Cartoon Network is looking to jump-start its ratings with an infusion of live-action fare, particularly within its target of young, male viewers.
From live-action movies like the network record setting Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins and its Nov. 25 Ben 10: Alien Swarm to alternative reality series like Destroy Build Destroy and two scripted live-action series in development for 2010, the network hopes to reach its core audience of 6-to-14-year-old males with a mix of programming that doesn't necessarily match up with the network's core animation-based brand.
Still, president and chief operating officer Stu Snyder said the network will not abandon its Cartoon moniker or brand, adding that it will always feature mostly animated fare.
“We have certainly talked about it and researched it, and frankly what we found is the Cartoon Network brand is incredibly strong with kids, and is one of our strongest assets,” Snyder said. “Combine that with the fact that our audience has said to us that we'll watch live action, and for us it just doesn't make any sense to change the name of the network at this time.”
The network, which has consistently placed third in its category behind Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, experimented with live action in late 2007, with the premiere of Ben 10: Race Against Time, an original movie based on the hit animated action-adventure franchise.
The premiere of Ben 10: Race Against Time proved to be an eye-opener for Cartoon, as it generated a then-network-record 3.99 million viewers. Fast-forward to 2009 and the network again hit ratings paydirt with a live-action original movie, this time capitalizing on the popularity of the Scooby-Doo franchise.
Scooby Doo: The Mystery Begins drew a whopping 6.1 million viewers in September and cemented Cartoon's successful move into nonanimated fare, according to Snyder.
The network hopes for similar numbers on Nov. 25 for Ben 10: Alien Swarm, the franchise's next installment (see Review, this page).
In addition to the movies, the network this summer launched six limited live-action reality series to further whet the audience's appetite for the genre. Two of the series, Destroy Build Destroy — in which two teams demolish machines, only to rebuild them into new devices — and Dude What Would Happen, which follows three guys and their crazy experiments, are now part of a live-action block on Wednesday nights, said Snyder.
Two weeks ago, the network also announced development of two scripted live-action shows, Tower Prep and Unnatural History, which will begin in January. In Tower Prep, a rebellious teen wakes up one morning to find himself trapped at a mysterious prep school focused on tapping into the “unique potential” of its students. Unnatural History tracks a pair of teens who explore mysteries revolving around the National Museum in Washington, D.C.
The network has also teamed with the National Basketball Association to develop My Dad's A Pro, a short-form live-action reality series following the daily life of Jaelen House, 9-year-old son of Eddie House, a guard on the 2008 league champion Boston Celtics. The five-minute show runs Wednesdays at 7:55 p.m. and appears online at cartoonnetwork.com.
“We're going to look to do more of this short, interstitial programming especially in the sports world,” he said.
Cartoon's bread and butter remains animation, though, and the network has green-lighted several new series for the next year. The Ben 10 franchise will return to animation with new series Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, and new action-based cartoons Generator Rex, Regular Show and Horrorbots will debut. The network will also continue its popular sophomore series Star Wars: Clone Wars.
“I think we're placing the right bets and the right focus on the right shows,” Snyder said.