USA buys Viacom toons

The USA Network is expected to announce today that it has acquired the rights to Viacom’s vast animation library, which includes such well-known characters as Mighty Mouse, Heckle & Jeckle and Deputy Dawg.

Additionally, USA will reportedly unveil details of its first foray into original cartoons this fall, with the addition of two new half-hours to its Sunday morning sked.

It is not known if either of the original series will be derived from the Viacom properties that encompass the classic “Terrytoons” library.

During the past year USA has aggressively sought to create new animated series.

Its programming lineup, a hunk of which comes from Hanna-Barbera, was aging and the network wanted to create some franchise characters. Licenses for its H-B product expire in the fall, when the programs will return to Turner Broadcasting for use on its cable Cartoon Network.

Buyer long sought

Viacom, meanwhile, had been seeking to sell off the programming, theatrical, merchandising and licensing rights to its kidvid library for more than a year (Daily Variety, Oct. 28, 1991).

Before turning to USA, Viacom had been in talks with a number of potential suitors, including MCA, Disney, Time Warner, Turner Broadcasting and Marvel Prods. All either have an existing interest in theme parks or have expressed a desire to enter the business.

MCA owns a 50% stake in USA, which could possibly give it access to the classic cartoon characters for its Universal Studios theme park.

The original deal under discussion included the rights to 689 color cartoons of varying length from the “Terrytoons” library, plus 16 half-hours of “The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse” (originally produced for CBS) and 16 half-hours of “Heckle & Jeckle.” Also, there were 130 reconfigured half-hour episodes of “Mighty Mouse & Friends” up for grabs.

No Nick tonight

Product belonging to Viacom’s sister cable network, the Nickelodeon kids channel, was not involved in the package.

Viacom had been seeking $ 400,000-$ 500,000 per half-hour episode from the studios, but it is extremely unlikely that USA ponied up anywhere near that amount.

A year ago, USA programming head Dave Kenin said he wanted to develop new characters for the network that would give the cable web an identity. Originally , USA planned to debut new characters as part of its “Cartoon Express” wraparounds and then launch them later as part of a series. This time, however, the new characters are going straight to series.

On the Cartoon Express

The new programs will make their way into the “USA Cartoon Express” block that airs from 7 a.m.-noon on Sundays.

It’s also possible that the cabler will make the original kiddie fare part of at least one weekday kids block. USA’s “Cartoon Express” airs 7-10 a.m. and again from 5-6 p.m. weekdays.

USA also is planning to shift its afternoon cartoon block back an hour to start at 6 p.m.