NEW YORK -Cartoon Network last week unveiled four original series for 2001-2002 and said it has ordered 110 fresh episodes of such hits as Dexter's Laboratory.
With a mix of original programs and acquired shows-the latter mostly made in Japan-Cartoon looks to maintain its hold on viewers aged 6 to 11 and its share of the "tween" audience, mostly boys aged 9 to 14.
Two newcomers- Time Squad
and Grim & Evil
-are comedies, Cartoon Network Worldwide president Betty Cohen said last week at the network's upfront press breakfast. The other new offerings are the action/adventure series Justice League
and Samurai Jack.
Cartoon has budgeted a hefty $500 million for original-series production through 2005, said Cohen, who wouldn't estimate the network's outlay for 2001. That spending also accounts for the 13 pilots Cartoon will bow this summer.
Three of the new shows are half-hours: Time Squad, which begins its run in June, followed by Samurai Jack
in August and Grim & Evil
-based on the franchise from AOL Time Warner Inc. sister company DC Comics-will be an hour-long, 26-episode series featuring Superman, Batman and other superheroes.
SamuraiJack, from Dexter
creator Genndy Tartakovsky, was greenlighted for 26 episodes without even a pilot, according to Cohen. That was due to the success of Dexter, one of the first series to emerge from Cartoon's pool of original shorts.
also came from that pool of shorts. It was developed by Dave Wasson, whose work has appeared on MTV: Music Television's Liquid Television.Samurai Jack
and Time Squad
have something else in common: they both involve time travel.
On the acquired-series front, Cohen said Cartoon has ordered 96 new episodes of Dragonball Z, starting this summer. Besides that show-the most popular element of its afternoon "Toonami" Japanese animé
block-Cartoon later this year will add six other made-in-Japan series, including Mobile Suit Gundam
and Outlaw Star.
offerings, such as Cowboy Bebop, are due later on, she added.
Cartoon's blend of original and acquired fare has helped the network grow its distribution to 70 million homes and has also driven record-level ratings, Cohen said. The network ranked No. 2 among basic-cable services for total-day ratings last year and No. 3 in primetime, per Nielsen Media Research.
That momentum has carried into the current quarter. For January and February, according to Cohen, Cartoon's household ratings rose 10 percent for total day and 13 percent in primetime versus a year ago. The network saw a 21 percent leap among kids aged 6 to 11.
That Nielsen success should enable Cartoon to be among the few to boost ad sales during the kids' upfront, according to industry sources. Sources believe Cartoon and Nickelodeon are likely to increase cable's share of that market, while broadcasters, hit by eroding ratings, are expected to lose ground.
Cohen estimated that 60 percent of Cartoon's audience is between 6 and 11 years old; 10 percent are teens-due mainly to "Toonami"-and 30 percent are 18 and older.
Even though the overall network ad-sales marketplace has been soft, "[Cartoon's] ad sales this year are still quite strong," Cohen emphasized.
WEB'S A WINNER
The network plans to continue its Internet and merchandising brand extensions. Cohen said its Web site consistently ranks among the top three kids' sites with 2 million unique visitors per month. It also plays a major role in the network's "Total Immersion" events.
Those interactive stunts, which encompass games and contests via both cable and the Web, started to contribute to Cartoon's overall ratings during a Toonami stunt last fall.
She and Cartoon Network Online general manager Jim Samples said there are four more due this year: " Powerpuff
Popularity Contest, "Toonami: Lockdown," " Scooby Doo, Where Are You?" and "The Big Pick II."
Cohen said last year's Big Pick, in which viewers voted for their favorite pilots, resulted in Cartoon's order of Grim & Evil
-about two kids who befriend the Grim Reaper.
The online operation now produces scores of original shorts and keeps a typical visitor engaged for 30 minutes, said Samples. Its employee count has soared from eight in 1998 to 65 at present, he said; its budget was $1 million in 1998.
Another programming stunt, "June Bugs," is centered around a three-day Bugs Bunny marathon in June. For the first time, all of that character's Warner Bros. Looney Tunes
cartoons are under one umbrella, Cohen said.