Nickelodeon Programming Exec Talks About What Defines the Post-Millennial Generation

Sarah Noonan also discusses finding the next hit kids show


Who Sarah Noonan

Age 44

New gig Svp, live-action content, Nickelodeon

Old gig Svp, casting, Nickelodeon

You’re best known for casting celebrity voices on SpongeBob as well as The Fairly OddParents and Jimmy Neutron. What were some of your most memorable moments?

My two big gets were … I got Johnny Depp. It was for a role on SpongeBob. We were brainstorming names and I said, “You know, Johnny Depp’s kids are fans, we should try him.” The other one was David Bowie. Again, I knew his kids were fans. I thought, I’m going to just ask. He was so fantastic. They have such a blast doing it. For [celebrities] doing voiceovers, it’s a really fun, free playtime. They get to act and there’s no camera on them.

What’s the new job all about?

It’s foremost to find great talent—great writers, great kids. Finding those people, finding exciting new voices of creators that have a funny point of view that fits with our audience.

Is it unusual for someone with your casting background to move into development for live action?

In casting, you’re a part of that development process. The creators really train you and include you in the process. It wasn’t like you’re just handed a script and you just cast it. I would come in to help flesh out the characters. So I was sort of in development in a casting sense. Without great characters, you don’t have a great show.

Now you’ll be counseling on what new projects are green-lit. What will you look for in new shows?

We look for creators with a really unique point of view. I love people who come to us with creative ideas or a twist on a character. You actually win when that audience loves that character. SpongeBob is beloved because he is an eternal optimist. Nickelodeon is very creator driven, so if a creator has a greater vision, we’ll explore that. Avatar, it was one of the most well thought-out shows. It’s not always the most comedic, but it was so unique, we had to do it. And we know our audience. Post-millennials—that’s our sweet spot.

What defines that generation?

The research says, they’re very, very attached to their parents. They love family. They’re super positive. They don’t like mean characters.

How will that inform your judgment when it comes to picking new shows to develop?

Obviously, we want to be sensitive to that; they don’t like mean, so we want to avoid really snarky characters. They hear about [bullying] all the time, so they’re super-sensitive to that.

With streaming sites and apps, kids can now watch whenever they want to. What’s Nickelodeon’s take on the ever-changing video landscape?

We talk about it all the time. TV is still our biggest platform, and that’s where we win. Not to say we’re not addressing other platforms. I love the different platforms because they enable us to do the short-form stuff on our app that drives back to our television shows and test out new talent.

Do you just cringe when you see a former child star like Amanda Bynes going off the rails?

I think it’s sad. I feel for them. [To] everybody that I knew that worked with her, she was the most professional, smart girl. You feel terrible for her. The way we work with kids is, we keep it very balanced. It’s work, but we care about you. We have some responsibility to take care of our talent, but that scenario happened way after. So it’s hard to speak to that.

Photo: Karl J. Kaul/Wonderful Machine