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Cure for Cartoon Network? More Cartoons!

With its ratings sagging, Cartoon Network is drafting Daffy Duck and a batch of teen superheroes to help save the day. And, the network announced last week, it is readying three animated series for this year as it steps up original-series development to lure more viewers.

Like the fickle teens that view MTV, kids and tweens crave fresh programming. The channel needs to give it to them, said Cartoon Executive Vice President and General Manager Jim Samples.

Cartoon's ratings fell 13% in the fourth quarter last year and were off 6% for all of 2002. It still routinely ranks among cable's five-best networks in prime, but the numbers are no longer as robust.

Chief rivals Nickelodeon and Disney Channel, meanwhile, are still stepping on the gas. Nick's ratings are up double digits in recent months, fueled by a stable of hits like SpongeBob SquarePants
and Fairly Odd Parents. Disney is earning strong numbers for shows like Lizzie McGuire
and recently ventured out with live-action sitcom That's So Raven.

To correct its slide and fuel development, Cartoon is leaning on in-house production lab, Cartoon Network Studios, and corporate cousin Warner Bros. Animation. Two of the new series for this year—Duck Dodgers, in which Daffy and friends play futuristic characters, and Teen Titans, a batch of teen superheroes guarding a West Coast city—come from Warner Bros.

Third new series Low Brow
—which borrows from Japanese and American animation styles and is about a giant robot and the people out to control it—comes from Cartoon Network Studios.

Off-net acquisitions like Fox's Futurama
and Family Guy, Samples added, have helped to broaden Cartoon's offerings.

Cartoon has had success with its late-night block "Adult Swim," aimed at 18- to 34-year-olds. That success prompted the network to expand the three-hour block last month to five nights a week.

The network will have four times as many new shows this year and, come 2004 and 2005, even more, said Turner Entertainment President Brad Siegel. "We just need a lot more at-bats." That also means more new episodes of existing shows.

Cartoon has done well repurposing some shows from Kids' WB, like Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokémon. Despite last week's news that The WB is moving out from the Turner Broadcasting Systems unit of AOL Time Warner and back under Warner Bros., company executives have said cooperation on repurposing and promotions will continue, perhaps even increase.

"We have plans for the next few years,"Samples said. For example: After Teen Titans
premieres on Cartoon, it will replay on Kids' WB.