Cartoon Viewers Speak And Get Their Show

Cartoon Network's viewers have cast their votes and overwhelmingly picked an animated tale about a smart girl, her dumb younger brother and the Grim Reaper as the channel's next new series for 2001.

During Cartoon's "Big Pick" the weekend of Aug. 25 through 27, the network's audience chose from three pilots, picking the one they wanted to see as a series. The voting took place via a toll-free number or online during "Cartoon Cartoon Weekend," a 53-hour marathon of all-original programming.

The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy won 57 percent of the votes, while Whatever Happened to Robot Jones? secured 23 percent and Longhair and Doubledome got 20 percent.

Now that the audience has been heard, Cartoon Network Studios will create 13 half-hour episodes of Grim Adventures that will debut next fall.

In the cartoon, created by animator Maxwell Atoms, Mandy and her younger brother, Billy, make a deal with the Grim Reaper-a character with a Jamaican accent-in order to save the life of their pet hamster, Mr. Snuggles.

Cartoon vice president of original animation Linda Simensky said people both inside and outside of the TV industry told her she was "crazy" for letting viewers decide what pilot should go to series.

"They said, 'You're letting the audience program the network?'" Simensky recalled. "But this is an interesting way to find out what our audience wants. And [Grim Adventures is] a nice fit with our other cartoons. There's a strong female character and a dopey guy character."

Throughout the summer, Cartoon aired 10 pilots, which were seven-minute animated shorts. Then the network's programming department picked three of them as finalists, letting the audience decide which of those should be turned into a full-fledged show.

As for the decision on the three, Simensky said: "We used a combination of things, including ratings and focus groups. We looked at [the pilots'] potential and had some idea what worked well as a short and now as well as a series. And [senior vice president of programming] Mike Lazzo has a fair amount of gut instinct."

In the past, Cartoon let viewers vote for their favorite animated shorts, but did not go so far as to let them pick which should become series, according to Simensky.

Cartoon has had a gangbusters summer in terms of ratings. In July, it was No. 2 in primetime with a 2.0 rating, just behind No. 1 USA Network, with its 2.2, according to Nielsen Media Research data supplied by Turner. Cartoon was also No. 2 in total-day ratings in July with a 1.3, behind Nickelodeon, with a 1.7.

And for two weeks in a row in August, Cartoon logged a phenomenal performance, actually coming in first among basic-cable networks in the primetime ratings.

The week of Aug. 21, for example, Cartoon did a 2.0 rating, or 1.3 million households. The Big Pick marathon weekend averaged a 1.5 rating.