Dropping from 19 to 14 hours a week this fall, Fox Kids Network is narrowing its scope to better define its brand in the battle for viewers. Its new troops include The Avengers, Spider-Man Unlimited, Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, Beast Machines, Beast Wars, Xyber 9 and Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century.
In previous seasons, the network has met with varying degrees of success when it extended to different creative styles, including animated sitcoms like Bobby’s World, traditional comedies such as Animaniacs and comedy/action-adventure hybrids like The Tick, says Roland Poindexter, VP and head of programming. ‘At that time, when more of those shows were on our schedule, it was a lot easier for us to truly be a broadcaster because there were [fewer kids services].’ Last January, the network ‘locked into the Fox Kids positioning as action-adventure and prankster comedy,’ says GM Maureen Smith, and thankfully, that was the direction in which it had already been heading. This positioning serves as a yardstick for all of the network’s activities, including each of its program picks.
This positioning is also on target with Fox Kids’ boy skew. ‘We have always, since day one, been strongest with boys,’ says Smith. ‘As more and more competitive services are out there for kids, that has become more and more our focal point-reaching boys-and it’s where we really clobber the competition. So, going forward, we certainly will continue to make boys our core audience.’
With The Avengers and Spider-Man Unlimited, ‘what you see is us really going back to the roots that made Fox Kids number one in 1993, which is the Marvel comic book genre,’ says Smith. ‘In January ’93, it was X-Men that first pushed us to number one,’ winning the Saturday morning block among kids ages two to 11. Both 13 x half-hour series are produced by Saban Entertainment (in association with Marvel Studios for The Avengers). The Avengers is cel-animated, while Spider-Man Unlimited includes CGI as well as cel. Given their similar source material, the two shows will likely be slotted together.
Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, based on a Dark Horse Comics series of the same name, teams up a newly created robot that possesses the maturity of a seven-year-old and an earlier-model robot controlled by a human inside his mechanical suit. The crime-fighting duo appears in 26 cel-animated half hours from Sony Pictures Family Entertainment Group.
Beast Machines and its predecessor Beast Wars, both entirely CGI, come to Fox Kids’ schedule this year from Vancouver-based Mainframe Entertainment. Beast Wars aired in syndication in the U.S. last season, and the network will likely air the show’s 52 half-hour episodes Monday through Friday afternoons, building anticipation for 13 half-hour episodes of Beast Machines, airing on Saturday morning.
Saban-produced fall entry Xyber 9 stars a teen boy who is aided on his quest to become ruler of a post-apocalypse society by a supercomputer and a group of friends. Thirteen half hours combine 2-D and 3-D animation.
Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century pits the detective against his longtime nemesis, Professor Moriarty, when both are revived in the future. Watson survives as Holmes’s assistant, with his brain hooked up to a high-tech robot. Twenty-six half hours, co-produced by DIC Entertainment and Glasgow-based Scottish Television Enterprises, feature 2-D and 3-D animation. This series, along with Scholastic’s The Magic School Bus (which Fox Kids is providing free to affiliates, separate from its 14-hour schedule), was designed to fulfill FCC requirements.
Viewers get their first peek at the new shows on September 11, when Fox Kids airs a half-hour fall preview show. The official Monday to Friday schedule rolls out September 13 to 17, with the new Saturday morning shows rolling out September 18 and 25.
Fox Kids will support the new shows with three key media: broadcast and cable TV buys, kid print advertising and in-school materials. The top priorities for paid consumer media among the new shows are Xyber 9, The Avengers, Big Guy and Beast Machines, says Doug Yates, VP of marketing, adding that in-school is the best vehicle for Sherlock Holmes. Beast Machines and Xyber 9 will also kick off with on-air promotions. ‘Fox Kids Transform the Beast’ runs September 13 to 25 and offers the grand prize winner a trip to Vancouver to learn how Beast Machines is made, as well as a full set of Beast Wars toys from Hasbro (Beast Machines toys are not yet available). The ‘Fox Kids Xyber 9 Sweepstakes’ runs October 4 to 16, and will award a grand prize consisting of a 4 1/2-foot remote-control robot and the entire Xyber 9 toy line from Bandai. For both promotions, 1,000 runners-up each win a toy.
The ‘Fox Kids World Tour,’ which actually never leaves the U.S., will give added exposure to the new shows. Part traveling indoor theme park, part stage show, the 60,000- to 70,000-square-foot showcase lands in Louisville, Kentucky on September 25 and hits 55 markets across the U.S. over two years. The tour features themed, interactive areas branded after each show. Toys `R’ Us is the title sponsor. AH
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