite a few reboots and spin-offs in the works. What factors do you take into consideration when bringing back a beloved brand like All That?
ROBBINS: We definitely have a handful of reboots and spin-offs in the works. It’s actually a small percentage of our overall slate. That said, people talk about the reboots and spin-offs because it’s known IP and that’s kind of why we’re doing it. Bringing back All That seemed like a no-brainer to me. Obviously, it was my show and I have so much love for it. But All That was such an important part of the history of Nickelodeon because it brought so much talent to the air. It led to Kenan & Kel and The Amanda Show. Then The Amanda Show led to Drake & Josh, it led to iCarly and so on and so on. If you look at that family tree, it’s pretty impressive. When I got here, there weren’t a lot of live-action hits. Henry Danger was kind of it. We didn’t have a whole lot of on-air talent to work with. So [the new All That] was a great way to bring in a bunch of new talent and diverse talent and jumpstart the show. I also knew that All That reached a diverse audience, which was an audience that we needed to reach, especially in the world we live in today. Coincidentally, the show did another thing for us: it brought back the older girl audience to the network. So it’s done three really great things for us. Actually four, because it’s getting good ratings!
TV KIDS: Tell us about how Kamp Koral came about, and what the plans are for the SpongeBob universe.
ROBBINS: Literally my second or third day here, I was asked to go to a SpongeBob season 12 or 13 pickup meeting. I asked a lot of questions. What I realized is that we’ve made a lot of shows over many, many years, but the shows basically stayed the same. We had all these great characters in the world of SpongeBob, but we never individually explored their origin stories or their histories or put them in their own environments. So we decided to put a room together and really look at what the SpongeBob universe looks like. And out of that came the Kamp Koral idea and actually a couple of other ideas. Kamp Koral is the first show. It will be a limited summer series. I just saw amazing animation tests and conceptual art that blew us all away. It’s basically about how Patrick and SpongeBob met in summer camp when they were kids. It’s not SpongeBob babies, so to speak, but it is in CG, and they’re younger and cuter. Sandy is really cute in it. She has braces. It’s really fun and it looks different but still feels like SpongeBob. I couldn’t be more excited about it.
TV KIDS: And you have The Casagrandes, a spin-off of The Loud House, coming up.
ROBBINS: I can’t take credit for that. It was happening before I got here. But I must say I’m super proud of the show. First of all, it’s the first animated show starring a multigenerational Mexican-American family. And it couldn’t be a better time to have that show. Besides that, it is hilarious. It’s so well written and the characters are so good. And I can’t wait to share it with the world. I think the show is terrific.
TV KIDS: How are you discovering and incubating new talent?
ROBBINS: All That was a big step for us in bringing new talent on the air. One of the first shows we greenlit when I got here that’s been a big hit for us is Ryan’s Mystery Playdate. We took one of the biggest stars on YouTube and were able to develop a television format in longer form that played into what he did on YouTube. We were able to migrate a large portion of that audience that watches him on YouTube, that wasn’t watching linear television, to watch his show here. So we’ll continue to be opportunistic about people and ideas like that.
TV KIDS: What role do acquisitions play in the Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. lineups?
ROBBINS: Acquisitions are still an important part of filling out the schedule. And more than just filling out the schedule. We had LEGO City Adventures on this summer and we have LEGO Jurassic World running now. That’s a great partnership with LEGO. Ricky Zoom, which just premiered, is another acquisition for us. So we have a handful, and we’re always on the lookout for more.
TV KIDS: What other shows are you working on now that you’re particularly excited about?
ROBBINS: First of all, we have the relaunch of Blue’s Clues in November, which looks amazing. And then we’re launching a show I’m really excited about, called America’s Most Musical Family. It’s a music competition but through our lens. So you have to be either a brother and sister or a whole family. So you’d have to be The Jackson 5 or Donny and Marie. I’ve got to say; it just kills it. It’s so good, and it’s so exciting. I’m also excited about our all-new version of the hit U.K. game show The Crystal Maze, which is going to bring that family competition craze to the U.S. The show features a team of family members who work together to take on a range of physical and mental challenges through escape room-style gameplay. It will definitely bring a whole new type of action and storytelling to Nick.