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Cartoon Network introduces live-action fare to international skeds

While the Chinese government recently chose to ban imported productions that merge cartoons with live action, Turner's kidnets in the U.S., Latin America and the U.K. are choosing to embrace the combination for their schedules. After Cartoon Network dipped its toe into the genre's pool last year with 2-D/live action Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi and most nets aired full-length features such as Stuart Little, the cablecaster decided to forge full steam ahead and acquiring non-cartoon shows. Each territory is approaching this route in a different way, but with the same purpose - to draw more eyeballs away from cablenet competitors and give viewers a more rounded schedule.
April 1, 2006

While the Chinese government recently chose to ban imported productions that merge cartoons with live action, Turner’s kidnets in the U.S., Latin America and the U.K. are choosing to embrace the combination for their schedules. After Cartoon Network dipped its toe into the genre’s pool last year with 2-D/live action Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi and most nets aired full-length features such as Stuart Little, the cablecaster decided to forge full steam ahead and acquiring non-cartoon shows. Each territory is approaching this route in a different way, but with the same purpose – to draw more eyeballs away from cablenet competitors and give viewers a more rounded schedule.

This month, Boomerang Latin America will get a complete overhaul, moving from an older-skewing retro toon channel to a destination for kid fans of its sister net, Cartoon Network. The cablenet will pepper its afternoon animation offering with live-action sitcoms and dramas. Acquired half hours such as Southern Star’s Sleepover Club and Blue Water High will each have a Latin American debut during the high profile and competitive after-school block. The tween-focused programming will skew slightly girl, helping ensure the new Boomerang output doesn’t directly compete with the boy-targeted all-toon schedule on Cartoon Network Latin America.

Barry Koch, senior VP and GM for Cartoon Network and Boomerang Latin America, admits the broadcaster’s retro cartoon dispatch was a bit limiting to schedule and was attracting adult viewers instead of its original kid demo target. Koch says the Latin America territory will likely revisit how to broadcast classic animation once the new Boomerang is established. In the meantime, the retro toons that originally populated the cablenet will be shifted to the overnight hours to keep the 20-something crowd happy.

At MIPTV, Cindy Kerr, VP of programming and acquisitions in Latin America, says she’ll be on the look out for aspirational live-action programming for the 10-plus crowd that complements Boomerang’s current slate of sitcoms and dramas. She says distributors have no trouble finding programming in their libraries that hasn’t yet aired in the region, which is a bonus for Kerr because there’s a certain cachet to introducing a series to the market.

For Paul Cackett, channel manager at Toonami in the U.K., finding live action that’s never aired on the territory’s crowded broadcast landscape proved a little more difficult. Unlike the young adult demo of its U.S. cousin, Toonami UK has traditionally focused on action-adventure properties for boys. But in an effort to expand beyond the toon-loving set, the net will mesh U.S. sitcoms, U.K. magazine-style shows and Australian drama programming into its prime-time 3 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. block this month. ‘We want to be a more general entertainment channel,’ he says.

And just as Boomerang in Latin America hasn’t entirely changed over to live action, Toonami UK won’t completely shift its remit to sitcoms and dramas. Action-adventure series such as Warner Bros. Animation’s Xiaolin Showdown and Justice League built the brand, and these boy-targeted toons will continue to have a home on the diginet. ‘There’s no reason a kid can’t enjoy a good sitcom and then watch Teen Titans immediately afterwards,’ Cackett says.

He thinks the biggest lure to the net’s new live-action push will be Shaftesbury Films’ Life with Derek (13 x half hours) because of its audience appeal on Disney Channel US. Other pickups include 52 episodes of the Australian version of Beyond’s Backyard Science (airing as a U.K.-created format on ITV), Southern Star’s Blue Water High (26 x half hours), skateboard lifestyle series Stencil (26 x half hours) from Sprout Media and the ’90s U.S. sitcom Parker Lewis Can’t Lose (73 x half hours). ‘It’s hard enough to find good cartoons, but finding good live action that hasn’t already been snapped up is equally as difficult,’ he says.

Over in the States, the door to live action is being opened just a crack for Cartoon Network’s cablenet. The broadcaster introduced live-action/animated mash movie Re-Animated, featuring real kids with toons, to the upcoming sked at its Up Front presentation in March. And even though this isn’t the first time a live-action film has appeared on CN, Jim Samples, executive VP and GM at Cartoon Network Worldwide says it shows the U.S. team is now open to looking at live-action series concepts. Samples says just because ‘cartoon’ is in the net’s moniker doesn’t mean it should dedicate itself solely to that style.

However, don’t expect a full-on, live-action takeover of the U.S. sked anytime soon. ‘There’s not a big change in strategy,’ he stresses, adding it’s more about opening opportunities to different programming. ‘I think if we were going to have more than 10%, I’d be very surprised,’ Samples says.

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