CBS, ABC tap ‘Beethoven,’ ‘Willy’ for kidvid skeds

In an attempt to win back viewers lost to Fox Children’s Network, both CBS and ABC are banking on proven feature film characters to shake up their Saturday ayem schedules.

ABC’s Saturday centerpiece is an animated version of Warner Bros.’ “Free Willy,” while CBS is building its schedule around proven box office hits with kid appeal, Disney’s “Aladdin” and Universal’s “Beethoven.”

The Eye web also has slated an animated version of New Line’s upcoming pic “The Mask” for a midseason launch.

“We have to differentiate ourselves. We don’t have the promotional advantage Fox has (of daily blocks) to build shows on. So we are going with known commodities,” said CBS senior VP of research & planning David Poltrack.

CBS also is ensuring auditory recognition of its wares. Gilbert Gottfried and Scott Weinger, who supplied voices for the “Aladdin” feature, have both inked for the TV series as well. Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson, will supply the voice of the genie. Carrey is also currently in negotiations to voice the animated “Mask” series.

The big battle for the viewers will be waged in the 9 a.m. slot, where CBS and ABC have scheduled “Aladdin” and “Free Willy.” Fox, which has earmarked the slot for “Spider-Man,” won’t launch that show until the November sweeps and will run “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” there until then.

While Fox is offering a two-hour superhero block, CBS and ABC stress that they’re avoiding any hint of realistic violence in their kids schedules.

As such, CBS has two new gunless shows aimed squarely at young boys: “Skeleton Warriors” (from Graz Entertainment and Landmark Entertainment Group) and “Wild C.A.T.S.” (Nelvana Ltd.). As with those shows jumping from the big to small screen, both “Warriors” and “C.A.T.S.” are based on established properties — a current toy industry staple and popular Image comic book.

CBS also believes it can counterprogram Fox with such shows as “Disney’s Little Mermaid,””Aladdin” and “Beethoven” thatare designed mainly for girls.

Four CBS shows return: Fred Wolf’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (cut from an hour to a half-hour), an hour of “Garfield and Friends” (United Media/Mendelson Prods./Film Roman), “Beakman’s World” (Columbia) and “CBS Storybreak,” hosted by Malcolm-Jamal Warner.

ABC’s high hopes

For its part, ABC’s hopes lie with the aforementioned “Free Willy” and “Reboot,” a new computer-animated series from Limelight Prods. showcasing the adventures of a superhero who lives inside a personal computer. “Willy” comes from Nelvana and Warner Bros. TV, with the movie’s Lauren Shuler-Donner, Jennie Lew Tugend and Richard Donner as exec producers.

Also unveiled by ABC were “Bump in the Night,” a claymation/puppetry series about anthropomorphized toys, from Danger Prods. in association with the network’s Greengrass Prods.; and “Fudge,” a midseason Amblin Entertainment series based on children’s books by Judy Blume. It will replace “The Addams Family” next January.

The proven winners in the Alphabet web’s bag include DIC’s “Sonic the Hedgehog,” which will air a half-hour earlier, at 9:30 a.m.; and WB’s “The Bugs & Tweety Show,” which kicks off the morning.

Also returning to ABC’s lineup are “Tales From the Cryptkeeper” (Nelvana), “Cro” (Children’s Television Workshop/Film Roman) and “ABC Weekend Specials.”

Saturday matinee

ABC also announced “The Saturday Morning Matinee,” a quarterly showcase of original, 90-minute children’s movies that will preempt ABC’s regular 11-12:30 block. The first presentation, an animated version of the Broadway hit and movie “The Secret Garden,” will air Nov. 5.