“The Fairly OddParents” is the second-highest rated program in America for viewers 2 to 11 years old.
But kids make up only 60 percent of the 3.8 million-strong audience.
“The Fairly OddParents,” like the even bigger Nickelodeon cartoon hit, “SpongeBob Squarepants,” is nearly as popular with teenagers and adults as it is with children.
And that’s by design.
“The show is for kids, but we write what we like,” said series creator Butch Hartman. “We write stories that we like and hope the kids like them too. But we definitely make sure that they skew toward a kid audience.”
“The Fairly OddParents” follows the adventures of 10-year-old Timmy Turner and his wacky fairy godparents, Cosmo and Wanda. They grant Timmy’s wishes but don’t always get them exactly right.
With a premise like that, it’s no wonder kids have taken to the show. But the verbal give-and-take and sharp story lines are what keep the parents tuning in.
“I think it’s one of the great indicators of smart writing and great character development when adults come as well as kids,” said Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon Television. “It has an incredibly broad appeal.”
Take for example the episode in which Timmy wishes he could be older. Wanda and Cosmo transform him into an adult, but he’s bald, his back hurts and he has no job. When he tries to help an old lady across the street, the woman is less than thrilled.
“When you’re a kid, helping an old lady across the street is kind of cute. But when you’re an adult, it’s just plain creepy,” Hartman said.
In another episode, Timmy wishes he is invisible so he can hide from a schoolyard bully. But on the day he’s made invisible, he’s unable to receive his perfect attendance award at school.
“Captain Kangaroo and Fred Rogers completely appealed to the kids themselves,” said Robert Thompson, head of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. “The Nickelodeon approach — which is a smart one — is to not only appeal to the kids, but to the whiny, smart-aleck adolescents those kids will become as well as the parents.
“Captain Kangaroo and Fred Rogers worked on one level. These shows work on a number of levels, and college students get into this stuff like crazy.”
Boy version of 'Cinderella'The show, which trails only “SpongeBob” among all broadcast and cable children’s programs, is Hartman’s brainchild.
The Michigan native, who long dreamed of cartooning for a living, first received acclaim for his artwork as a kindergarten student.
“The teacher had us draw a picture of her. She raved about it for like a week,” the 39-year-old Hartman recalled during a recent telephone interview. “She hung it up on the wall. All the other kids felt a great sense of humiliation.”
By the time he reached high school, Hartman wanted to enter into animation full time and eventually attended the California Institute for the Arts.
He joined Hanna-Barbera in the 1990s. There he wrote and directed episodes of the Cartoon Network series “Dexter’s Laboratory,” “Cow & Chicken” and “Johnny Bravo.”
It was as his tenure was ending at Hanna-Barbera that he came up with “Fairly OddParents.”
“When ‘Johnny Bravo’ was going to end, I thought, ‘I really need to sell something. I need a job.’ So, I sat down and just sketched this little boy with a fairy godmother,” Hartman said. “I was going to do a boy version of ‘Cinderella.’ I thought, ‘Hey, that’s kind of cute. Let’s see who she’s married to.’ And I ended up drawing a husband for her. And that’s kind of where the idea sprang from.”
Nearly three years after the show made its debut, Hartman’s creation will get the royal treatment on Monday when a “Fairly OddParents” special airs on Nickelodeon at 8 p.m. ET.
The 30-minute show, “The Fairly OddParents’ Big Superhero Wish,” will be preceded that day by a 12-episode marathon from 2 to 8 p.m.
Timmy, Cosmo and Wanda are joined in the special by The Crimson Chin, Timmy’s comic-book hero (voiced by “Tonight” show host Jay Leno).
Also appearing, as always, is Timmy’s baby sitter Vicki — who is the reason he has fairy godparents.
“She makes his life miserable every single day,” Hartman said. “Cosmo and Wanda show up to make his life better, because fairy godparents are assigned to miserable kids.”
While Hartman suffered neither a miserable childhood nor a mean baby sitter, he does share a special connection with Timmy.
“Timmy is my alter ego. He’s a wise guy. He’s sarcastic. He’s quick-tempered. ... He loves comic books. He loves video games,” Hartman said. “He’s pretty much my alter ego, except I didn’t have fairy godparents.”