CBS swaps toons for educational kidvid

NEW YORK — CBS’ revamped Saturday-morning kidvid slate offers three hours of live-action fare wrapped around a new two-hour weekend news program.

The new schedule wipes out the Eye web’s current four-hour sked, featuring “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and movie-based cartoons like “The Mask” and “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” in favor of FCC-friendly educational fare that also aims to entertain. The only returning series is the science-themed “Beakman’s World,” readying a fifth season.

Among the highlights are a pint-sized gameshow, “Wheel of Fortune 2000,” a “Pee-wee’s Playhouse”-style variety show starring “Weird Al” Yankovic and a pickup of 24 episodes from a former ABC series, “Fudge.” As reported, CBS also has a “Sports Illustrated for Kids,” based on the Time Inc. magazine and co-produced with CBS’ Eyemark Entertainment unit, and a Children’s Television Workshop series, “The Ghostwriter Mysteries,” that’s adapted from a similar PBS outing.

“We feel we’ve created a very entertaining schedule that will both inspire and inform,” said Lucy Johnson, senior VP of daytime/children’s programming and special projects.

The cartoon-free schedule, she said, “gave more cohesiveness to the schedule,” but the Eye web isn’t ruling out animation down the road. “The form of animation does not preclude being educational or being informative.”

Given a precipitous slide this season in ratings for kids 2-11, which are off 44% from 1995-96, forcing cash rebates to advertisers, the Eye web may have problems clearing its new Saturday block.

The network has adopted an unusually flexible strategy, and will feed the shows Friday night for airing on either weekend day. Officially, the network is scheduling two hours from 7 to 9 a.m., followed by the new “CBS News Saturday Morning” and a third hour, comprising the “Sports Illustrated” and Yankovic series, from 11 a.m. to noon.

The network also is taking back all local children’s ad avails from its stations “at their request” and moving them into the two-hour news program, confirmed senior VP of affiliate relations Peter Schruth.

CBS’ lack of other kid programming made the local sales tougher, and the web said its producers, like CTW and SI, would do more to promote the CBS shows in schools and publications. CBS also is counting on heavy drive-time promotion aimed at parents on the company’s 79 stations.

The full schedule (all times Eastern/Pacific):

7 a.m.: “Beakman’s World” (Columbia Pictures Television/Universal Belo Prods.); 7:30 a.m.: “Fudge” (Kevin Slattery Prods. and Amblin/Universal); 8 a.m.: “The Ghostwriter Mysteries” (Children’s Television Workshop); 8:30 a.m.: “Wheel of Fortune 2000” (Columbia TriStar Television); 9 a.m.: “CBS News Saturday Morning;” 11 a.m.: “The Sports Illustrated for Kids Show” (SI Television/Eyemark Entertainment); 11:30 a.m.: “The Weird Al Show” (Dick Clark Prods.)