Nickelodeon has a pair of secret weapons when it comes to harvesting talent: the studio’s thriving writing and artist programs.
The writing program, which began in 2000, offers training that lasts for one year and, over the past five years, boasts an 85% hire rate at Nick/Kids & Family through staff positions, freelance or development opportunities. The artists program, launched in 2011, provides six months of mentorship and has seen close to 90% of program participants go on to staff or freelance positions at Nick. Alumni also have found work at a gamut of media companies outside of Nick, including HBO, DreamWorks, Netflix, Comedy Central, Disney, Kids’ WB, ABC, Fox, PBS, Cartoon Network and The CW.
The programs, which pay participants and require a full-time commitment, were created to give artists and writers from underrepresented communities opportunities to learn their craft in a professional environment with the help of mentors, according to Jeanne Mau, senior VP, global inclusion, for ViacomCBS.
“We’ve created a curriculum that gets them ready to enter the system, which focuses on building a portfolio — having a strong sample,” Mau explains. “The important thing is mentoring and sponsorship in terms of the networking opportunities to provide guidance, all with the goal of launching sustainable careers in the kids and families space.”
Kelley Gardner, Nickelodeon’s VP of current series animation, is one of this year’s writers’ mentors, and she’s very enthusiastic about the initiative. “It has produced a lot of my favorite animation writers working today,” she says. “This year as a mentor, I’m looking forward to being a resource and advocate for the writer I’m paired with as they navigate the program and their burgeoning career. My personal goal is to get the writer staffed on one of our series at Nick by the end of their time in the program.”
Sarah Allen, an alumna of the 2018-19 writers class, had been working as a nanny and taking writing courses with UCLA Extension when she heard about Nick’s program. “I thought it was the perfect merger of all the time I spent with kids and my writing passions, so I applied,” she recalls. Allen says participants were encouraged to work on their own material while in the program. “I wound up completing four scripts during that time and got lots of notes and guidance.” Now she’s a writer on the upcoming Nick show “Big Nate.”
Shannon Parayil was in the artists program last year under the mentorship of “The Loud House” art director Ashley Kliment-Baker. While under Kliment-Baker’s tutelage, she worked as a background designer for the Nick hit, and that eventually turned into a full-time gig. “I think [the program] is a great opportunity to learn,” Parayil says, “especially since you don’t really know that much about productions when you’re in school. It’s a very different experience, and it allows you to visualize things properly and understand the needs of a production.”
This year there are four participants in the 2021 writers program (Angel Hobbs, Adam Lujan, Hunter Toro and Saeed Crumpler) and five in the artists program (Dominique Evans, Anh Bui, Carl Edward Morgan, Jasmine Reyes and Samuel Pagán.