Cartoon Network has 25 series pilots in development and 120 new episodes of continuing shows ordered. The numbers represent a one-third increase over last year’s development slate, says Dea Perez, VP of programming. Perez says the first priority is originals. This commitment will cost Cartoon US$450 million through 2003 in an attempt at a direct assault on its competition, specifically Nickelodeon. CN averaged its best-ever ratings in prime-time kids this April with a 3.6 share of kids ages two to 11 and 3.0 of kids six to 11.
So, does an outside producer have a chance given the focus on originals and the expansive Warner library that Cartoon has to draw upon? (As of this fall, CN is the exclusive home to the 900-plus library of classic Looney Tunes shorts.) Yes, but they will have to look to the 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. action/adventure Toonami block, which grows by an hour to 7 p.m. in July. The entirely acquired block is pretty heavily loaded with anime. ‘We find that it resonates with our audience. They request it all the time,’ says Perez. ‘A couple of the producers here came up with the idea to do a block that would appeal to video game players-the nine- to 14-year-olds. We do get a broader range than that but we try to concentrate on [the tweens].’ Of CN’s recent acquisitions, Perez cites Gundam Wing, an anime show from Bandai airing during Toonami, as an example of the kind of program that Cartoon is on the look out for, though she also contends that Toei’s Dragon Ball Z-yet another Toonami show-is one of the net’s best acquired programs. CN also picked up the rights to Tenchi Muyo!, which will debut in the 4:30 p.m. slot on the block. All details for the extended July block have not yet been finalized, but Toonami will include new episodes of Sailor Moon. Cartoon will also be introducing a new co-production on the block this fall, only its second since it did Big Bag with Children’s Television Workshop in 1996. This time, Cartoon has paired with Hasbro for 26 half-hour episodes of Centipede, an action-adventure show based on the video game.
While Perez won’t reveal Cartoon’s budget for acquisitions, she does say that it’s generally divided into thirds. ‘One-third is Cartoon Theater, our movie block; one-third is Toonami; and the other third is made up of the Warner Bros. series and features that we end up acquiring.’ A bit of that budget is also culled for the Sunday morning preschool showing, which begins at 6 a.m. with the hour-long Small World block. Small World features mainly European shorts and series. On the whole, most of the non-U.S. acquired programs on all of the Cartoon schedule come from Japan (the bulk of Toonami), Europe (preschool) and Canada (Mainframe’s Reboot, also on Toonami).
New original series (produced either in-house or produced outside specifically for CN) joining the net include 13 half hours of Curious Pictures’ Sheep in the Big City, a Rocky & Bullwinkle-inspired comedy about a sheep on the run from a military organization, premiering in November on Friday’s Cartoon Cartoon block, home of most of CN’s original fare. Ten original series will also premiere on the Cartoon Cartoon block at 9 p.m., although only three will survive the cut. The strategy culminates in the Big Pick Weekend on August 25 to 27, when viewers can select their faves and vote on-line from the 52 hours of original programming that include: The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Whatever Happened to Robot Jones?, Clever Trevor, Nikki, Foe Paws, Prickles, Lucky Lydia, Longhair and Doubledome, Lost Cat and Uncle Gus. The winners will then air in fall 2001 as half-hour series.
Linda Simensky, VP of original animation, says she is on the lookout for humorous toons with a distinctive style for the prime-time block. ‘We’re known for thick lines and the Hanna-Barbera old-style cartoons, but you’ll also see some mixed media and cartoons with interesting designs,’ Simensky says. Cartoon Cartoon Fridays averaged a 3.9 rating with the two to 11 set in April.
Cartoon Network is also pumping up the convergence factor, with plans to double its Web production from last year. Dubbed ‘total immersion cartoon,’ the simultaneous launch of Web and TV toons is a priority at CN, says Sam Register, VP of Cartoon Network Online. The Intruder debuts simultaneously on Cartoon Network and CartoonNetwork.com in September. The serialized soap was produced in-house and Register says it incorporates high-ticket elements like original computer animation. The show will run for five days on the Toonami block, and viewers can log on for the enhanced TV experience. As a character speaks on-air, for example, his Web equivalent will bring up information in a hands-free format. Other enhanced TV components include a comic book that offers alternate story lines to the TV show. A five-level adventure game can also be found on-line, requiring passwords that can only be obtained by watching the tube version. The Intruder convergence will be advertised though an on-line and on-air teaser campaign, banner advertising on other Web sites, and via a print ad campaign.
An e-commerce element is also in development at CartoonNetwork.com, slated for a summer launch, but no details were available at press time. Other convergence plans include the summer Web and TV premiere of Prickles the Cactus, and Cartoon Network is also jazzing up the existing on-line Johnny Bravo show. Register says CN is developing four or five Web premiere toons for next year. San Francisco’s Wild Brain is also producing 15 two-minute Web toons to premiere on CN’s site. No dates were available at press time.
* With files from Kate Barker