Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Interview with Joseph Iozzi

Classic Nick Wednesday – Interview with Joseph Iozzi
Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Today I am very honored to bring you and interview with Joseph Iozzi as conducted by our own Andy Anderson. Andy was kind enough to share his interview with me and with his permission I am sharing with all of you.

As the poster of this interview my only role was to correct a few very minor grammatical errors and “stylize” it a bit for the blog and email list. I also removed the personal email of both Mr. Iozzi and Mr. Anderson to protect their privacy.

Thank you for sharing this interview with us Andy.

---------- Forwarded message ----------

From: Joseph Iozzi
Date: Mon, Feb 24, 2014 at 6:31 AM
Subject: Interview
To: "Iozzi, Joseph A"
From: Andy Anderson

Hi Andy,

Finally! I'm not sure of all the name spellings, and there may be a couple of typos.

The brain gets a little foggy at my age.

Please feel free to redact or change anything you like. I'm not sure the age of your readers.

That's all I can think of right now.

Joe Iozzi


 AA: How did you get involved with developing and branding Nickelodeon?

JI: I was a creative consultant to a Madison Avenue advertising agency called Comtomark.

We had successfully launched The Movie Channel, which was then known as Star Channel.  Warner Bros. asked us for other ideas for programs and channels. They were already kicking around the idea of a "kiddie" channel as they owned a considerable amount of content on video tape from their interactive cable system, QUBE, in Columbus, Ohio.

I proposed several channels for consideration. Here are a couple I can remember:

1) A 24 hour shopping channel called, "Cable Catalog".

2) A 24 hour movie channel, "Classic Cinema Channel", which would consist of the MGM movie library, comprised of MGM, United Artists, Warner Bros. & RKO titles.

They seem more familiar today with names like 'The Shopping Channel’, ‘Home Shopping Network’, ‘AMC’ or ‘Turner Classic Movies’.

You have to remember at that time there were only a handful of cable channels delivered by satellite, maybe 12, and not full time at that.

We were also asked to come up with individual program ideas that could be produced in Columbus. We recommended a few ideas, one of which was "Screen Test", a movie quiz show. Besides producing "Screen Test", (without our knowledge) the only other concept they moved forward with was Nickelodeon.

AA: For those who may have never seen the logo before, what exactly was it supposed to be? How did you come up with the idea for it?

JI: The graphic was a line drawing of a turn of the century man in a bowler hat peering into a Nickelodeon machine with his arm ready to crank the machine.  The "machine" was an eye piece attached to the capital letter "N" in the word Nickelodeon. The typeface was made of press on letters instead of set on film or paper. The art was "stock" art and couldn't be trademarked. My intention at the time was to replace the stock art with a line drawing made from a photograph a small boy, tip toed on a train stool with an English cap peering into the Nickelodeon. We were always pressed for time and I never got around to revising the original logo as I planned.

AA: How did you come up with Nickelodeon as the name for the channel? Were there any other suggested/alternative names that were in consideration as the name of the channel?

JI: We gave the client about 150 names to choose from. Anyone in the agency that could hold a pencil was tasked with coming up with a name. The name, and finished logo design/art was completed in 3 days. An upcoming trade show was of prime importance to the client for Nickelodeon's launch to the cable industry. The name Nickelodeon seemed natural to me. The Nickelodeon was a turn of the century device for dispensing entertainment. The sound of the word was nice and rolled off the tongue easily. A couple of rejected names were The Savoy Channel and The Rainbow Network. Few people recall a children's channel called Calliope. It predates Nickelodeon, but Calliope didn't air 24 hours a day as Nickelodeon. Eventually Calliope collapsed under Warner's marketing weight.

AA: Some sources say that Nickelodeon began under that name in 1979, while other sources state that Nickelodeon started under the name of Pinwheel in 1977. What is the most accurate version of events?

JI: Both. Pinwheel was a program on QUBE, not a channel. The name Nickelodeon was never used or mentioned in any context until I named the channel in 1979. Pinwheel, along with Nickel Flicks and America Goes Bananaz were merely programs on The Nickelodeon Channel. 

AA: Were the network employees/executives involved with the branding effort? How much contact did you have with the network during this process?

