Reality shows may be changing the face of primetime, but anklebiters have more than their share of the usual programming hours in the 2000-2001 TV season.
Fifteen different networks and cable channels have blocks or entire schedules dedicated to youth programming. But outlet expansion has given way to a more cautious approach, such as Fox Family Channel’s decision to cancel its digital Boyz and Girlz channels less than a year after launch.
The consolidation trend is creating opportunities for large companies to strengthen their brands by crossing into different markets. Disney has mastered this method, with command of kids programming on network stations in addition to its cable networks.
This fall, ABC launches the fourth season of “Disney’s One Saturday Morning” block with two new toons: “Disney’s Teacher’s Pet” and “Disney/Pixar’s Buzz Lightyear of Star Command,” based on the “Toy Story” character. Meanwhile, UPN is launching into another season of “Disney’s One Too” block (Sundays through Fridays), featuring the same shows.
Cable on the air
Another sign of the times is a result of the Viacom/CBS merger: CBS has dumped its licensed Saturday morning kiddie fare for a pre-school block dubbed “Nick Jr. on CBS.”
Besides bringing the Nickelodeon brand into non-cable households, the move provides a younger alternative to Nickelodeon’s older-skewing Saturday morning lineup.
“Parents automatically trust Nickelodeon,” says Lucy Johnson, VP of Children’s Programming for CBS.
PBS is debuting the Bookworm Bunch, a pack of six new shows based on books: “Corduroy,” “Elliot Moose,” “Marvin the Tap-Dancing Horse,” “Seven Little Monsters,” “Timothy Goes to School” and “George Shrinks.”
The public broadcaster has faced protests from the domestic production community because many of these shows are produced in Canada. But in the wake of diminished federal funding, PBS has found new financing strategies, including taking a cut of merchandising revenues from kids properties it airs.
“It is important for us to be able to attain our fair share of the value that broadcast brings to a property,” says John Wilson, senior VP of programming services and acting chief programming exec for PBS.
The Kids WB! is aiming to keep its “Pokemon”-powered position with several new animated series, including weekday and weekend runs of “Pokemon: The Johto Journeys.”
For the first time, Kids WB! will have a universal time slot among all affiliates for its weekday afternoon block. The network is also introducing a new programming strategy called “Fraturday,” offering new episodes of original programming on Friday afternoons.
“Typically, Monday through Friday programming is reruns, so we wanted to break that pattern and air original programming on Friday,” says Donna Friedman, senior vice president of Kids WB!
The block will feature new series “Cardcaptors,” “Generation O!” and “The Zeta Project,” while Saturday mornings bring “Jackie Chan Adventures,” “Static Shock!” and “X-Men Evolution” to the tube.
X marks the spot
Fox Kids Network launched its new schedule in August, with the return of “X-Men,” the edgy toon that first propelled the network to No. 1 in 1993. It was taken off the air in 1998 and should perform well again after the success of the summer blockbuster.
A “Digimon” movie coming in October should also boost ratings for the Japanese import show.
NBC is targeting teens with the return of its TNBC Saturday morning block. The lineup sticks with the live-action scripted success started by “Saved by the Bell,” with returning shows “Hang Time,” “City Guys” and “One World,” followed by one new dramedy series called “Just Deal.”
In the cable arena, Nickelodeon, the reigning king of kids TV, is introducing three new Latino-themed series to its lineup, “The Brothers Garcia,” “Dora the Explorer” and “Taina,” as well as “Pelswick,” a new animated show about a boy who happens to be in a wheelchair.
Nickelodeon executive VP and general manager Cyma Zhargami says, “We pride ourselves on re-inventing ourselves every year. We always want to make sure our air reflects kids’ lives, and these additions make Nickelodeon authentic.”
Nickelodeon is also adding a commercial-free “Noggin on Nick” block. Noggin, the educational network formed by Nickelodeon and Sesame Workshop (formerly Children’s Television Workshop) is supplementing library programs with new episodes of original series “The Phred on Your Head Show” and “A Walk in Your Shoes.”
Fox Family Channel is bowing two new live-action series with a science-fiction bent: “Real Scary Stories” and “The Zack Files”; and three music-based shows: “Da Mob,” “The Hi-Fi Room” and “MXG Beach Countdown.”
“We observed that our shows did well with tweens, aged 9-14. A lot of them said Nick was too young for them, so the development for this season is based on that,” says Maureen Smith, general manager of Fox Kids Network and exec VP of Fox Family Channel.
Disney Channel is introducing one new original live-action series called “In a Heartbeat” and putting heavy emphasis on original specials and movies like “Mom’s Got a Date With a Vampire” and “Learning Differences,” a look into the lives of kids with learning disabilities.
HBO Family also prefers specials; new this season are “The Royal Diaries,” based on the Scholastic books; and “Animated Epics,” with versions of Don Quixote and Beowulf.
Toon Disney, now in its third year, has 34 different series from the Disney and DIC libraries, including “Madeline” and “Quack Pack,” but no new programs. Like Toon Disney does, Boomerang, Cartoon Network’s sister channel, airs its parent company’s vast animation library.
One third of Cartoon Network’s viewers are adults, which is why the cabler spends most of its budget on prime-time toons like the new “Sheep in the Big City.” The show’s creator, Mo Willems, swears by his 10-year rule: “It has to work for a 10-year-old, and it has to be funny in 10 years.”
“Kids are a little more savvy than they were five years ago,” says Linda Simensky, VP of original animation for Cartoon Network. “They are used to having a lot of choices.” In this spirit, Cartoon Network is allowing its viewers to choose which of three cartoon shorts will go to series, via online and phone voting.
Such audience interactivity is the biggest trend in kids’ programming, and the goals for truly integrated online and on-air components are high on the agenda of development execs.