NICK CAPTURES ‘ANIMORPHS’

Live-action series could launch net's new timeslot

Nickelodeon has ordered 13 episodes of the Scholastic Prods. series “Animorphs” as a weekly primetime series and earmarked it for a September 1998 debut — likely as part of Nick’s 8-8:30 p.m. rotation, but possibly to help kick off a new series of shows in the 8:30-9 p.m. timeslot.

The network holds options for 20 additional episodes for the 1999-2000 fall season and additional options for the two seasons beyond that, up to a potential total of 80 half-hours.

A live-action drama about five teenagers on a heroic mission to save the world from an alien invasion, “Animorphs” is based on the bestselling book series by K.A. Applegate that launched last June. Eight titles are now in print, and the book series begins monthly installments in August.

Show follows on the success of Scholastic Prods.’ “Goosebumps,” the anthology series based on the blockbuster book franchise that is Fox’s highest-rated kids show, and the animated “The Magic School Bus” on PBS.

Quality books

“What we have figured out, because it’s easier said than done, is how to take good kids literature and make it good television,” said Deborah Forte, division head of Scholastic Prods.

Forte added that “Animorphs” gives Nickelodeon “the kind of active, dramatic storytelling you see in primetime rather than … in kids television.”

“Animorphs” follows a group of teenagers who can transfer the DNA of any animal they touch and transform themselves into that animal. But the actors play “real characters” rather than cardboard superheroes, Forte said.

While each episode of the series will include special morphing effects, Albie Hecht, senior VP of worldwide production and development for Nickelodeon, said the show’s budget will be comparable to that of other Nick series such as “The Secret World of Alex Mack.”

“Even though these are teenage characters, the show has broad appeal to our core audience (age 6-11) because it lets kids live out one of their ultimate fantasies, which is to crawl inside that animal’s brain and experience what it’s like to be that animal,” Hecht said.

“You’ve got a story about real kids in an extraordinary situation, and that’s perfect for us.”

There has been talk of Nickelodeon commandeering the 8:30 p.m. half-hour from Nick at Nite, much as it began packing original shows into the 8 p.m. slot last fall. Hecht acknowledged that such an expansion is possible by fall ’98, and, if it occurs, “Animorphs” would be a candidate for the later time period.

Scholastic will own the “Animorphs” show and control all merchandising, providing a relatively rare example of a new Nickelodeon series pickup that isn’t controlled by either Nickelodeon Prods. or Klasky-Csupo.

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