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'Dora the Explorer' executive out in Nickelodeon shake-up

August 29, 2012|By Meg James
  • "Dora the Explorer" has been a multibillion-dollar franchise for Nickelodeon. On Wednesday, Nickelodeon management forced out Brown Johnson, the creative executive most responsible for creating the show.
"Dora the Explorer" has been a multibillion-dollar franchise… (Nickelodeon )

Reeling from its spectacular ratings fall, Nickelodeon has pushed out animation chief Brown Johnson, the executive most responsible for creating the network's cartoon sensation "Dora the Explorer."

Johnson is leaving Nickelodeon "to pursue her own creative endeavors," Nickelodeon said in a statement Wednesday. She had served as president of animation for four years, but had been a creative force within the network for two decades.

Johnson was key to Nickelodeon's enormous success during the last decade, guiding "Dora the Explorer" and "Blues Clues," cornerstones of the network's ground-breaking preschool programming. The shows' success, along with the merchandise it spawned, turned Nickelodeon into a cash cow for parent company Viacom Inc. 

However, during the last year, Nickelodeon has hemorrhaged young viewers.

The channel's ratings are down nearly 25% compared with last summer in the key demographic of children ages 2 to 11. Wall Street has been getting impatient with Viacom, questioning whether Nickelodeon has relied too heavily on older and fading franchises, including "SpongeBob SquarePants."

On Wednesday, Nickelodeon announced a management shake-up that saw the consolidation of the network's operations in Los Angeles, the outster of Brown and the reassignment of Margie Cohn, who had been in charge of live action programming.

Now, Russell Hicks, a 14-year Nickelodeon veteran and chief creative officer, will run West Coast operations. Previously the duties had been split between Johnson and Cohn.  Hicks was named president of content development and production for the Nickelodeon Group.

"Russell has been one of the driving forces behind the Nickelodeon brand," Cyma Zarghami, president of the Nickelodeon Group said in a statement. Hicks will report to Zarghami. "This is the perfect moment for Russell to take the helm."

Before joining Nick, Hicks was vice president for marketing for the Cartoon Network/Turner brands, including Scooby Doo and the Power Puff Girls. He attended Cal State Fullerton, where he studied illustration and design.

While Cohn no longer reports to Zarghami, she was given duties in the realm of animation. Cohn will continue to oversee live action programming development, including short-form content and animation content for the Web.

The dismantling of the Los Angeles team and Brown's ouster come as the network struggles to make a come-back. Next month, Nickelodeon rolls out its big bet, a new CGI-animated "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" show.

Brown "leaves an indelible impact on generations of kids for which we will always be grateful," Zarghami said in the statement. 

Fourteen years ago, while attending a children's issues conference in Los Angeles, Johnson was struck by a recurring complaint: the lack of Latino role models on TV.  She returned to New York and suggested to producers that a proposed animated show about a bunny be recast to revolve around the adventures of a bilingual Latina girl.

"Dora the Explorer" was born. The show helped teach Spanish expressions, such as "lo hicimos!" (we did it!), as Dora would pause a moment to give children at home time to shout out the words.

"The idea is that being able to speak a second language becomes a magical power," Johnson said during a 2005 interview with The Times.  At that time, "Dora" merchandise had racked up more than $3 billion in sales.

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