Nickelodeon last week unveiled the schedule for its
expanded primetime kids' block, which kicks off Aug. 31 as the hour-long
"Nickel-O-Zone," with its own animated host.
Nick, building on the success of its first move into
primetime for kids, will begin programming a full hour for children, from 8 p.m. to 9
p.m., at the end of August. Nick is touting Nickel-O-Zone as the only nightly primetime
block dedicated exclusively to kids in a time period that was once called "the family
hour," but that now features many racy shows on the broadcast networks.
The Nick primetime schedule will feature three new original
series -- The Wild Thornberrys, Cousin Skeeter and Animorphs -- as
well as new episodes of returning Nick shows Hey Arnold!, The Journey of Allen
Strange, KABLAM!, The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo and Nick News.
The aim is to fill the gap left by the broadcasters' virtual abandonment of the
children's audience in primetime.
"This is a huge initiative for us," said Cyma
Zarghami, Nick's executive vice president and general manager. "We want to make
our block the best place for kids in primetime, hands-down. And like Snick [Nick's
Saturday 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. kids' block], we want to give it our love and personality,
so that it's a destination for kids. It warranted its own packaging."
Nick announced back in November that it was expanding its
nightly primetime kids' programming from 8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Nick's initial
primetime expansion, from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., began in October 1996 and, in some cases,
the network's ratings doubled during that time period. Nickel-O-Zone will air Sunday
Nick is aiming to create an interactive destination for
kids, Zarghami said. To that end, Nickel-O-Zone will be hosted by a real-time animated
letter "O" -- a character who will guide kids to play games, solve riddles and
participate in online activity.
"We needed a vehicle to tie it all together,"
The Family Channel will relaunch as Fox Family Channel Aug.
15. From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Fox Family will air original series -- mainly comedies -- to
draw families as viewers.
Disney Channel now airs movies from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
"We are definitely geared toward family [in
primetime], but driven by kids," said Rich Ross, Disney Channel's senior vice
president of programming.
Added Zarghami, "They're [Disney] targeting a
much broader audience than we are."
Cartoon Network airs its originals, Dexter's
Laboratory and Cow and Chicken, from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. weeknights, and it said
it attracts kids aged six to 11 with those shows -- rebutting Nick's claim that it
has the only primetime block exclusively for children.
"We obviously target kids, and it's somewhat
absurd to say that Dexter's Lab and Cow and Chicken are not scheduled
to appeal to children," said Mike Yazzo, Cartoon's senior vice president of
programming and production. "We think that we've captured that audience
extremely well, and we were there first."
For the season that just ended in May, from 8 p.m. to 8:30
p.m., Nick averaged a 4.8 rating and 16 share nationally for kids two to 11, leading all
broadcast and cable services, according to Nielsen Media Research.
During the past few years, the "Big Four"
broadcast networks have suffered severe erosion among their primetime kids'
viewership. For the 1993-94 season, the Big Four earned an 18.9 rating for kids two to 11
from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., which dropped to an 11.2 rating for the 1997-98 season,
according to Nielsen data cited by Nick. In contrast, during that same time span,
cable's kids' viewership in total during that half-hour has soared from a 5.4 to
an 11.1 rating.
Nick's new primetime shows come from the producers of
some of the network's hits. The Wild Thornberrys, an animated half-hour
adventure-comedy, is a Nick production in association with Klasky Csupo Inc., executive
producer of Nick's mega-hit, Rugrats. Cousin Skeeter is a live-action
comedy from the creators of Nick's Kenan & Kel. Animorphs, a
live-action fantasy series, is produced by Scholastic Productions, which does Goosebumps.
The complete primetime schedule, from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.,
respectively, is: Sunday, The Mystery Files of ShelbyWoo and Nick News;
Monday and Wednesday, Hey Arnold! and The Journey of Allen Strange; Tuesday
and Thursday, The Wild Thornberrys and Cousin Skeeter; and Friday, KABLAM!