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‘Pokemon’ still big in Kids WB lineup

Weblet orders 52 new episodes of spinoff skein

NEW YORK — “Pokemon” may be showing signs of age, but Kids WB continues to use the franchise as the linchpin of its weekday and Saturday skeds.

The weblet has ordered 52 episodes of a new version of the series, “Pokemon: Johto League Champions,” which will air weekdays from 3:30-4:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 8:30 and 10 a.m.

Not content to rest on its laurels, the kids broadcaster announced at its upfront presentation in New York on Thursday that it will add its first live-action series and four new animated series to its Saturday morning and weekday slates during the 2001-02 season.

The live-action anthology series “The Nightmare Room,” based on R.L. Stine’s book series, will join the Saturday sked, along with “The Mummy,” an animated series based on the Universal film franchise, and “Cubix,” a 3D-CGI series from 4Kids Prods.

Produced by Tollin/Robbins Prods., “The Nightmare Room” could be described as a “Twilight Zone” for kids. Kids WB exec VP Donna Friedman assured advertisers that production on the show will wrap by May 1, before any possible writers or actors strikes begin.

‘Pokemon’ still hot

Pointing out that “Pokemon” was white-hot a year ago, WB’s senior VP of media sales Bill Morningstar said, “Sometimes I feel I should apologize that it’s not as hot as it once was. But it’s still doing great and it’s going to be on our schedule for a long time.”

Season-to-date, “Pokemon: The Johto Journeys” ranks as the No. 1 series among all Saturday morning programs in boys 2-11 and boys 6-11.

The weekday sked will include two shows that previously aired on the competish.

“Rescue Heroes: Global Response Team,” from Nelvana, aired on CBS last year. But Friedman said the show has been “completely revamped.” Series, which follows an extreme emergency team around the world, will air only on Friday mornings.

Kids WB also has acquired “Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century,” co-produced by DIC Entertainment and Scottish Television. The animated series, which aired on Fox in 1999, will run on Kids WB at 7:30 a.m. weekdays.

Friedman sees an opportunity on weekday afternoons next season, when Fox affiliates will shift the Fox Kids block from 3-5 p.m. to 2-4 p.m.

New ‘Phantom’

The weblet has ordered additional episodes of “Max Steel” and “The Zeta Project,” as well as new animated series “Phantom Investigators,” without set launch dates. “We’ll hold those shows in our back pocket and use them to freshen up our schedule throughout the year,” Friedman said. “Phantom Investigators,” which follows kid private detectives, is produced by Wholesome Products and distributed by Sony Pictures Family Entertainment Group.

Returning series include “Static Shock,” “Jackie Chan Adventures,” “X-Men: Evolution,” “Batman Beyond” and “CardCaptors.” Meanwhile, “Men in Black,” “Detention,” “Sylvester & Tweety” and “Generation O!” will not return next season.

The weblet also has decided to nix its “Fraturday” concept of airing an all-original slate on Friday afternoons.

“‘Fraturday’ was an experiment for us this season,” Friedman said, suggesting the idea isn’t totally dead. “The door is always open.”

Heading into the kids upfront season, the WB will be in a tough bargaining position against cable competish such as Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.

Ratings slippage

Season-to-date in kids 2-11, Kids WB ranks second behind Nick with a 3.1 rating, but it’s down 24% from last year’s 4.1 in that demo. In tots 6-11, Kids WB also trails Nick with a 3.7, down 23% from last year’s 4.8.

Nickelodeon, meanwhile, is up 25% in kids 2-11 (5.0 from 4.0) and 32% in kids 6-11 (5.4 from 4.1). Cartoon Network also is strong this season, posting a 1.9 in kids 2-11, up 13% from last year’s 1.7, and a 1.5 in kids 6-11, up 7% from last year’s 1.4.

Reinforcing the idea of synergy between the Kids WB and Cartoon Network in the newly formed Turner Broadcasting TV group, WB prexy and chief operating officer Jed Petrick said the two nets could develop and produce programming together. Theoretically, a program that airs on Kids WB on Saturdays could air on Cartoon Net in primetime. But no details have been hashed out. Petrick also said the two nets’ sales departments will remain separate, although they’ll work together closely.

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