Nickelodeon Updates Icons, Sets New Characters for 2021

Ramsey Naito started her career at Nickelodeon back in the 1990s, and went on from there to do work as a film producer and exec at a where’s-where of major animation powerhouses including Blue Sky, Paramount Animation and Cartoon Network. Two years ago, she proved one can always go home again, and returned to the Nick Animation fold in a development role, only to ascend to president of Nickelodeon Animation just over a month ago. She’s looking to bring things full circle as she plots out the net’s new animation offerings.

“When I came back in this position, I wanted to bring back what I loved about Nick and what Nick gave me [in my early career], and that meant reinvigorating that culture and attracting great talent who would bring great original creator-driven shows,” Naito says. “That slate was one to be comprised of artist-driven original fare, and also reboots of nostalgic titles that I know I loved, as well as reboots of titles that perhaps weren’t historically Nick titles, but put through a Nick lens to give something to kids and families that was fun and irreverent.”

Nick’s coming animated slate for 2021 certainly contains a range of series that tick all three of those boxes, from reconfigured evergreen network properties to adaptations from other media and originals. From the first category, Nick is planning a revival of the venerable secret-lives-of-babies toon “Rugrats” — with the ’90s era series cast in 3D, and updated to reflect the fact that the show’s original millennial audience is now old enough to be parents of toddlers themselves — and a new take on the SpongeBob universe, “Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years,” featuring the Bikini Bottom sea-dwellers as youngsters.

Adapted properties include a series order for Lincoln Peirce’s comic strip “Big Nate,” which Naito has been long attempting to bring to the screen; an animated installment in the “Star Trek” franchise, titled “Star Trek: Prodigy”; and, for the younger set, “Baby Shark,” based on the uber-ubiquitous Korean kids’ song.

Veteran “SpongeBob” animator John Trabbic (and 2020 Variety Animator to Watch) is at the helm for the network’s biggest new original series, “Middlemost Post” (pictured) about a cheery anthropomorphic raincloud who, tired of “raining on parades,” takes a job as a mail carrier. (“That show had been in development for a short period of time before I got there, but I immediately fell in love with it,” Naito says.) Another original series, the preschool-targeted “Santiago of the Seas,” just launched this month.

And perhaps one of Naito’s most intriguing projects is her ongoing Intergalactic Shorts program, launched roughly a year ago. With Conrad Verman brought in to executive produce the project, and such creatives as Paul Watling (“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”) invited into the fold, the program has already fielded more than 400 submissions, encouraging what Naito hopes will be a pipeline to bring more adventurous projects and younger, more diverse voices to the network.

“When I started [at Nick], the original slate needed a kick in the pants,” she says. “So the shorts program became a go-to place in the community for young creators to make shorts that could be a mini-pilot. We kicked it off with an eye toward being diverse and inclusive, so whether that’s the characters on screen or the people behind the camera, it’s wildly diverse.”

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