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Saturday a.m. in play

Kids programming on network TV is going to look a lot different next season. Discovery Network is taking over the Saturday-morning children's block on NBC, Fox is mulling a similar deal, and UPN is thinking about adding kids TV on Saturday. CBS already gets its Saturday kidvid from Nickelodeon, owned by CBS parent Viacom.

NBC executives, saying they had no place to promote their teen-aimed, FCC-required Saturday-morning lineup, last week leased the time to Discovery for the next three years at a reported $6 million per season. Discovery Kids will hit NBC airwaves next fall, and Discovery will sell and retain all advertising revenue.

"One of the misgivings we had about this daypart is, we did not have a Monday-through-Friday presence to promote kids or, in our case, teens," says NBC West Coast President Scott Sassa. "Our highest-rated teen vehicle is Friends, and it was hardly a good business proposition to promote our Saturday-morning kids block during Friends." A spokeswoman said NBC is not looking to lease any other dayparts, including daytime hours.

Discovery executives are
currently deciding what programs they will put on NBC, some of which will be repurposed from other Discovery networks. Discovery Kids, a digital cable channel that's home to such series as Outward Bound
and Sail Away, will likely be the big beneficiary from the NBC deal, says Discovery Networks President Jonathan Rodgers. "This added platform at NBC will allow us to help our digital strategy and help cable operators around the country."

At Fox, which is dropping its weekly two-hour Fox Kids block at the end of the month, a decision could be made as soon as this week as to who takes over its Saturday-morning kids block. Sources say the network has taken bids from Nelvana, Nickelodeon, DIC and several other kids programmers.

UPN executives, whose stations carry two hours of Disney shows each weekday and three hours on Sunday, say the network is once again considering adding a children's block on Saturdays.

"Reaching kids has always been an important goal," says UPN COO Adam Ware. "Fox getting out of the weekday business and other new entrants, combined with the overall assets of Viacom or even Disney, may create real opportunities for us. The kids demo is an important one for us."