When Nickelodeon fan Billy Matheny sent a tape of a song he'd written to the network's new show U to U, his parents prepared him for the worst: He might not get his cassette back. They didn't prepare him for what actually happened: The show's producers sent the 9-year-old from Fairview, W.Va., to a studio so he could rerecord his vocals, guitar, and keyboard playing, and hired a crew to shoot a music video.
Turning TV watchers like Billy into TV collaborators is the heart of U to U, a half-hour weekly fun house with a twist. The network calls U to U its first interactive show, which certainly makes it one of the most novel kids' programs of the new season. ''All the segments and ideas for segments come from things kids have generated themselves,'' says co-creator Douglas Greiff. For instance, a group of Croatian children are animating a poem written by an 11-year-old Ohio girl.
U to U has already received more than 10,000 creative submissions from kids, says Greiff everything from stories and drawings to ideas for Nick merchandise. Only about 150 of these will be used and they must adhere to U to U's kid-oriented style. Billy Matheny learned that early on. He had to change lyrics in his song because, he says, ''they said the words were too adult.''