Cartoon boots up afternoon block

When eyeing a network with its own stable of both original and library product from Warner Bros. and Hanna Barbera (including hit series like Dexter's Laboratory and library classics such as Scooby Doo), pitching producers may well wonder: `How many straight...
March 1, 1999

When eyeing a network with its own stable of both original and library product from Warner Bros. and Hanna Barbera (including hit series like Dexter’s Laboratory and library classics such as Scooby Doo), pitching producers may well wonder: `How many straight acquisitions does Cartoon Network make each year?’ We put this question to Cartoon’s VP of programming Dea Connick Perez, the woman responsible for the network’s toon acquisitions.

‘It really does depend,’ she says. ‘Typically we pick up two to four [outside] series,

depending on the needs of the year and what product is available.’ Perez has been a buyer for Cartoon Network since 1997; before that, she worked at Nickelodeon, Nick-at-Nite and TV Land. Her acquisitions trophy case

includes shorts for Cartoon’s preschool

franchise Small World and a package of

animated films for the network’s new Saturday night movie block Cartoon Theatre, which airs from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Among the three categories of acquired product at Cartoon-preschool, animated movies (usually featuring top direct-to-video titles) and action-adventure-the latter is Perez’s big focus this year. Specifically, the channel’s Toonami afternoon block, airing from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., is continually in need of fresh product. Toonami targets boys and girls ages four to 15, and is the channel’s most diverse and edgy block. ‘It’s one area that turns over and has the widest variety,’ says Perez. ‘The rest of our schedule is

consistent,’ she notes, referring to the

library classics and original series that make up the core of Cartoon’s programming, many of which hold the same slot for a long period of time.

In terms of recent acquisitions, Perez picked up the full three-season, 39-ep package of Vancouver-based Mainframe Entertainment’s CGI-animated ReBoot, which will begin airing on March 15 as a weekday strip at 4:30 p.m. The series developed a loyal U.S.

following while airing first on ABC Saturday mornings in 1996, and then in syndication the following year. The third season of ReBoot has never aired in the U.S., but the series

continues to pull in high prime-time ratings on Canada’s YTV, airing at 7 p.m. on Wednesday nights. Most recently, the show pulled in a 23 share, making it the top-rated kids show in Canada in this timeslot.

Mainframe’s L.A.-based VP of creative development Dan Didio, who landed the deal, says that more important to producers than the normal license fee is the fact that the show would be stripped in an ideal timeslot where it will receive maximum exposure. ‘We pursued Toonami because we felt [Cartoon] had similar interests and desires [for the block] as we did for ReBoot.’ Shows picked up for the Toonami block typically command anywhere from US$10,000 to US$50,000 per episode, varying in price from deal to deal, notes an industry source who sells to the channel.

Perez says that ReBoot typifies what she looks for in Toonami acquisitions. ‘We look for

series that are sophisticated and have some

aspects of soaps, in that they’re dramatic and edgy.’ Although the block features a good deal of action-adventure anime product such as Dragon Ball Z, Perez points out that a clear line is drawn when it comes to violence. ‘There are no weapons in Dragon Ball Z whatsoever.’ Other shows in the block include Sailor Moon, Voltron: Defender of the Universe, ThunderCats, and The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest. According to Perez, Cartoon started the block as counter-programming to other kids networks’ initiatives in that daypart. ‘Nobody else had anime. We saw an opportunity and took it.’

Recent feature acquisitions include Universal’s Land Before Time and Warner Bros.’ Scooby Doo on Zombie Island, for Cartoon Theatre. According to Perez, both were ‘very high profile movie pick-ups that were a great success with the

family audience.’

Cartoon has committed more than US$400 million over the next five years to create roughly 600 half-hours of new original programming in an effort to have more than one-third of its schedule comprised of original fare by the end of 2002.

The network will acquire three new half-hour animated series in 1999, and has 14 pilots in development.

Twenty-two percent of Cartoon’s sked will consist of new Warner Bros. animated titles by the end of 2002.

More than 75 new episodes of renewed original series will air in the network’s nightly 90-minute blocks of original programming.

Cartoon’s six to 11 audience grew by 39% last year, and the network’s total day household delivery increased by 28%.

As of January 1999, Cartoon Network had 55.3 million subscribers, and was seen in more than 105 million homes and more than 145 countries.

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