Cartoon gives Samurai Jack a sharp merch edge

Property: Samurai Jack...
August 1, 2001

Property: Samurai Jack

Licensor: Cartoon Network

Description: Samurai Jack is set to debut on Cartoon Network August 10 as a 90-minute special, and the caster has ordered 26 half-hour eps that will air weekly in a prime-time slot starting August 13. Genndy Tartakovsky, producer/director of The Powerpuff Girls and creator of Cartoon Network’s first original series Dexter’s Laboratory, developed the new toon.

Concept: Samurai Jack follows the adventures of an ancient warrior displaced to the distant future by a shape-shifting evil warlord named Aku. Samurai Jack travels the globe-a world of segregated tribes ruled by Aku’s evil robot warlords-in search of a time portal that will transport him back to his own time.

Demo: Tweens

Categories open: publishing

The latest: At press time, Cartoon Network was in final negotiations with a game developer for a Samurai Jack Game Boy Advance title, with an official announcement about the license expected later this month. Discussions with several toycos for an action figure line were also in progress at press time, with a deal expected to be finalized by year’s end.

Potential: According to Jamie Porges, VP of off-channel commerce for Cartoon Network, there are great shows that may not be conducive to licensing, and some not-so-great shows that offer stellar merch opportunities. ‘Our aim, first and foremost, is to have great shows,’ says Porges. ‘And our licensing philosophy is usually to put great shows out there and let them develop a following initially.’

Because Cartoon Network had such confidence in the Samurai Jack concept and in creator Tartakovsky, the series’ development strategy shifted-Samurai Jack would live as a great show with a merch program in the works from the outset. ‘We thought that this would be a great property for action figures, home video and gaming,’ says Porges. With toy and video game deals imminent, initial product is expected to hit domestic retail next spring, with an international rollout anticipated for Q4 2002.

Additional categories will follow at a slower pace, in line with Cartoon Network’s traditional licensing strategy. ‘Every show has a different life cycle, and we’re not going to force it with other categories,’ says Porges. ‘We’ve chosen specific categories to help build this property with the fan base, and we’re going to let it develop on its own.’

Although Porges anticipates that Samurai Jack will attract a relatively balanced TV audience similar to that of The Powerpuff Girls, the licensing program will skew decidedly boy. ‘It’s an action-adventure show, and the toys you make based on that type of show lean boy, but we’re not excluding girls,’ says Porges.

Categories Porges may eventually consider for Samurai Jack include publishing (comic books) and role-play games. ‘There are a lot more stories to be told in this world,’ says Porges, pointing to Samurai Jack’s world travels as an opportunity treasure trove. Plot lines take the character on skill-honing journeys in exotic places-horseback riding in Arabia, stick-fighting in Africa, bows and arrows in England, and lessons from the great scholars of Alexandria.

Although there’s no word yet on which territory will be next to embrace the tales of Samurai Jack, Cartoon Network also expects the series itself to become a world traveler: ‘We’ll be pretty aggressive in launching Samurai Jack internationally,’ says Porges. ‘While most of our shows launch in the U.S. first, they roll out quickly [in international markets], as do their licensing programs.’

Market reality check: According to Katarina Dietrich, director of entertainment at Copyright Promotions Licensing Group’s Munich office, the German market success of Pokémon and Digimon should create a positive launch environment for Samurai Jack in the territory, even though the target for the series skews older. And the heritage of Cartoon Network properties such as The Powerpuff Girls in Germany should help secure a good local caster. ‘This is more than many other projects have on their side,’ says Dietrich.

A strong story and a good mix of characters round out the potential-both for broadcasting and licensing. ‘The main point in looking at the potential success of the property is securing the right TV station and time slot-not an easy task right now in the cluttered German TV market,’ muses Dietrich. In terms of product potential, she envisions a collectible card game, perhaps based on Samurai fighting ethics. ‘Having the core products in place makes a full-fledged program possible, but it all comes down to TV positioning-the deal maker or breaker.’

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