Nickelodeon announces six new series

Network giving biggest push to musical starring 'Zoey 101' vet

Nickelodeon is strutting into the upfront with a song in its heart and a spring in its step, expanding its commitment to live-action musical programming.

The kids cable network on Thursday announced six new shows, including musical "Victorious" starring "Zoey 101" veteran Victoria Justice, plus 16 renewals of titles such as "iCarly," "Team Umizoomi" and, of course, "SpongeBob SquarePants."

Of the new shows, Nick is giving its biggest push to "Victorious," set to bow on Saturday, March 27, immediately after the 23rd annual Kids Choice Awards. Pitching the series to media buyers at Nickelodeon's annual upfront presentation, Justice enthusiastically characterized the post-Kids Choice hour as "the best time slot ever."

Co-produced by Sony Music and created and executive produced by Dan Schneider ("Drake & Josh," "iCarly"), "Victorious" focuses on a group of students at an elite performing arts high school.

Justice and the ensemble cast perform original songs written expressly for the series, which Sony will likely repackage for retail sale and its proprietary Sony Online download service. The theme song, "Make It Shine," was penned by Dr. Luke, a co-writer/producer of a string of hits that includes Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" and Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone."

Nickelodeon has ordered 20 episodes of "Victorious." The series comes on the heels of the network's newest hit, the musical comedy "Big Time Rush."

Nick's push to develop music-based franchises can be seen as a bid to challenge Disney Channel's hegemony over that particular genre. An earlier attempt at a standalone movie, the February 2009 song-and-dance effort "Spectacular!", delivered 3.7 million viewers, well short of the 18.6 million the non-ad-supported Disney Channel drew during the August 2007 premiere of "High School Musical 2."

Another new live-action series is "House of Anubis" (working title), which will debut on Nick this fall. The longform mystery series follows eight students at an English boarding school in search of a lost treasure.

Nickelodeon got its upfront pitch rolling with an extended cameo by director M. Night Shyamalan, who is helming the theatrical "The Last Airbender" for Nickelodeon Movies. Based on Nick's animated strip "Avatar: The Last Airbender," Shyamalan's live-action pic opens July 2

Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon/MTVN Kids and Family Group, said the network will continue to "lead in animation." As such, three of the six new series are CGI-driven: "Kung Fu Panda: The Series," which marks Nick's second collaboration with DreamWorks Animation; "Planet Sheen," a tale of a hyperactive space explorer; and "Bubble Guppies," a candy-colored undersea educational effort aimed at younger kids.

The network also has given the green light to two live-action comedy pilots: the single-camera "Supah Ninja" and the superhero-themed "Everyday Kid."

According to SNL Kagan estimates, Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite last year took in $1.15 billion in gross ad sales revenue, representing nearly 70% of the kids' marketplace.