Staying ahead of the pack. That’s how Peter Moss describes his mandate as he returns to Toronto, Canada-based Corus Entertainment as VP of television programming, following a two-year stint as president of CINAR Entertainment. Prior to leaving for CINAR, Moss was VP of programming and production for YTV, but he says he doesn’t envision radically altering the programming strategy for the kids net, which he feels hasn’t changed noticeably since his departure.
To date, says Moss, the backbone of YTV’s success has been its ability to pull in kids at different times through targeted programming windows like its preschool morning block, its after-school block (The Zone) and its Saturday morning action-adventure block (Vortex).
On the teen front, however, YTV discovered that although it has a big teen audience watching shows like Student Bodies and Radio Active, teens don’t necessarily want to have those shows branded directly to them, which is why teen block Limbo has been dropped from the sked. ‘Series that have high teen appeal work fine within the YTV environment–give teens what they like, and they come to the station,’ says Moss.
Today, YTV is the top kids net in Canada, drawing close to two million kids ages two to 11 every week. A 37-week average (September 10, 2001 through May 26, 2002) shows that the broadcaster has a 23% margin in average weekly reach over its closest competitor, Teletoon.
As part of his new remit, Moss will have the added responsibility of programming all of Corus’s channels, including preschool weblet Treehouse TV, diginet Discovery Kids Canada and Canadian women’s channel W Network. So when he acquires and commissions new shows, Moss will be looking for stuff that can work across more than one channel.
To try and stretch the programming dollar further at YTV, Moss and director of children’s programming Joanna Webb want shows that boast strong co-viewing potential. Case in point is What I Like About You, YTV’s new live-action tween sitcom from Tollin/Robbins Productions and Warner Bros. Television. While the show clearly skews towards girls–it follows the exploits of a spontaneous and unpredictable teen (Amanda Bynes) who moves in with her uptight older sister (Jennie Garth)-it has elements that should grab young male viewers. There’s a lot of physical comedy, says Webb, who notes that the first episode also features a walk-on by pro skateboarder Tony Hawk.
Another commission with a dual-sex draw is Girlstuff/Boystuff (26 x 30 minutes), an animated Friends for the early teen set. Produced by Toronto-based Decode Entertainment in association with YTV, the 2-D show reveals the differences and similarities between the sexes by tracing the exploits of three boys and three girls muddling their way through early adolescence.
YTV has also commissioned several other properties that are designed to pull in a broad family audience. Key among the group is Moville Mysteries, a quirky half-hour 2-D comedy produced by Nelvana, which Webb likens to a kid-centric Twilight Zone featuring the voice talent of Malcolm in the Middle’s Frankie Muniz. Given YTV’s success with Goosebumps and Are you Afraid of the Dark?, the weird and wacky tenor of Moville should allow it to quickly cultivate an audience, says Webb.
While acquisitions continue to make up a good chunk of YTV’s schedule, its bread and butter is still commissioned properties. Overall, the broadcaster’s schedule is 60% Canadian, the bulk of which is commissioned, says Webb.
Since it’s becoming increasingly difficult to raise financing for commissioned projects, moving forward, the broadcaster plans to secure new shows either through acquisitions or international co-productions. To wit, YTV recently picked up I Love Mummy, a co-pro from Toronto-based Breakthrough Entertainment, Winklemania in the U.K. and the BBC that will debut on the net this fall. The 2-D series opens with a 12-year-old whiz kid discovering a 3,232-year-old teenage mummy in his attic. The mummy enlists the boy to help him complete the tasks that will let him access the after-life.
As part of his purview, Moss is also charged with finding ways to leverage the resources of sister company Nelvana. Though Corus bought the prodco in September 2000, YTV and Nelvana are just now hashing out their strategy to make use of each other’s assets. ‘YTV and Treehouse have always acquired programming from Nelvana because of the quality of its shows, and Corus will continue to do that,’ says Moss. Indeed, Nelvana productions Max & Ruby and The Berenstain Bears are two new pick-ups for Treehouse TV’s fall sked.
As for other changes for this fall, YTV will introduce Three Hairy Thumbs Up, a weekend movie block featuring a catalog of classic animated films picked up from DIC Entertainment. Although the block hasn’t been permanently slotted yet, Moss is considering airing it as a matinee on Saturdays and/or Sundays.
YTV will also introduce The Dark Corner-a Saturday evening tween/teen fright block that has been airing on the net in different incarnations for a few years. Currently running on Saturdays at 7 p.m., this fall, the two-hour block will air on Friday and Saturday nights from 9 p.m. to pull in older viewers. The Dark Corner features shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dead Last.
YTV will be girding its weekday prime-time lineup against the competition with a strong boys action offering. Following the The Zone after school, YTV will draw on the popular anime genre with shows like Dragonball Z and Samurai Jack, which the net recently picked up from Cartoon Network.