Cartoon crossovers on sister broadcast and cable networks
are working for Fox Kids and Fox Family Channel.
So Nickelodeon's plans to rerun such Nick Jr. preschool
series as Blue's Clues on CBS' Saturday-morning lineup, in the wake of the proposed
merger between Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp., may not be so risky after all, according to Fox
Family Worldwide and some agency buyers.
While operators expressed concern about losing their
exclusive hold on the Nick Jr. shows, Nickelodeon -- which will sell the commercial time
on the CBS repeats -- is banking on doing well with small fry in the ratings department.
Digimon: Digital Monsters and Monster Ranch both
run on Fox Kids' Saturday schedule and repeat on Fox Family's Sunday slate.
Digimon, in particular, has been a ratings success,
with Fox Family Worldwide president of ad sales Rick Sirvaitis pointing out that it ranked
No. 1 in Nielsen Media Research ratings among boys aged two through 11 and six through 11
in the February sweeps, from Feb. 5 through 12.
Part of Fox Family's "Made in Japan" animated
Sunday block, Digimon was due to run an hour later, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., as of
this past Sunday in order to make room for a new series, Flint the Time Detective.
Digimon also airs on Fox Kids, where Sirvaitis said it
outscored The WB Television Network's Pokemon among boys two through 11 and six
through 11 for the first time Feb. 26.
This was followed the next day by Fox Family's
"Digithon," which Sirvaitis said averaged a 1.6 Nielsen rating among boys two
through 11 from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., peaking at a 2.3 in the 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. slot.
The Walt Disney Co. also runs cartoons on ABC's Saturday
mornings that are then repeated on United Paramount Network's Sunday lineup, but both are
The Fox Family/Fox Kids tandem is part of a quiet revival
of the trend whereby toy lines inspire cartoon series. That's the reverse of the usual
pattern, when cartoons like Nick's Rugrats spawn spinoff toys.
Last season, for instance, Fox Family carried Donkey
Kong, a series based on Nintendo of America Inc.'s video-game character, Sirvaitis
said. Pokemon, The WB's big kids' hit, also began as a Nintendo video game.
In such cases, he stressed, the networks don't run the toy
maker's commercials within or adjacent to those programs.
But Sirvaitis disputed reports published in recent toy
magazines that Digimon is part of that toys-to-cartoons trend. He maintained that Digimon
began as a Japanese cartoon before Bandai America Inc. introduced the toy line.
Sirvaitis also said he's unsure whether Hello Kitty's
Paradise, just added to Fox Family's Saturday-morning slate this past week, was a toy
first, although toy-maker Sanrio Co. Ltd. is its co-producer. Hello Kitty began as
a series some 20 years ago, he added.
During the 1970s and 1980s -- the toys-to-cartoons trend's
heyday -- toy makers, led by giants Hasbro Inc. and Mattel Inc., converted several of
their best-selling action-figure and doll lines into syndicated cartoon series. The most
noteworthy examples were Hasbro's "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers" toys
and Mattel's "Masters of the Universe" product line.
Next up for Hasbro is co-producing Centipede for
Cartoon Network as an action-adventure series based on a new toy line. Slated for a fall
debut, it marks the first such project set by Cartoon, a spokesman said.
Fox Kids already has commitments for two other cartoon
series sparked by Hasbro action figures -- the current Beast Machines Transformers and,
come fall, Action Man. Both feature 3-D computer animation.
Like Digimon and Pokemon, Hasbro's Action
Man property initially caught on outside of the United States, having became a hit toy
and series last year in the United Kingdom, Hasbro said in ads directed at toy retailers
attending the recent Toy Fair in New York.
Like Digimon and Monster Ranch, those Hasbro
shows may eventually follow that same TV/cable dual-carriage route, Sirvaitis said. Such
crossovers benefit both from heavy promotion and ad sales across Fox's various media
assets, he added. Most clients buy Fox Kids and Fox Family, he said, with fewer adding in
its print and radio properties.
"A determination could be made [on Fox Family carrying
those action series] down the road," Sirvaitis said. Given their "FV"
rating (for "fantasy violence"), they would not air in their current form, he
added, but "they could be edited to tone down the fantasy violence."
Yet another video-game-inspired program is Sonic
Underground, a Bohbot Kids Network series inspired by Sega of America's "Sonic
the Hedgehog" video games.
Sonic Underground, Donkey Kong and Pokemon follow
in the tradition of "Pac-Man" and "Q*bert," which went the same
video-game-to-TV road decades ago.