Seeking to match the 500-channel universe offered by its neighbor to the south, the Canadian broadcasting scene is gearing up for a digital revolution this month, as up to 40 new diginets start rolling out on the dial. In partnership with Discovery Communications, Corus Entertainment’s Discovery Kids will be the first youth-targeted digital offering out of the gate on September 3. The 24-hour channel has confirmed carriage on all the major distribution outlets, enabling it to reach the two million Canadian homes set up to receive digital channels.
To hook DK’s six to 12 target before launch, Corus has been sneak-peeking a one-hour block of schedule highlights Sunday afternoons on YTV since early July.
Designated as a Category 2 service, Discovery Kids is incrementally required to fill 35% of its lineup with Canadian content over its seven-year license (15% in year one, 25% in year two and 35% in year three and beyond). Canuck shows on the slate for the channel’s debut include Kids@Discovery, a 26 x half-hour science and nature show by Exploration Productions; and doc-style wildlife series Wild Rescue by YTV Productions. Pick-ups from the Discovery Kids US catalog–Bonehead Detectives, Jaws and Claws and Outward Bound, to name a few–will round out the schedule.
Never one to be left in the dust, Alliance Atlantis is also getting into the digital kids game this fall with the debut of BBC Kids scheduled for November 5. Star Choice DTH satellite service, Shaw’s cable systems and other smaller operators have agreed to carry the channel, as have Rogers, Cogeco and Videotron (subject to signed agreement). Culling its lineup from the British pubcaster’s expansive library, BBC Kids will feature preschool shows like Tweenies and Bill and Ben, as well as fare for the six to 12 crowd like science series Dinosaur Detectives and soap opera Grange Hill.
While most of the industry buzz is focused squarely on the burgeoning digital landscape right now, the existing offerings haven’t exactly been sitting still.
Canadian pubcaster the CBC is expanding its preschool-targeted Get Set For Life block to air an extra half hour of programming on weekday and Saturday mornings. Now airing from 8 a.m. to noon on weekdays and 6 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, the block will showcase a new animated series from Cheeky Productions in the U.K. called Slim Pig, about a 2-D pig living on a 3-D farm. Returning series include Scholastic’s Clifford the Big Red Dog, Dragon Tales by Sony Pictures Family Entertainment and Sesame Workshop and Cinar’s Zoboomafoo.
CTV is banking on nostalgic equity to hook modern kids with a 15 x half-hour remake of its internationally successful Degrassi franchise in October. Leading into the launch with a one-hour special that features talent from the original Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High series, CTV will debut Degrassi: The Next Generation on Sundays at 7 p.m. The revamp will be followed by a documentary companion series with the working title of 21© that will expand on social issues explored in the drama series.
Further support comes in the form of a website that simulates the experience of attending Degrassi. Kids will be able to virtually enroll, design their own web page that will double as locker decoration, exchange messages on a school bulletin board, and participate in and comment on on-line stories.
The highlights of Family’s new schedule can be divided into two sections: Made by Disney and Made in Canada. As for the former, up to 60% of the network’s programming is supplied by the Mouse House. Among the new comedy offerings: Lizzie McGuire, a half-hour live-action/2-D mix about a 13-year-old girl and her in-your-face animated alter ego; and Even Stevens, a live-actioner about a slacker kid who clashes with his overachieving family.
From the Emmy-nominated executive producers of Disney’s Doug and PB&J Otter comes Stanley, an animated interactive program that invites pint-sized viewers to help a very curious six-year-old boy navigate his weird world.
On top of the Canuck production pile is Jett Jackson: The Movie, produced by AAC Kids in association with Disney Channel and Family Channel. Also, Katie & Orbie returns to Family with seasons four and five after a long absence. Narrated by Leslie Nielsen, this animated half-hour series is based on the popular children’s books by renowned Canadian cartoonist Ben Wicks and his daughter Susan Wicks.
The message at Teletoon this year is more Canadian original productions, new shows and prime-time series. The animation net is investing US$8.5 million in roughly 225 half hours of new fare this year, aiming for a sked that’s 60% Canadian by 2002.
Leading off the homegrown lineup is the long-awaited follow-up to Canadian cartoonist John Kricfalusi’s groundbreaking toon The Ren & Stimpy Show. The Ripping Friends, which Kricfalusi spent a decade developing, is about four quirky (and ever-so-manly) fighters of crime. The series is produced by John K.’s Spumco studio and Cambium Entertainment.
After experiencing a 33% increase in teen viewers (12 to 17) last year, Teletoon has upped its production commitment to that demo with shows like CinéGroupe’s What’s With Andy? Another Canuck creation, this series for young teens tracks a youth who’s set on being the best when it comes to the tricky business of practical jokes.
Serving the older end of the teen demo in prime time is Decode/MTV co-pro underGRADS, about a group of high-school graduates trying to cope with higher education.
For preschoolers ages six and under, Treehouse TV offers a unique, commercial-free television environment that features lots of new stuff for the fall. First up is Max the Cat, a 52 x five-minute series by SDA Productions. Based on an Adam Whitmore book series, Max the Cat follows a young marmalade feline around the world as he searches for his missing tail.
From the producers of Pokémon comes Tama & Friends, an animated half-hour series that challenges the notion that cats and dogs can’t get along. Produced by Sony Creative in Japan and 4Kids Entertainment, each story centers on a group of canine and feline friends who solve complex problems that elude their human owners.
Also new is Montreal-based Cité-Amerique’s Zig Zag, a 26 x 15-minute snapshot of life above the 70th parallel, as experienced by two snowmobiles.
The Hoobs is making its Canadian debut on TVO this month, airing every day at 8 a.m. with a 3:30 p.m. repeat on weekdays. Produced by The Jim Henson Company and Decode Entertainment, The Hoobs will serve as an anchor for the TVO For Kids lineup, airing in the net’s preschool block The Nook and after-school/weekend morning block The Crawl Space.
TVO is also adding a Cinar remake of charming line-drawn classic Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings, about an inquisitive boy whose doodles come to life in his imagination.
The broadcast day for YTV–Canada’s leading youth network, seen in over eight million Canadian households and aimed at audiences ages two to 17 and their families–is divided into several blocks. YTV Jr. offers preschoolers 30 hours of commercial-free programming per week, The Zone is Canada’s premiere after-school block, and Snit Station is a weekend morning animation-fest. Evenings are dedicated to tweens, teens and family viewing. Across the board, there’s a slew of new stuff on offer for the fall.
A sampling includes Alienators: Evolution Continues, a sci-fi animated comedy series based on DreamWorks/Columbia Pictures’ summer 2001 live-action feature Evolution. In the series, which is produced by DIC Entertainment and Montecito Pictures, the legend continues when a meteorite containing a single-celled alien organism crashes in the desert. The cell evolves into monstrous creatures determined to replace all life on Earth, and it’s up to eccentric, irreverent scientists Ira Kane and Harry Block to halt the invasion.
Also on tap is DIC and Dualstar’s new live-action/animation series Mary-Kate and Ashley in Action!, starring the ubiquitous twins whose net worth is now valued at more than US$100 million. This time, they play twin-sister celebrities (not much of a stretch) who star in a series of mini-movies based on famous books and films ranging from period pieces to contemporary hits. Each ‘movie-toon’ opens on a live-action set featuring the real twins and segues into animation as the girls make movie magic with everything from The Princess and the Pauper to Indiana Janes.