JI: Not really. The entire Warner Satellite Entertainment company consisted of only 3 people in the beginning. James Cavazzini (ran all day to day operations), Madge Sinclair (purchased movies for Star Channel) and a secretary (whose name I'm sorry to say I can't remember). When Nickelodeon launched they added 2 more people, Al Paraniello (marketing) and Sandra Murphy (asst. marketing). Cavazzini answered to the head of Warner Cable, Gus Hauser, and Hauser answered to Steve Ross, the CEO of Warner Communications. Ross is responsible for pushing everything along at breakneck speed. He was a real visionary and crap shooter.

AA: How formed was Nickelodeon when they contacted you about branding their network? How much did they know (about what the future network would be) when they hired you?

JI: It wasn't formed at all. There was no network, there was barely an inkling. Warner Bros. was very fast when they decided to proceed with something.  Money was never an object. They simply said how much money do we need to spend to accomplish this?  Nickelodeon was more a result of Warner possessing an enormous amount of kiddie programming that was already sitting in a can in Columbus, Ohio. It was simply producing a revenue stream from an existing intellectual asset.

From the time Steve Ross said, "Go!", to the time Nickelodeon was being broadcast 24 hours a day nationwide was only a matter of months. We produced, at great cost, marketing materials that were never approved, or even seen by the client until they were already printed, aired, or published. This is unheard of, not only today, but even back then. That first cable trade show was of prime importance to Warner's launch of Nickelodeon. They had tremendous confidence in our ability. No focus groups. No endless meetings. Just, "Go!" was the only directive.

AA: What marketing strategies did you use for Nickelodeon? Were there certain selling points that you used to promote it to cable operators?

JI: The first 24 hour Children's Programming Channel. 24 hours a day was big back then. Many channels aired only a portion of the day, and had to share their satellite transponders with other programmers. Dr. Vivian Horner was a big selling point. Yes, we had cartoons, old westerns, and mindless kiddie fare, but we had a real doctor behind ours. She had been with "The Electric Company" and "The Children's Television Workshop". We hawked non-violent, non-commercial programming. The programming also covered all the age groups from preschool to teen. And the good doctor put her stamp of approval on it. It couldn't loose.

AA: How long was your logo in use at Nick? Were there various versions of it?

JI: Only about a year or two. It was redesigned by Lou Dorfsman, the great CBS art director. He first used a halftone piece of art rather than "forced" line art of the man in the bowler hat that I originally commandeered from stock art. Later on Dorfsman removed the man in the bowler hat altogether, and stylized the font a little more. His 2 versions lasted only a couple of years. I was not associated with the channel at this point.

After Warner sold half of Warner Satellite Entertainment for $200 million dollars to American Express around 1980, and formed Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment, former execs from CBS starting showing up at meetings. John Lack, a former CBSer, took over Cavazzini 's roll.  Lack was the most disagreeable person I've ever met. Needless to say, shortly after the merger the party was over. MTV was coming in, and we were on our way out. We were fired.

AA: What was the full extent of your role in developing Nickelodeon?
JI: Well, I named the channel, designed its first trademark, wrote, and art directed all the advertising and promotion, contributed programming suggestions. I really pushed to get Mr. Wizard back on the air, which eventually happened.


AA: Do you have any other facts/stories about Nickelodeon that you think are important? Were there any other individuals/companies that were instrumental in developing the original identity of the network?

JI: The network evolved itself. It wasn't the brainchild of an individual. It was always a matter of utilizing the intellectual property already in the can. Nickel Flicks was nothing more than old Warner "B" movies. No production cost, just add in program hinges and interstitial material. Voila! A kiddie channel segment!

There is one story I'll relate.

Right before we were fired as the ad agency, we developed a TV pilot called Rhombus exclusively for Nickelodeon. Rhombus was the smartest man in the universe. Rhombus was played by a maĆ®tre d (Ed Collins) from the NYC high class restaurant, Sign of The Dove.  Rhombus asked two teams of kids from different schools (3 on a team) questions to determine the smartest kids (and schools) in the universe. The show is still in the can. The pilot was shot in an empty movie theater in Hancock, NY in 1980. We should have asked Rhombus if the pilot was going to be successful.

AA: How do you think the network has changed over the years? Has it changed for the better or worse, in your opinion?

JI: This is embarrassing. I never watched it. In the beginning it didn't air in New York City so I have a good excuse.

AA: Thank you for generously participating in this interview.
JI: You're very welcome. It's gratifying to see something you helped create so long ago still has some relevance today.

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