Cartoon Net touts live-action expansion

Cabler pushes ad buyers for larger share of kidvid dollars

As it marks 20 years on the air, Cartoon Network is expanding its intitiative to pepper its boys-centric sked with live-action programs.

At its Gotham upfront on Wednesday, the toon factory unveiled a slate that includes an untitled sketch comedy show produced by Nick Cannon, which marks the cabler’s first foray into the sketch genre. That move follows on the heels of Cartoon Network’s recent inroads into live-action fare with the series “Level Up,” which it announced will return for a second season.

“A few years ago, we presented you with a plan, a vision and a strategy, and … it was to reinvent prime,” said Stuart Snyder, prexy-COO of Turner Animation young adults and kids media, as he addressed the roomful of ad buyers at Roseland Ballroom. “Well, we’ve done that, and we are going to continue to do it.”

Still, the cabler, which boasts No. 1 status with boys 6-11, isn’t abandoning its raison d’etre and is adding a handful of new animated series to its lineup, including a new take on the Dark Knight (“Beware the Batman”) from Warner Bros. Animation and exec producer Sam Register. Though the series is undated, it will likely bow in the summer when it will benefit from the buzz stirred up by Warner Bros.’ anticipated blockbuster “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Cartoon Network is also adding a smallscreen series adaptation of DreamWorks’ “How to Train Your Dragon” in the fall. The series reunites the key voice talent from the film, including Jay Baruchel and America Ferrera.

In pitching the new programs, Cartoon execs urged media buyers to give the cabler a bigger chunk of their kidvid dollars.

“Today is the day,” said Joe Hogan, Cartoon’s exec veep of sales. “It’s time to reasses your media plans.” His colleague John O’Hara said primetime ratings for boys 6-11 surge 28% for the three months ending in March, making it the net’s best first quarter since 2005.

The afternoon upfront presentation featured a pop art décor and a kid-friendly menu of corn dogs and chicken pot pies. The cabler, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, also illustrated its breadth of hit programming with a live orchestra performing tunes from Cartoon Network classics like “Ben Ten” and “Teen Titans.” “Ben 10” has become a retail juggernaut for Turner, generating upward of $3 billion in merchandise sales.

A “Ben 10” spin-off — “Ben 10: Omniverse,” set for a fall berth — joins Cannon’s undated live-action half-hour series as among the new additions. Cartoon brass also are looking to break out YouTube sensation “Annoying Orange” in the summer with a series that was developed and produced by the Collective management-production company.

Also on the horizon is summer bow “Total Drama: Revenge of the Island” as well as an untitled Lego project, which marks the second partnership between the network and the toymaker following their CG-animated hit “Ninjago.” That series is scheduled for sometime in 2013.

The Cannon show will feature a troupe of teen theps including Jeremy Shada, Brandon Soo Hoo, Shameik Moore, Shauna Case and Chanelle Peloso. Cannon exec produces with Michael Goldman and Scott Tomlinson.

Jill Goldsmith contributed to this report.