Cartoon Network turns down Spielberg-produced skeins

The implications of the deal in which Warner Bros. Cable sold three of its Steven Spielberg-produced animated series to Nickelodeon for $20 million are causing a buzz throughout the industry.

The first shocker is that Warner Bros. didn’t sell the three series to sister company the Cartoon Network.

The three shows are “Pinky & the Brain,” “Animaniacs” and “Tiny Toon Adventures,” all of which will include as part of their titles “Steven Spielberg Presents …”

Cartoon’s main rationale for not buying “Pinky” and not renewing the other two Spielberg series is that it has begun to lay out big bucks to aggressively commission such original series as “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “The Powerpuff Girls.”

Many of these originals have scored in the Nielsens, propelling the network into an unprecedented No. 1 position in primetime among all cable networks for the past two weeks in a row.

Another reason Cartoon walked away from the Spielberg series is that the network owns the biggest cartoon library in the world, the bulk of which fits the category of gentle humor that’s the hallmark of the shows that Nickelodeon bought.

One source says that while Warner Bros. was selling the Spielberg series to Nick, it clinched a deal with Cartoon for 130 off-net “Batman” half-hours and 52 “Superman” half-hours.

Nickelodeon wasn’t interested in the “Batman” and “Superman” toons, so Warner Bros. was able to divide the overall package in two, selling to Nickelodeon and Cartoon — at premium prices — only the product for which each network was clamoring.

But even acknowledging that Cartoon has logical reasons for its decision, studio sources are convinced that if Ted Turner was still riding herd on all of the Time Warner cable networks instead of AOL’s Bob Pittman, Turner would’ve turned thumbs down on Warner Bros. selling the high-octane Spielberg properties to Cartoon’s main competitor, Nickelodeon.

Nick is gloating over the deal, which encompasses a five-year exclusive window for all three Spielberg shows.

The 78 episodes of “Pinky,” which will run at 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, beginning Sept. 4. The 99 “Animaniacs” half-hours arrive in spring 2001 and the 102 episodes of “Tiny Toon Adventures” become available in September 2002.

All the parties to the Spielberg transaction declined to comment.

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