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August 6, 2015

By Wendy Goldman Getzler

The Booger Brothers. Jet Packwell. Bug Girl. They are characters that until now have dwelled in the imagination of American animator Butch Hartman. But that’s all about to change.

The iconic writer, producer, director, voice actor and creator of hit Nickelodeon series The Fairly OddParents, Danny Phantom and T.U.F.F. Puppy has launched Noog Network, a new free iOS app for kids and tweens that acts like a mobile hub for original videos, games and avatars. It’s a place for Hartman to share animated and live-action short videos, all written, produced – and financed – by the man himself. The California resident, who continues to hold down a day job with Nickelodeon, opens up to iKids Weekly about stepping into the app world and why mobile is the perfect platform for this one-man show.

What was the inspiration behind launching Noog Network?
I have wanted to do my own network type of thing for some time. I have been involved in the kids TV industry for many years and have had the feeling that there are a lot more ideas in me that wouldn’t necessarily be made into a traditional TV show. I was going to put new original cartoons on YouTube, and then I thought that they are going to look the same as everything else. Why not make my own YouTube, and since this is where the future is, it should be something for the phone. In January 2015, I decided that I wanted to get my own stuff made whenever I wanted, which led to launching an app.

Creative ideas may appear out of thin air, but an app definitely does not. How did you go about making this a reality?
Launching an actual TV network like Oprah Winfrey’s costs, like, US$300 million – it’s obviously way too expensive. This app took only six months to launch, and it’s been completely self-financed. Finding a developer was the hardest part, but I eventually hired L.A.-based ISBX for the project. The company’s creative director was a fan of mine, so they jumped on it. I have a staff of four-to-five people, and my teenage daughter is my social media director. For now, we are only advertising via social media, and the app itself is free of ads.

What’s the premise of Noog Network?
A Noog is a character. Kids can pick one as their avatar, and as they watch cartoons and live shows, as well as play games, they earn points. The more points they earn, the more Noogs they can buy. There are a total of eight Noogs currently available, and some will eventually be based around themes, such as Christmas and Easter. As for the programming, we will keep adding content to the app like any regular network would. Everything is short – we’re talking two-minute-long live-action shows, and 30-second cartoon shorts. Two episodes will be offered for free, and to view the rest you have to earn Noog Nickles. Or you can buy them – 500 nickels are US$0.99 and 1,000 nickels are US$1.99.

How are you getting content onto the app?
At launch, we have six cartoons, three original video games, one live-action show and five behind-the-scenes mini vignettes on how to make cartoons. There will be a lot more content added in order to get kids coming back. For example, my live-action Zack 2.0 is a 10-episode series, and each episode ends with a cliffhanger. In terms of logistics, I do the story design, character creation, writing, etc., of each story, and then a Flash animator makes the cartoon for me. And I write and direct the live-action stuff. A lot of actors have been cast from my daughters’ high school drama department. Clearly, I’m tapping resources all around me.

So how is creating for mobile different than traditional TV?
Let’s put it this way: the approval process is much, much faster. I’m the most impatient person. I got into animation 30 years ago, and it’s one of the slowest processes out there. Flash animation and digital production really lend themselves to speed. The animated series for Noog Network only take two weeks from start to finish. I don’t have the luxury of time and money, so it’s really a labor of love. It’s my own place; it’s like my own Disneyland.

Tell us more about your host of new characters.
My favorite new characters are the Booger Brothers. They live in a nose. Every day is the best day ever, and then a giant finger gets them. There’s also Jet Packwell: Space Avenger, who always wants to avenge things. These guys are living in a vault in my head. And they’re perfect for my target demo [kids ages six to 11]. These are still kids. Their hormones haven’t kicked in yet and their imaginations are at full blast. My slogan is that Noog Network is a safe place for kids, and we are fully COPPA compliant.

Now that you’ve launched, what are your long-term plans for Noog Network?
In a year, I’d like to have 30 short-form cartoon series and 10 live-action shows. And eventually, I will start taking outside ideas, too. We launched before this year’s Comic-Con, and I attended the convention and talked about it casually. Maybe next year I’ll have a panel with some of my stars out there. For now, I’m busy making content for it, but I’m also busy with Nickelodeon and traditional kids TV production – this is completely independent from that.

Last question. What, exactly, is a Noog?
My youngest daughter Sophia used to call me Papa Noog, and it was very annoying. When trying to come up with a name for the app, Noog suddenly seemed funny. And now I actually love the name.