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Cartoon channel has a ‘Futurama’

Reruns skedded for Sunday Adult Swim block

The Cartoon Network has engineered the most elaborate off-network purchase in its 10-year history, buying the cable-TV rights to the 72 half-hours of the Twentieth TV’s primetime animated series “Futurama.”

Deal represents an investment of about $10 million for Cartoon, which will schedule “Futurama” somewhere in its weekly Adult Swim animated block from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Sundays, starting in January.

“Futurama” reruns “will take our Adult Swim programming to a whole different level,” said Jim Samples, executive VP and general manager of Cartoon Network. Each half-hour of “Futurama,” created by Matt Groening (“The Simpsons”) and David X. Cohen, costs well over $500,000 to produce.

Established a year ago, the three-hour Sunday Adult Swim block has vaulted into the top 10 among all cable networks in the time period among men 18-to-34, the demographic target of the programming.

Previously, Cartoon had bought limited-run off-network animated series for Adult Swim such as “The Oblongs” and “Mission Hill,” two shows that failed to capture a primetime audience on the WB Network, and “Home Movies,” canceled after 13 episodes by UPN. Cartoon has commissioned another 13 half-hours of “Home Movies.”

A Sunday-night success on the Fox Network since it made its debut in March 1999, “Futurama” has slipped in the ratings in the last year or so. Fox hasn’t made it official, but the show is unlikely to come back after it burns off its final original episodes during the 2002-03 season, where it’s scheduled Sunday at 7.

Cartoon has the cable rights to “Futurama” for five years. But the deal is not exclusive: Twentieth reserves the right to sell it in syndication if TV stations should show an interest at some point in buying the rerun episodes.