It’s no secret that ‘Disney’s One Saturday Morning,’ launched last September, has been tied with Fox Kids on Saturday morning, sometimes beating the longtime ratings leader in the critical two to 11 demographic. ‘We are ahead of them in the first quarter,’ says Jonathan Barzilay, vice president and general manager of ABC children’s programming. The block, which runs on Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., began winning slots intermittently within two months of its debut.
Two programming strategies, developed by Geraldine Laybourne, president of Disney/ABC cable networks, influenced the block’s success, says Barzilay: the use of characters to anchor the shows-such as Robin Williams reprising his role as the genie from Aladdin for an interstitial entitled Great Minds Think for Themselves-and the creation of an interstitial ‘environment’ that is ‘unique enough to punch through the clutter on Saturday morning,’ Barzilay notes.
That interstitial environment also pushes back the start times of the shows, so they don’t begin on the hour or the half-hour, thus making it harder to change channels. ‘Our whole strategy was to create a destination that would act like a magnet to pull kids in,’ Barzilay says.
The three shows that make up the bulk of the block are: Pepper Ann, which follows the misadventures of an unconventional 12-year-old girl, addresses a non-gender specific audience, thanks to executive producer/creator Sue Rose; Recess, created by Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere, former creators of Rugrats, explores six fourth graders and their playground world in an equally gender-neutral way; and Doug, created by Jim Jinkins’ Jumbo Pictures, presents a 12-year-old boy who is ‘the male counterpart of Pepper Ann,’ according to an ABC spokesperson. ‘[These creators] have the kids’ interests at heart, and that empathy informs every word of their scripts,’ says Barzilay.
By contrast, ‘No Yell Motel,’ Fox Kids’ answer to the block programming concept and probably a response to Disney’s breakaway success, was introduced in April. The block adds no additional time to the 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. slot it encapsulates. Nonetheless, the wraparound ‘environment’ surrounding the fright-friendly Goosebumps, Eerie, Indiana: The Other Dimension and Ultimate Goosebumps shows-still some of Fox Kids’ most successful franchises-has launched with high expectations.
‘This is the first time we’ve taken three shows and tried to package them,’ notes Maureen Smith, executive vice president of planning and scheduling at Fox Kids Worldwide. ‘It starts on the hour with bumper bits and pieces and a spooky `No Yell Motel’ logo,’ she says. The largest interstitial elements will air at the beginning of each show.
According to Smith, time for the segments is coming out of promo slots, but promos will still be present within the block.
The interstitial concept and puppets were developed by a group of three people called the Membrains, a comedy troupe of producer/writer/TV developers who have formerly worked with Canada’s YTV. Key characters for ‘No Yell Motel’ are two puppet ‘concierges’ who introduce shows with creepy comedy.
‘It’s a unique approach to on-air hosts, addressing teens, tweens and younger kids as well,’ says Smith.