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Nickelodeon to close TV unit

Published Aug. 25, 2005

The slime has stopped at Universal Orlando.

Cable network Nickelodeon has plans to abandon a television production operation at the theme park resort at the end of June. At the same time, the park has shuttered the Nickelodeon Game Lab, an attraction based on a former Nickelodeon game show that ended with a contestant on the receiving end of a bucket of green goo.

Less than 10 people will be laid off from the Nickelodeon production unit, which has been at Universal Studios since the Florida theme park opened in 1990. Nickelodeon culled an audience for its shows from the millions of tourists who visit Universal's two theme parks each year, but Nickelodeon has had a diminishing presence at the resort in recent years.

A change over the past several years at Nickelodeon from game shows in front of large audiences to animation and narrative programming had diminished the need to use the two Universal sound stages that totaled 33,000 square feet.

The decision had nothing to do with the recent merger of Universal with NBC, a rival network to CBS, which like Nickelodeon is owned by Viacom Inc., Howard Smith, senior vice president Nickelodeon/Paramount Recreation in New York, said Tuesday.

"The studio was designed many years ago to accommodate the type of programming that we don't do much anymore," Smith said.

A partnership between the entertainment companies will continue, allowing the theme park resort to create rides, such as Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast, and use popular characters such as SpongeBob SquarePants from Nickelodeon, Universal spokesman Tom Schroder said.

The last television show to film in Orlando was Splat, which ended last summer. Other Nickelodeon shows that have filmed in Orlando during the past 15 years include Double Dare, Guts and Legends of the Hidden Temple.

In its heyday in the 1990s, the Orlando unit was home to millions of dollars worth of production, Smith said. The Game Lab attraction at Universal Studios closed at the end of April because it reliedin large part on having game shows filmed there, Universal and Nickelodeon officials said.

Despite Nickelodeon leaving the sound stages at Universal, the network plans to increase its presence in Orlando with the opening of a Nickelodeon-themed hotel in Orlando's tourist corridor over Memorial Day weekend. The hotel, a joint venture between Nickelodeon and Holiday Inn, has rooms decked out with characters from SpongeBob SquarePants, The Fairly OddParents and Rugrats.