Nets Target Primetime Animated Series

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Adult-targeted animation seems to be the new rage for basic-cable networks, as Oxygen, Black Entertainment Television and WE: Women's Entertainment last week joined other services in announcing original cartoon projects.

In a rare co-production deal between basic-cable networks, next year Oxygen and BET will team to finance and simultaneously air an animated series about a professional African-American woman. For its part, Oxygen competitor WE: Women's Entertainment will bow an animated primetime series, beginning Oct. 6.

Those three channels join TNN: The National Network, Comedy Central and Sci Fi Channel in developing adult-targeted animated shows within the next year. And Cartoon Network has scored well with young adults with its "Adult Swim" programming block on Sunday nights.

Oxygen and BET will commission 13 episodes of Hey Monie
to premiere in spring 2003. They will share rights to the series and telecast it simultaneously.

Hey Monie, produced by animation shop Soup2Nuts, began as a short serial that appeared regularly on Oxygen's X-Chromosome. Oxygen chairman and CEO Geraldine Laybourne said her network sought BET to offset production costs for the adult-targeted cartoon, although she would not reveal financial specifics.

"Doing long-form animation is costly, but by bringing in BET, we could expedite the development of the series by spring 2003," Laybourne said.

For BET, the series marks the network's first foray into scripted animation.

"We had been looking for an animated series that would appeal to our audience," BET COO Debra Lee said. "It's a positive series that's a wonderfully contemporary portrayal of the lives, trials, ups and downs of today's African-American women that our viewers will find entertaining and positive."

Neither Laybourne or Lee are concerned that the simulcast will yield viewer cannibalization.

"We don't believe that there will be a lot of [viewer] overlap on the show," Laybourne said, although Oxygen has a strong African-American female following. "Any additional kind of exposure we get for the series is good."

Added Lee, "I think we have very different audiences and we promote programming in a different way."

Meanwhile, WE will enter the primetime animation game on Oct. 6 with the premiere of the 13-episode series Committed. Based on the popular comic strip of the same name, the series takes a look at the modern American family.

WE will run back-to-back episodes of the 30-minute show Sunday's at 10 p.m., said vice president and general manager Martin Von Ruden.

Drawing viewers

Given its comic-strip roots, Von Ruden called Committed
"a known property that will attract viewers to the channel and hopefully get them to sample other things as well."

Catherine O'Hara (Home Alone), Eugene Levy (AmericanPie), Andrea Martin (My Big FatGreek Wedding) and Dave Foley (A Bug's Life) will lend their voices to the project.

Canadian-based Corus Entertainment will produce the series, helping to defer WE's costs.

"It was pitched to us by another production company, so a lot of the production costs that would have been there if we built it from the ground up aren't there," Von Ruden said.

While animated series are traditionally aimed at young men, Von Ruden said Committed is a rare female-oriented skein that deals with current issues that women face.

"It matches exactly with our audience, and it's scheduled at night, so our audience can get a quick laugh before they go to bed," he added.