Teen hip-hop star Alaya High, otherwise known as Lay Lay, is to front a live-action comedy series for Nickelodeon – a series that leads the kids’ networks latest original programming slate.
That Girl Lay Lay is joined by a series order for Warped!, a new live-action buddy comedy series from Kevin Kopelow & Heath Seifert, the EPs/showrunners of Nickelodeon’s All That and two animated series ZJ Sparkleton and The Hamster Show.
That Girl Lay Lay was created by David A. Arnold, a writer-producer on Netflix’s Fuller House and follows Lay Lay, an avatar from a personal affirmation app that magically comes to life, and her best friend Sadie as they navigate life as teenagers and discover who they truly are.
The 13-part series is produced by Will Packer and his production company Will Packer Media with production set to begin this spring for a summer premiere.
It marks the first show to emerge from High’s overall deal with Nickelodeon that she signed last summer. At 11, Lay Lay became the youngest female rapper to sign a record deal via her own imprint and released her debut project – Tha Cheat Code – in 2018.
Packer and Carolyn Newman exec produce the show alongside Arnold, who is showrunner. John Beck and Ron Hart also exec produce.
Packer called Lay Lay a “multi-talented force of nature destined for mega stardom”.
“I’m so excited about what she represents as a talented African-American girl with her own platform to showcase her unique abilities,” he said.
In October, Deadline revealed that Nickelodeon was piloting Warped!, which is set in a comic book store. The project has now received a 13-episode series order.
It follows Milo, the beloved head geek at popular comic book shop Warped!, who forms an unlikely alliance with his new quirky and excitable co-worker Ruby to create the world’s greatest graphic novel.
Kate Godfrey (All That) plays Ruby, an outgoing and impulsive pop culture nerd whose encyclopedic knowledge of comic books makes her irreplaceable as the newest hire at Warped!. Anton Starkman (Storks) plays Milo, the intelligent and responsible leader of the comic book shop who is constantly using his creativity to keep him and Ruby out of trouble, while Ariana Molkara (Septembers of Shiraz) and Christopher Martinez (Timmy Failure) also star.
Kopelow and Seifert created the show and write and exec produce with Kevin Kay (All That) also serving as exec producer. The pilot is directed by Jonathan Judge (Punky Brewster).
On the animation side, Nickelodeon has ordered ZJ Sparkleton (w/t) and The Hamster Show (w/t).
ZJ Sparkleton is for kids 6-11 and The Hamster Show is for pre-schoolers. Both shows are half hours with 26 episode orders. ZJ Sparkleton follows creative vlogger Ruby and her goofy alien best friend ZJ Sparkleton as they film their daily mishaps and adventures around their town.
The Hamster Show centers on a motley crew of hamsters that work together to protect their owner, who they mistake as their King and beloved ruler of their elaborate tubed kingdom.
ZJ Sparkleton is created by Brian Morante (Penguins of Madagascar). Mike Geiger is the director and Lynne Warner is the supervising producer. The Hamster Show is created by Zach Smith (Baby Shark’s Big Show!). Jason Groh is the director and Warner is the supervising producer. Both shows are produced by Nelvana and will launch in 2022.
ZJ Sparkleton and The Hamster Show join Nickelodeon’s growing slate of animation, which also includes Star Trek: Prodigy, Rugrats, Baby Shark’s Big Show!, The Smurfs, The Patrick Star Show, Big Nate and The Tiny Chef Show.
Brian Robbins, President, ViacomCBS Kids & Family, who has been on the job for two years, said this slate, particularly on the animation side, has been “brewing from the beginning”.
He said that the balance between animation and live-action will continue as it is and he hopes that it all forms part of a “portfolio of great shows”.
These shows for the linear Nickelodeon network come after Paramount+ debuted earlier this month with plans for a number of key Nick brands such as iCarly and SpongeBob Squarepants spinoff Kamp Koral and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run.
He told Deadline, “I look at the business of Nickelodeon not as a linear television network, we look at ourselves as a brand. Linear television is still one of the biggest reaches for us today… but we also know that kids’ consumption habits have changed dramatically. What we want is our content to be available wherever they are consuming so Paramount+ is a great opportunity to expand our reach and it really helps us with our ultimate goal.”
He admitted that it will still license content to other platforms – there are a number of seasons of the original iCarly on Netflix – on a case-by-case basis but “mostly our focus is on our platforms”.
Last year, Nickelodeon had success with its trial of an NFL for the first time. The kids’ network aired a simulcast of the Chicago Bear vs New Orleans Saints wild card game and won plaudits for its commentary, kids-themed graphics and the fact that they slimed Saints head coach Sean Payton after his team won.
Robbins said it was a “great day for us” and was proud of it, along with how it covered the Super Bowl. He added that they were working out whether they will do more next season and hinted that they may try and expand the format for other sports – Paramount+ has the rights, for instance, to the European Champions League, which features teams such as Premier League winners Liverpool.
“I think you’ll see more of that. Whether it manifests itself in future NFL games or other sports, that’s to be seen, but rest assured, it’s not the last time that Nickelodeon and professional sports will collide,” he added.
The corporate syngery will continue – the network is developing an animated film with The Late Late Show host James Corden and exec producer Ben Winston. The pair are adapting kids book Real Pigeons Fight Crime.
“A lot of people underestimated putting Viacom and CBS together but I think Nickelodeon has benefited greatly from the combination of those companies and the launch of Paramount+ and the work that was done is a big statement. It’s really proven to be successful,” he said.
Finally, a decision or a plan around controversial animated preschool show Made By Maddie, is expected soon. Nick Jr. removed the show from its schedule – it was set to premiere on September 13, 2020 – but was pulled after similarities between its characters and those in Matthew A. Cherry’s Oscar-winning short Hair Love.
Robbins said there was “nothing yet”. “We’ll probably have an announcement soon about the strategy for Made By Maddie but I’m not ready to tell you yet,” he added.
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