I went up to Nickelodeon Cartoon Studios this afternoon, but all the cubicles were empty and the lights were off. A tech guy told me: "Everybody's gone to the Equestrian Center for a Nick 25th anniversary party."
Twenty-five years. A lot of animation studios don't last twenty-five years.
Vanessa Coffey (former NickToon exec): ... Because I was into animation, I looked up Nickelodeon as the only game in town for kids. I didn’t know anything about them. I basically cold-called them. They said, “We can’t really afford to do animation, but let’s have you do a special and, while you’re producing this special, we’re going to hire you as a consultant to go see if you can find some original programming.” ...
I basically just started hunting. I went to LA for two weeks in late ‘88 and did pitches every hour. I put the word out to animators: “I’m looking for ideas, I’m looking for concepts. The less developed, the better. I want drawings, not a big pitch.” Nickelodeon gave me an hour and a half that we were going to fill as a block. My idea — and Nickelodeon’s consensus — was to go find whatever you want. I didn’t want a consistent look like Disney. I specifically wanted and was desperate to have three projects that looked completely different. ...
Of course, NickToons has changed a lot since the early nineties.
Now it's heavily corporate. There's more bureaucracy, more superstructure and focus groups, many more chefs sipping the broth (and giving copious notes).
But that's how much of the cartoon business rolls these days. It's not just Nick that's grown thick layers of administrative barnacles. It's every studio that's owned by one of our fine, entertainment conglomerates. Nickelodeon, however, does have its challenges: Disney knocked Nick from the TV animation high perch a few years back; it's had executive turnovers; there is turmoil at the higher reaches of Viacom.
But the division marches on, with several shows in work and a new Burbank office tower on Olive Avenue almost completed. The present (and the future) could certainly be worse.
Here's another fine article on Ms. Coffey and her early days at Nickelodeon, when it was all fresh and new.