Debuting an entire block of new kids shows on Saturday mornings on September 19, CBS is faced with the challenge of making the entire lineup a hit, rather than highlighting one show. All of the six new series, including Franklin, Anatole, The Dumb Bunnies, Flying Rhino Junior High, Mythic Warriors: Guardians of the Legend and Birdz, are co-produced by Nelvana and Scottish Television Enterprises (other partners also worked on individual shows). All but the latter are based on classic book properties, and each show is designed to meet the FCC educational guidelines. Thirteen episodes of each have been ordered, and each show will repeat four times over the course of the season.
A key strategy in the launch of the block is the creation of an interstitial environment that puts forth The CBS Kidshow brand name. A combination of live action and CGI, the interstitials create a stage-like environment, where the curtain rises each Saturday onto the programs themselves. The CBS Kidshow was designed to break through the Saturday morning clutter. ‘This is something kids will be talking about-it’s quirky and weird,’ says Brian O’Neal, VP of children’s programs at CBS. ‘When the curtains open, there are live-action kids on a virtual set, who encourage kids to get in on the act. The audience is partly CGI, mixing aliens with kids.’ An M.C. character introduces kids acts that will pop up between shows.
According to O’Neal, The CBS Kidshow is a total branding effort that encompasses not only interstitials, but ad promos and promotions surrounding the launch. ‘It’s a solid block that will give kids a sense of ownership,’ says O’Neal.
The programming strategy behind the shows is to begin with shows aimed at the youngest viewers. The first hour, referred to by O’Neal as the ‘classic storytelling’ hour, begins with Franklin, which targets kids age three to seven, followed by Anatole, which skews from age five to nine, as does The Dumb Bunnies, a problem-solving comedy that leads into a slightly older-skewing part of the block. Kids age seven to 11 are targeted by Flying Rhino Junior High, while the last hour of the block concludes with action-adventure series Mythic Warriors: Guardians of the Legend and The Simpsons-esque comedy Birdz. ‘Our sales and research people found out that young kids are available earlier in the day. As the day goes on, older kids take over the set,’ notes O’Neal. As for the repetition of episodes, O’Neal cites the common industry wisdom that ‘animation repeats better than live action.’
Nelvana’s block was chosen because the producers were capable of not only delivering winning shows, according to O’Neal, but of providing the branding elements necessary to make the block work as a whole. ‘It was the best opportunity for The CBS Kidshow to fit in-to add a kids portion to the network,’ says O’Neal. ‘We’ve done a good job of having the shows be gender-neutral and age-appropriate across each demo.’
CBS will run promos for the new kids block during prime time. Additionally, promotions will be held throughout the launch at Target stores, and Baskin-Robbins and the U.S. Postal Service will participate in tie-ins. At Target stores, giveaways of special CBS Kidshow-related premiums, including posters, will be offered within special CBS retail areas that were set up before the Nelvana block came along. ‘We were looking for a promotional strategy that is compatible with what’s on the schedule,’ says O’Neal.
Ultimately, O’Neal stresses that the success of the block will be determined by the high quality of the animation. ‘We’re in the position of rebuilding a day part in the kids marketplace,’ he notes. ‘The trick is the product, because the strength of the product is how you get [kids] to sample it.’