Cartoon Wants to ‘Tickle U’

Targeting the young and the still young at heart, Cartoon Network detailed plans for its upcoming preschool block and announced plans to bolster its late-night lineup at the service’s upfront presentation

Aimed at kids 2-5, “Tickle U” will bow weekdays from 9 a.m.-11 a.m. Aug. 22 and include four minutes worth of commercials per hour.

Meanwhile, taking a cue from what Nickelodeon did with Nick at Nite in the second quarter of 2004, Cartoon is spinning off its “Adult Swim” late-night block into its own network for Nielsen Media Research purposes beginning March 28.

At that point, Adult Swim -- which principally targets adults 18-34 and 18-24 -- will be separated from its progenitor as an individual ad-supported network.

On the original-series front, Cartoon senior vice president of development and creative direction Michael Ouweleen said the service will unveil Krypto the Superdog (April 4); The Life and Times of Juniper Lee (June 5); Camp Lazlo (Fridays starting in July); My Gym Partner Is Monkey (2006); and IPGX (The Immortal Grand Prix).

Mixing Western storytelling with Japanese art and direction, IPGX, which is slated to bow in November, is the first original produced for the network’s “Toonami” anime block, which moved to Saturdays last April and is a stronghold among boy tweens.

Cartoon also announced four Toonami acquisitions: Zatch Bell, One Piece, Naruto and Bobobo-bo Bo-Bobo. In the latter, BoBoBo can talk and understand hair and, with the help of his blond locks, is out to save the land from the Hair Patrol posse and their leader, Baldy Ball, who is forcing everyone to have their head shorn.

All told, Cartoon officials said, the service -- including the new series, acquisitions and additional episodes from extant shows -- will air more than 400 new half-hours in 2005.

Alice Cahn, VP of development and programming, said the Tickle U block -- which aspires to be fun, funny and fearless -- will not only be educational, but contain humor, which has been lacking from much other preschool-targeted fare.

Kim McQuilken, executive VP of Cartoon sales and marketing, said Tickle U’s commercial load will be one-half of the network’s overall average, with spots inserted during the breaks between shows at the top and bottom of the hour.

Hosted by an adult named Marty -- whose charge is to make the kids sing, play along and laugh -- Tickle U (for university) will come out of the gate with, among other series: Firehouse Tales, in which young trucks learn the ropes of becoming a hero; Gerald McBoing, based on the Dr. Seuss character who can only speak in sound effects; and Garden Gnome, described as what would happen if Martha Stewart was joined by Bob the Builder.

To fortify its Adult Swim lineup -- airing from 11 p.m.-6 a.m. each day except Friday -- Cartoon will add Seth Green’s stop-motion sketch show, Robot Chicken, Feb. 20 at 11:30 p.m.

In May, Samurai Champloo (from the creator of Cowboy Bebop) and anime entry Paranoia Agent will join the late-night lineup, which will also add fresh episodes of Family Guy, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law and Stroker & Hoop. Also coming up later this year: the premiere of The Boondocks, based on Aaron McGruder’s award-winning comic strip.

The separation of Adult Swim should dramatically lift Cartoon’s Nielsen positioning. According to Turner Broadcasting System Inc. research, based on its total-day performance through January, Adult Swim would rank first among adults 18-34, viewers 12-34 and 12-24 and males 12-34 and 12-24.

At the same time, with Adult Swim removed from Cartoon’s overall average, the core service would increase its delivery of kids 6-11, kids 2-11 and tweens 9-14 by 19%, 18% and 9%, respectively.

Ouweleen also announced the development of the untitled André 3000 Benjamin primetime series, created by Outkast member André 3000, as the first animated series with a Southern sensibility.

The central character takes on near-mythical status as he returns to his hometown of Atlanta and gets caught up by a diverse collection of kid outcasts who swirl in and out of his life.