Networks Toying Around With Kiddie Show Deadlines

The three networks and Fox Broadcasting Co. are attempting to push up the date on commitments to new Saturday-morning series for next fall, sources say, partly because of production delays brought about this season by the crush of new animated product.

The networks have been talking about moving up those dates for some time and, according to sources, both NBC and the Fox Children’s Network are seeking to have their lineups in place by early February.

ABC said it expects to announce its schedule in late February or early March, while CBS execs were unavailable for comment.

In the past, Saturday-morning lineups were announced in late March or early April.

The resurgence of syndicated animated strips, plus Fox’ entry into the market, have led to a dramatic increase in animated fare. One result is that animation houses in Asia are struggling to meet demand.

This season, all three networks have been running more repeats than usual. The crunch, however, has been felt most bitterly by Fox, which doesn’t have the luxury of back inventory to fill in the gaps. Its FCN has been forced to air early-season repeats of its afternoon strip “Peter Pan And The Pirates,” as well as some of its Saturday-morning shows.

Network execs and program suppliers long have maintained that animated product would improve if networks could commit earlier to new programs, rather than making producers turn around 13-episode animation orders in only five months. (Some syndicators, such as Buena Vista TV, consistently allow 18 months to two years for the production of a new animated strip.)

Fox already has greenlighted Warner Bros.’ “Taz-Mania” for next fall’s Saturday-morning sked, while Dennis Swanson, ABC sports, daytime and children’s programming prez, said last week that his web’s toprated lineup should remain largely unchanged.

NBC has placed more emphasis on live-action in its schedule to appeal to teens, but reportedly is in negotiations on some new animated series properties as well.

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