Friday, July 1, 2011

Kids' cable punches it up with film, game tie-ins

Kids' programmers are ramping up with tunes, toons and movie spinoffs. In their new and upcoming lineups, they're emphasizing ties to movies and games from their corporate siblings.

  • The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra is a spinoff from the TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender.

    Nickelodeon

    The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra is a spinoff from the TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Nickelodeon

The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra is a spinoff from the TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender.

"Programming is more competitive than it's ever been," says Margaret Loesch, a veteran of kids' TV who runs the new kid on the block, The Hub, a joint venture between Discovery Networks and Hasbro. "What I'm getting as feedback from kids and advertisers is consistent: They're looking for more choices."

Most of the kid-targeted cable networks are up this year in the ratings, with Disney XD, Disney Channel and Nick Jr. leading the increases. Leader Nickelodeon is down slightly, and third-place Cartoon Network, up 1%, is seeking a boost by "trying to refresh; they're trying to be more Adult Swimmish," says Amy Sotiridy, senior VP at ad firm Initiative, referring to that channel's successful (and far edgier) late-night block.

What's on tap:

Nickelodeon

On Friday Nick launches Bucket & Skinner's Epic Adventures (8 ET/PT), a buddy comedy about two surfer dudes. But the network is putting its biggest emphasis on animation, where SpongeBob SquarePants, which premiered in 1999, remains unrivaled. Some will be spinoffs, including The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra and Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness. This fall, look for a new version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the self-explanatory newcomer Robot & Monsters. In live-action, Nick will take a page from Disney next year with How to Rock, a music-based series starring rapper Master P's daughter, Cymphonique Miller.

Disney Channel

Bidding farewell to a trio of hits, Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place and Suite Life on Deck, Disney is eyeing recent addition Shake It Up (Sundays, 8 ET/PT), a dance-fueled buddy comedy, as the next franchise for tween girls. (It's the top-rated series among that crowd.) Animated hit Phineas and Ferb, which plans an Aug. 5 movie, will serve as a platform to expand more deeply into animation, including next summer's Gravity Falls, in which twins visit their great-uncle's weird town. New live-action A.N.T. Farm (Fridays, 8:30 ET/PT), about an 11-year-old musical prodigy, will be joined this fall by Jessie, an ambitious teen from rural Texas who moves to New York to become a nanny. On Disney XD, look for animated spinoffs Ultimate Spider-Man and Tron: Uprising in 2012.

Cartoon Network

After years of working at arm's length from corporate sibling Warner Bros., Cartoon is now embracing the studio and its DC Comics label. New programming block DC Nation will showcase projects such as Green Lantern: The Animated Series, coming next year. Ratings for a revamped Looney Tunes Show (Tuesdays, 8 ET/PT) have been solid. Cartoon is gearing up for Level Up, a 2012 live-action series (a movie is due this fall) about three gamer pals who enter a real video game; the return of ThunderCats July 29; a new version of Ben 10; and How to Train Your Dragon, based on the DreamWorks film. Goofy toon Adventure Time is its top-rated series, and overall, there's a "shift in emphasis," says chief content officer Rob Sorcher: "The stuff that's really worked is at its core a comedy."

The Hub

A new joint venture between Discovery Networks and Hasbro, The Hub this fall will give The Aquabats, a "super-hero" rock band, a new platform in The Aquabats Super Show, from the creators of Yo Gabba Gabba. Investor Warren Buffett is behind Secret Millionaire's Club, a series of animated specials that will teach "business principles." And a pint-size riff on American Idol is due in Majors & Minors, in which 16 singers are mentored by X Factor's Leona Lewis and Idol winner Jordin Sparks for the chance to win a record deal and concert tour. And while The Hub downplays its role as promotional vehicle for Hasbro products, the channel is mining the toymaker's vaults with shows pegged to Clue, The Game of Life, Scrabble, Transformers' Rescue Bots and trading-card game kaijudo.

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Kirsten Dunst Susan Ward Ehrinn Cummings Katharine McPhee Kasey Chambers

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