Magical Run For Kids Shows

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Can you name the most-watched show on cable thus far in 2008?

Hillary and Barack tossing verbal jabs at each other on the debate stage? Floyd Mayweather tossing real jabs in the wrestling ring? LeBron getting jiggy on the court during the NBA All-Star Game? Or two animated, married fairies welcoming a little bundle of joy into their magical world?

If you correctly guessed the latter, then you either work for the Nielsen Media Research company that estimates the weekly ratings, or you’re employed by Nickelodeon, which aired the Feb. 18 kids-targeted special Fairly OddBaby.

The show — an offshoot of Nick’s six-year-old animated series the Fairly OddParents about two, odd-looking  miniature fairy Godparents who grant wishes to a buck-tooth pre-teen — drew 8.8 million viewers on President’s Day.

That’s more viewers than the 8.3 million viewers that watched CNN’s entertaining Jan. 31 California democratic debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

More eyeballs than TNT’s Feb. 17 live coverage of high-flying NBA superstars LeBron James. Amare Stoudemire and Dwight Howard participating in the league’s annual All-Star game.

The special also laid a ratings smackdown on USA Network’s competing Monday Night RAW President’s Day show, which featured 147-pound welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather mixing it up with 400-pound gargantuan wrestler dubbed “The Show.”

Nickelodeon’s Fairly OddBaby even outdrew the 8.1 million viewers that broadcast television network CBS drew a day earlier for its debut of pay TV network Showtime’s dark, vigilante-esque drama Dexter.

While Fairly OddBaby’s magical performance is an anomaly — none of the series’ episodes or specials has ever generated more than 5 million viewers —  it’s not a surprise when you look at how dominant the kids genre has been so far this year.

From New Year’s Day through the President’s Day weekend, six of the top 10 most- watched shows on cable have been targeted toward 6-14-year-olds, with Nickelodeon leading the way with four entries.

Besides Fairly OddBaby, the three other top 10 Nick shows were from the Zoey 101 series, starring the controversially pregnant Jamie Lynn Spears.

The other two were from the Disney Channel. The network’s Jan. 25 Minutemen time-travel movie drew 6.4 million viewers, continuing Disney’s ridiculous three-year run that’s seen 11 of its last 12 original movies draw 5 million or more viewers to their premieres.

Even the umpteenth cable airing of animated super hero movie The Incredibles garnered 3.7 million viewers for Disney in January to finish in the top 10.

With the current cable landscape mostly devoid of first-run episodes from original scripted series like The Closer and Army Wives, due to the now settled writers’ strike, it seems little tykes are convincing their parents to watch Nick and Disney shows on the main, Nielsen box-enabled living room TV instead of their own bedroom sets.

Add the often mind-numbing, on-air and Web-based promotions that both networks put behind their respective specials and movies, and it’s not shocking to see a number of kids titles at the top of the ratings heap.

That may change over the next six months as new episodes of Sci Fi Channel‘s Battlestar Galactica and Fx’s Dirt and The Shield debut, the presidential race heats up and baseball’s opening day approaches.

But for now kids programming rules on cable.

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