ORLANDO — Walt Disney Co.’s imprint is being felt no more strongly than on Saturday morning, where Disney is supplying six of ABC’s eight programs.While most of the sked remains intact from an unofficial plan confirmed in February, the web is adding an unusual two-hour block called “One Saturday Morning” that will contain three separate series interlaced with several interstitial elements. “We’re trying to create a seamless environment,” said Barry Blumberg, VP of series development at Walt Disney Television. “It will hold an audience better … by making it an event that kids will talk about,” he said. In all, four of the five program hours are being touted as FCC-friendly, and ABC Cable prexy Geraldine Laybourne, who also oversees ABC kid programming, outlined spring ratings gains to regain ground lost to Fox and Nickelodeon, the cable network she helped launch. “Clearly we’ve ebbed the tide of losing viewers and we’re on the right track,” she told affils. In an interview, Laybourne said theming the entire morning, and especially the two-hour block, which will feature a studio audience and host, should help improve flow and bolster the daypart. Shows within the block won’t begin on the half-hours but will have staggered start times, and the entire two hours will receive a single Nielsen rating. “One of the problems of Saturday-morning television in my view is it’s had a very canned feel, and this is adding a live presence and an unpredictable presence that will keep it going,” Laybourne said. A potential thorn is clearance problems, particularly in Western and Mountain time zones where sports preemptions affect cartoon schedules and threaten to undermine FCC mandates. Affils aren’t swayed by local ad revenue from cartoons, which is minimal and difficult to sell, but they need the schedule to satisfy the FCC. And some appreciated the effort. “I like hosted television,” said Andrew Fisher, president of Cox Broadcasting and outgoing affiliate board chairman. “That feels like a terrific innovative idea to give us a personality kids can remember.” The new schedule drops “Kids Rule,” a series initially planned, to make room for the interstitial elements. The new schedule is as follows: At 8 a.m., “101 Dalmatians”; 8:30-10:30, “One Saturday Morning,” including “Brand Spanking New Doug,” “Pepper Ann,” “Recess” and the additional vignette elements, 10:30-11:30, “Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show;” 11:30, “Jungle Cubs;” 12, “New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh;” 12:30, “Science Court.” “Science Court” and “Bugs” are the non-Disney shows, while “Science,” “Pepper Ann,” “Recess” and “Dalmatians” are new to the schedule.
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