This year’s debuts show kidnets investing in bold new looks-and attitudes to match. From minor adjustments to complete reinvention, here’s what to expect from the U.S. players as they jockey for ratings in the months to come.
Having just celebrated its first anniversary, Fox Family Channel is unveiling eight new kids series and a new preschool block this fall to grab kid eyeballs.
‘Our biggest obstacle is to get the kids to sample our network and to find out that, hey, there’s an alternative,’ says Joel Andryc, senior VP of programming and development. ‘We’ve had a lot more creative input into [this season's] shows because they’re originals for Fox Family Channel,’ he adds. ‘So we’ve really had the opportunity to put our imprint on scripts, on direction, on the style of animation.’
Fox Family Channel is also looking to carve its niche by adopting a tone that’s ‘a little bit irreverent’ and by targeting a nine to 14 demo, a slightly older audience than the other kids services, says Andryc.
Aiming to stop kids in their channel-surfing tracks, a defining element of the new shows is their range of animation styles. Angela Anaconda, a 26 x half-hour series from Toronto-based Decode Entertainment and C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures, created by Sue Rose (creator of Disney’s Pepper Ann), blends cut-outs with CGI animation of the characters’ faces. Weird-Ohs, produced by Vancouver’s Mainframe Entertainment with Decode as executive producer, brings squash-and-stretch animation into a 3-D environment in 13 half hours. Fidgetmore, a series of three-minute shorts from Seattle, Washington-based Headbone Television, combines live-action or photographic backgrounds with digitally animated foregrounds.
On the cel-animation front, Mega Babies, starring a trio of superpowered infants, appeals to kids’ love of all things gross. Twenty-six half hours are being co-produced by Sony Wonder, Vancouver’s Lions Gate Media, Montreal’s Ciné-Groupe and North Hollywood’s Landmark Entertainment Group, with the series created by Christian and Yvon Tremblay. Quirky characters are a big draw in cel-animated Room 402, based on the book Gracie Graves and the Kids from Room 402 by Michael and Betty Paraskevas. Described by Andryc as a Seinfeld for kids, the series spotlights a class of third graders with strong personalities who bring out the humor in the situations they face. Thirteen half hours are produced by Ciné-Groupe, with Fonda Snyder, co-founder of Storyopolis and head of Storyopolis Productions in L.A., the executive producer.
The new shows also turn to music to keep kids from switching the dial. S Club 7 (Miami 7 in the U.K.) features a four-girl, three-guy singing and dancing pop band (the band was created by Simon Fuller, the man behind the Spice Girls). Thirteen half-hour, live-action episodes are produced by London-based Initial Kids. ‘Kids are more into music these days than ever before,’ says Andryc.
For preschoolers, new this fall are CGI series Jellabies and branded block It’s itsy bitsy Time (see ‘Cable commitment,’ July 1999, page 63). Launching right after Labor Day, a half-hour version of the block will air weekdays at 9 a.m., and an hour-long version, along with Jellabies, will air during the channel’s 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekday preschool slot.
The remaining shows, with the exception of S Club 7 (which launches November 6 to coincide with the U.S. release of the group’s single and album), will roll out early next month. Angela Anaconda, Weird-Ohs, Mega Babies, Room 402 and S Club 7 will likely have multiple runs on weekday afternoons, Saturdays and Sundays. ‘Our real focus is Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. until noon, then also Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.,’ says Andryc. ‘[Those time periods are] where we really need to build some anchors. Once we get kids there, we believe we can build upon those tent poles with other dayparts.’
On weekends, Fox Family Channel is programming against Fox Kids Network. Its more boy-targeted series, Mega Babies and Weird-Ohs, will run on Sunday, when boy-skewing Fox Kids is off the air. Fox Family’s Saturday sked will include the boy- and girl-skewing S Club 7, Angela Anaconda and Room 402. S Club 7 will likely air Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m., after The Great Pretenders and Fox Family Countdown.
The new shows will be supported by the channel’s ‘normal artillery’ of broadcast and cable TV buys, print ads, in-school activities, the channel’s Web site, the weekly radio show Fox Family Countdown and local promotional efforts, says Tom Lucas, senior VP of marketing. As well, the Fox Family Fest tour, which kicked off in July and runs through October, is giving kids in 20 U.S. cities a chance to sample the new shows. S Club 7 will have its own marketing plan, including an on-air contest, advertising in teen publications and a potential marketing partnership with the group’s record label.