Although technically in its second year, UPN Kids considers this fall as its official launch, complete with four new shows in a two-hour block and a marketing campaign that has kids sounding out the network acronym.
Commercials now running on UPN’s 156 affiliate stations across the U.S. show a group of kids chanting the name ‘Oop-en.’ The performance brings some fun and kid identity to the network name and logo, and drives home the message that ‘UPN is the cool place to be on Sunday mornings,’ says Ellen Levy-Sarnoff, vice president, children’s programming at UPN Kids.
Full-page ads in Nickelodeon and Disney Adventures magazines as well as Archie and Marvel comics will continue the theme and push the two celebrity names that headline UPN’s Sunday morning lineup: Jumanji and The Incredible Hulk (see story on page 24).
‘Kids are tired of spandex superher’es. They are looking for what’s different. It’s really tough to sell them a show that’s same-old, same-old,’ says Levy-Sarnoff in describing the thinking behind UPN’s four new cartoons.
‘We went looking for fresh projects with fresh talent. We also needed some marquee names that would make kids want to turn to UPN on Sunday mornings.’
Jumanji, produced through the new animation division of Columbia TriStar Television, will benefit from the better-than-expected showing that the feature experienced at the box office and in home rental. Levy-Sarnoff says she feels the TV show delivers both in production value with edgy and appealing creative, and, she stresses, in richly developed stories.
‘You still need a great story and great characters. Kids need to know who the characters are, their strengths and their vulnerabilities. Fancy animation and fancy technique will not take the place of good characters that kids can relate to.’
The Incredible Hulk, another animated show based on the Marvel Comics superhero-that uses the voice of Lou Ferrigno, who starred in the late-70s TV series-is another ‘marquee product’ that Levy-Sarnoff hopes will build word-of-mouth excitement to the network. The Incredible Hulk is produced by Marvel Films/New World Animation.
The two other half-hour shows, both produced by Saban Entertainment, are B.A.D. (Bureau of Alien Detectors), a sci-fi adventure, and The Mouse & the Monster, a comedy ‘buddy’ story that brings together a one-eyed monster and his tiny mouse pal Chesbro.
The script for The Mouse & the Monster arrived in Levy-Sarnoff’s mail unsolicited.
‘It was one of those neat-o, edgy stories that works well on two levels. It is physically very funny and it pushes the envelope of ‘gross.’ It is so smartly written that it will appeal to older kids as well. And at the end of the day,’ says Levy-Sarnoff, ‘it has heart.’
UPN’s main competition for kids on Sunday mornings is Nickelodeon, which will be offering Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes and the popular Rugrats and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters during the crucial 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. period.
Levy-Sarnoff is going head-to-head against that programming, using the equally boy- and girl-skewed Jumanji to lead off at 9 a.m., followed by The Mouse & the Monster at 9:30. The second hour will begin with the more boy-oriented The Incredible Hulk, with B.A.D. finishing the block beginning at 10:30.
Part of UPN’s decision to launch a kids network was to help build future audiences for its prime-time programming, which runs Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings (8 to 10 p.m. ET/PT) and is skewing towards an increasingly younger audience. UPN also broadcasts a two-hour weekend movie.
Two characters from one of its prime-time shows, Countess Baughn and Marcus T. Paulk from the show M’esha will host, through interstitials, the entire two-hour launch on Sunday, Sept. 8.