Nets, cablers pact for ayem p'gramming

NEW YORK — For the first time this fall the broadcasters will be turning to cable siblings or outside entities to program their Saturday morning kid blocks.

Discovery Network’s Saturday morning block of programming will bow on NBC, and 4Kids Entertainment’s Fox Box block on Fox.

In addition, ABC has eliminated its One Saturday Morning franchise to make room for ABC Kids, which will air a mix of programming from Disney’s cable nets ABC Family, Disney Channel and Toon Disney, plus a couple of originals.

Nickelodeon will continue to program CBS’ Saturday ayem sked, but this year, it will shift from tots to a broader 2-11 audience with older-skewing shows such as “Pellswick” and “As Told by Ginger.”

There also will be more cross-pollination between the WB and Cartoon Network. For instance, “What’s New, Scooby-Doo?” will premiere on Kids WB and shift to Cartoon Network six months later.

“What happened over time is that the broadcast networks paid less and less attention to the kid daypart, while cable with its specialty orientation was able to take advantage of that,” says Mike Lazzo, senior VP of programming and production at Cartoon Network. “Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney did a better job programming for kids because that was their full-time business.”

At the same time, a softer economy and a tighter kids ad market forced execs to be creative.

“Kids television is not inexpensive by any means and the ad sales universe is limited,” says Disney Channel entertainment prexy Rich Ross. As a result, “we are not developing anything that airs just once a week. No one is.”

“Fillmore” is the only show that will air exclusively on ABC Kids.

Because so many kids shows will air on multiple platforms, there may be more time devoted to the programming this fall, but fewer actual programs.

“We’re all more focused,” Ross says. “We can’t afford to put on programs that are not going to gather an audience and gain attention.”

Al Kahn, chairman, CEO and director of 4Kids Entertainment, is hoping to capitalize on Fox’s lack of a kids cable partner. “Everything we’re doing is new and we’re not going to repeat as much as our competitors do,” he says.

Without a cable partner, 4Kids also won’t have the built-in promotional partners of their competish. So it has taken out local spots on national cable and also is promoting on the Fox net.Nickelodeon exec VP-G.M. Cyma Zarghami is skeptical about some of the changes in the kids biz. “Saturday morning will look drastically different this fall, but I don’t know if drastically different will be drastically better,” says Zarghami. The No. 1 network with kids, Nickelodeon doesn’t have as much at stake on Saturday mornings since it’s in the kid biz 24/7. But the other players are gearing up aggressive lineups heavily skewed to boys.

Stacey Lynn Koerner, senior VP-director of broadcast research at Initiative Media, attributes the increased kids competish to “a lot of the programming being similar in nature. It’s very action-oriented and there’s a lot of anime.”

As always, it will be up to the kids themselves to decide which shows are going to become breakout hits.

“Obviously, we are all competing for the same eyeballs,” says Marjorie Kaplan, senior vice prexy-general manager for Discovery Kids.

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