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‘Beethoven,’ ‘Willy’ hit TV

“Beethoven” and “Free Willy,” two features with strong youth appeal, will both be making the transition to network television next fall as animated Saturday-morning series.

Warner Bros. has cemented a deal with ABC on “Free Willy,” to be produced by the studio (which released the feature) and its producers, Richard Donner and Lauren Shuler-Donner, in association with Nelvana Entertainment.

Warner Bros. and Nelvana previously collaborated on the successful ABC kidvid series adaptation of “Beetlejuice.”

“Beethoven,” meanwhile, is expected to end up at CBS,produced through the Universal Cartoon Studios, a division of MCA. Universal Pictures has released two features spotlighting the sloppy Saint Bernard, with the latest, “Beethoven’s 2nd,” having grossed approximately $ 48.5 million in domestic box office.

CBS has a version of another high-profile movie franchise, Disney’s “Aladdin, ” slated for its Saturday-morning lineup next fall, joining Disney’s “Adventures of the Little Mermaid,” which has been renewed with an order for eight new episodes. ABC also will bring back Nelvana’s “Tales from the Cryptkeeper” and DIC Entertainment’s “Sonic the Hedgehog,” its two highest-rated new shows.

The networks will announce their full Saturday-morning lineups next month. Both ABC and CBS currently trail the Fox Children’s Network, which has blasted to the top in the daypart behind such shows as “X-Men” and “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.”

Programmers have traditionally relied on movies, videogames, comics and toys as the basis for Saturday-morning fare because of their built-in name recognition. Other recent movie series turned into kidvid shows include “Back to the Future,””Ghostbusters” and “The Karate Kid.”

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