Cartoon Network is boosting its live-action fare and expanding into unscripted alternative programming, aiming at a slightly older — and potentially more affluent — new crowd.
“Just like the boy that wakes up one day and starts to sound different, our voice is changing too,” Turner Broadcasting System Animation, Young Adults and Kids Media division president and chief operating officer Stu Snyder said at an upfront presentation.
Turner and Cartoon Network executives made their pitch at the Frederick P. Rose Hall at the Time Warner Center last Wednesday, against a backdrop of buzzwords to describe the new strategy, such as “authentic,” “real stakes” and “unsanitized.”
At the heart of the push is a slate of new alternative series that take their cues from more grownup networks, such as Discovery Channel and Sci Fi Channel, though using teen and tween stars.
To that end, Cartoon has snatched Les Stroud, the former host of Discovery’s Survivorman, to host Survive This, a reality series that will feature teens learning survival skills and overcoming challenges in the wild.
Other alternative shows on tap:
- Destroy Build Destroy, featuring two teams of kids with demolitions experts to see whose efforts at destruction are more effective.
- Dude, What Would Happen, which has teens answering silly questions such as “what would happen if you attached 350 helium balloons to a sumo wrestler?”
- Head Rush, in the same vein as Discovery’s Cash Cab, in which a roller coaster is the setting for a very fast quiz show.
- Bobb’e Says, starring Bobb’e J. Thompson of NBC’s 30 Rock and MTV’s Human Giant, using viral videos to dispense wisdom to the unsuspecting public.
- The Othersiders, a paranormal/ghost hunting series with high school-age investigators.
Cartoon also ordered two hour-long, live-action scripted pilots: Unnatural History, about a young man who travels the world with his anthropologist parents, then moves to a new town and enters a new high school; and Prepped, which features a teen who wakes up in a mysterious prep school he cannot escape from.
The hasn’t turned its back on animation. It ordered another installment of its Ben 10 franchise, Ben 10: Evolutions, and a spinoff of recent hit Total Drama Island, dubbed Total Drama Action.
Cartoon has also ordered a new animated Scooby-Doo series from Warner Bros. Animation, Scooby-Doo Mystery Inc.
Other new animated fare includes Adventure Time With Finn and Jake, based on the short film by Pendleton Ward, and Sym-Bionic Titan, from Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack) which the network describes as “an exciting hybrid of high-school drama and giant robot battles.”
Cartoon is also boosting its original-movie output, including a new live-action Scooby-Doo film showing how “the gang” from the classic cartoon series first met. Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins will bow in the fall.
The network will also launch a Saturday-afternoon sports block, drawing on Turner Sports. Also last week, it announced a programming alliance with the National Basketball Association.
“We are casting a wider net to open us up to new partnerships and new audiences, we want to become a dominant youth-culture brand,” said Turner Animation, Young Adults and Kids Media chief marketing officer Brenda Freeman. “We are going to break out of the over-sanitized kids’ environment, and that’s OK.”