Add Cartoon Network to the list of channels no longer strictly adhering to its brand, which the Turner network is announcing in a big way with four new live-action series this month. Yet while it appears to be a relatively bold strategic gambit to age and edge up the channel’s profile, the shows don’t exhibit much originality — all playing like junior editions of somebody else’s reality franchise. So while the kids cable competition has intensified, Cartoon’s non-toon expansion is nothing about which to get animated.
The opening salvo consists of “The Othersiders” — a “Ghosthunters” knockoff, only with teenagers exploring the paranormal; and “Survive This,” throwing a group of teens into the wilderness under the stewardship of “Survivorman” host Les Stroud. Two more, “BrainRush” — a cut-rate quizshow staged on roller coasters — and “Destroy Build Destroy” (seemingly recycled from Discovery’s gear-head TV closet), premiere June 20.
“Othersiders” — which spends most of its time filming the kids through eerie night-vision lenses — proves it’s not easy watching green, as the ethnically diverse quintet investigate Lincoln Heights jail. At the end, they vote on whether the place was haunted, which, being the stars of a show called “Othersiders,” doesn’t really qualify as a completely impartial jury.
With this new show, TV’s “I profit off dead people” mindset has now turned the dubious triple-play of offering ghost-hunting programs for young adults, college students (A&E’s “Paranormal State”) and now high schoolers. And while the show isn’t much scarier than “Scooby-Doo,” a parent should probably think twice about letting young tykes watch right before going to bed.
The roots of “Survive This” are equally transparent, and the production just as lazy. The kids even come with pre-fixed labels (“the princess,” “the tough girl”) to pigeonhole them into convenient categories. Meanwhile, host Stroud periodically comes strolling out of the woods like he’s Rod Serling or something, before disappearing again.
As for the gameshows, the participants can literally win hundreds of dollars, which surely sounds more enticing if you receive a $20 allowance. “BrainRush” is harmless enough, though coaxing a kid to wolf down a hamburger before boarding a roller coaster seems to owe an unfortunate debt to G4’s “Hurl!”
Mostly, Cartoon’s new lineup says more about the channel and ad environment than kids, inasmuch as this programming shift marks a concerted push for older boys that execs clearly assume cartoons won’t deliver. However true that assessment might be, creatively the channel is essentially saying children are just pint-sized adults, to be served smaller (or rather, younger) portions off the same reality menu.
Perhaps that cynical approach might work, but nobody’s kid will have to worry about experiencing a brain-rush from this initial volley of toon-free reality.