Lion pursuing a bigger slice of TV animation market

Seeking to become more of a player in the world of TV animation, MGM has tripled its production slate in hopes of selling four new animated series to the networks next year.

MGM Animation will produce two syndicated toon series debuting this fall, “Robocop: Alpha Commando” and “The Lion-hearts.” But because kids syndication is so cutthroat, the division has targeted its next four series in development to sell to the networks.

For fall 1999, MGM hopes to interest the networks to buy “Stargate: The Animated Series,” “The Outer Limits: The Animated Series,” “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and “Tiny Tank.”

“Syndication is a difficult world to exist in these days,” said Jay Fukuto, senior VP, MGM Animation. “We’re trying to focus on establishing a network presence this year. That credibility is essential for us.”

Despite the tough times in syndication, MGM is finding success selling the 40-episode “Robocop: Alpha Commando” and the 13-episode “Lionhearts” into syndication. Both shows have cleared 85% of the country, said John Symes, president, MGM Worldwide Television Group.

In addition, MGM’s “All Good Dogs Go to Heaven: The Series,” currently in firstrun syndication, will move to cable’s Fox Family Channel for its third season.

Symes said that despite the increasing domination of kidvid being by vertically integrated companies — such as Fox, which has Fox Family Channel and Fox Kids Network –he’s confident the quality of MGM’s animation will spur network demand.

“We believe that the product will create opportunities for us,” Symes said. “Hopefully, alliances will present themselves.”

Of the animated series MGM has in development for fall 1999, “Stargate: The Animated Series” and “The Outer Limits: The Animated Series” are based on MGM live-action series, both of which run on cable’s Showtime and in syndication.

“It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” is taken from the movie, but Fukuto described it as “an animated ‘Laugh In.’ ” “Tiny Tank” is also being developed as an interactive game by MGM Interactive.

In addition to TV production, Symes said MGM’s animated division will count on revenue from two-to-four homevid releases a year. Two features are in production for the 1998 holiday season: “The Secret of NIMH II” and “An All Dogs Christmas Carol.”

Symes said it was also possible MGM would produce an animated theatrical film.

“I thought there was an opportunity for MGM to go back to its historical roots and become a major producer of animated programming,” said Symes. “We took a slow and methodical approach. Now we have the opportunity to take the next step up.”

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