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Sep 11, 2019 Content Success
Voices at Viacom: Making ‘Henry Danger The Musical’ a Nickelodeon Summer Event

Paul DeBenedittis, EVP of Programming and Content Strategy at Nick, transformed a musical episode of ‘Henry Danger’ into a must-see moment.

In the Soundbites series, Viacom employees describe a project or experience that has influenced how they approach their work.

When Paul DeBenedittis took on the role of executive vice president of programming and content strategy at Nickelodeon just a few months ago, Henry Danger was already in its fifth season. The superhero comedy series, starring Jace   Norman as Henry Hart, a normal kid by day and a sidekick to the superhero Captain Man by night, had an established and passionate fanbase. So when one of the show’s writers, Stephanie Martin, came to the team with an idea for a musical, DeBenedittis knew it was worth pursuing.

Henry Danger: The Musical aired July 27, reaching 2.2 million viewers—its most in more than two years.  It also generated 9.2 million views on YouTube, contributing to a record-setting July for Nick, which scored its best month ever on YouTube in views and watch time. The reception was so positive that Nick decided to run a special sing-a-long version on Aug. 3.

“We knew we were onto something and we didn’t want the special to end there,” DeBenedittis says. “I like to think of content as us owning a bit of the Monday morning quarterback story. If you put something out there, you can’t just let it end. You have to keep the social conversation going, to keep our linear and digital channel still fueled by the moment.”

DeBenedittis worked on the programming side at Disney for a decade before joining Nickelodeon in January. As a competitor, he was familiar with Henry Danger’s avid following.  Now, he’s in control of the story.

“Having been at Disney for 10 years and watching this series over multiple seasons, it's a thrill for me to be at the helm, leading the content strategy and planning for the series,” DeBenedittis says. “It's really quite fun now.”

Here’s how DeBenedittis landed at Nick and how his team made Henry Danger The Musical a Nickelodeon success story this summer:

Nicole Bitette: Tell me a little bit about Henry Danger. Why do you think it’s so successful?

Paul DeBenedittisHenry Danger is really about a superhero kid by night and a regular teenage kid by day, having to live the duality of these two roles. In this fictional world, he is the sidekick to superhero Captain Man. He’s a kid who lives his regular life, while also trying to keep this secret from his family and friends.

It's funny. It's tremendously funny. The team is constantly about elevating the story and keeping the mythology moving. It never feels stale. There's an element of relatability to a kid that could see himself or herself as a regular kid and fantasy of living this life.

NB: Where did the idea for the musical come from?

PD: From one of the key writers on this series, Samantha Martin.  She put together some songs on spec and pitched out a story for half-hour version of the musical to Chris Nowak, the EP and showrunner.  I was early on in the company when the show’s EIC pitched me the idea and played me the rough music tracks. It was so funny, so different, so unique that I just knew we had to elevate this and expand it to a 1-hour.  That was the beginning of creating this huge tentpole for us. After asking if we could turn this into a 44-minute tentpole movie and event, Samantha and Chris worked to make that happen.

Then we partnered with many different individuals across Nickelodeon, both the creative teams, the strategy teams, our sales teams, even with talent, our social media, digital marketing, and promotion and event synergies, so that we really could lean in on what we saw as our version of Grease Live. We packaged it up this way. I loved seeing everyone lean in and really try to do something different and build this plan so that kids can really feel  like this was something very special on Nickelodeon.

It was a huge success. It was our biggest in two years. Fans who had been part of the Henry Danger journey, no matter how old they were—and maybe they aged out of this show—came back to watch this because it's just so different and fun.

NB: How did you get to your current position?

PD: I started at Nickelodeon about six months ago, when Brian Robbins came onboard heading up [Nickelodeon]. I'm happy to be back at Nickelodeon, because for me, it feels like I'm coming back to a newly refurbished home, given that I had worked for Viacom for about 10 years at MTV. It's exciting to be back at Viacom with a lot of people that I have admired and worked with over the years.

Prior to Nickelodeon, I spent some time in the AI (Artificial Intelligence) space looking at creating digital personas and computer learning for various fictional characters. Prior to that, I was at Disney for 10 years, where I oversaw programming and content strategy for Disney Channels worldwide.

NB: What made you decide to return to Viacom?

PD: I’ve always had a passion for Viacom and believed in the brand. I was a competitor of Nickelodeon for 10 years, so it was exciting to join forces over at Nickelodeon. With all the change happening at both Viacom, and especially with Brian Robbins as the new lead here, it felt like an exciting opportunity to be at Nickelodeon.

NB: How do you describe what you do to your friends and family?

PD: My job as I describe it to my friends and family is looking at all the content we create, determining the best strategy to achieve the widest reach for our content across our various platforms, and ultimately guide the teams towards the areas that we're not thinking about in terms of kids' programming and kids' content. And, beyond content, how our brand could be reaching kids everywhere they're at, at as many different touch points, and as many different times in their day.

NB: Where do you go from here?

PD: You know, we're always open to (doing more musicals). It all comes from a writer bringing a great idea.

I couldn't be more excited about the new Nickelodeon networks. In addition to Henry Danger, which was an anchor for us on Saturday night, we launched the return of All That. We have a new cycle coming this fall in addition to a live-action scripted, we have a huge live-action non-scripted series and a musical competition show, called America's Most Musical Family. It's part of our initiative to bring in a broader kid and family audience in an effort to really lean in on the desire that families, parents, and kids are looking for this sort of co-viewing times that they can actually watch and be entertained together. This series launches this fall and it features Nick Lachey as host.

And then over to animation, we have the new series, The Casagrandes, which is going to be premiering this fall. It's a really funny show that comes from the team that brings you Loud House. And then, it wouldn't be Nickelodeon if I didn't mention SpongeBob, there will be multiple new episodes that we’ll have premiering in the fall and into 2020.