UPFRONT & CENTER: Cartoon Network Uses the Force

New York -- The force is with us. That was the message Cartoon Network sent to advertisers and media buyers at its upfront presentation here Thursday morning.

Bolstered by the star power of George Lucas, the network unveiled a new programming strategy and previewed its new series and initiatives, including the “Cartoonstitute” and an expanded partnership with the Food and Drug Administration on its “Spot the Block” campaign.

To kick off the event, Cartoon previewed its highly anticipated animated Star Wars series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Star Wars creator Lucas, flanked by four armed storm troopers, took to the stage to show a clip from the program and answer questions from Turner Animation president and chief operating officer Stuart Snyder.

“It is really exciting to be able to do animation and to do it in a way so that it can have meaningful impact on the audience beyond what we do at the theater,” Lucas said.

The network is launching what it called a two-pronged, 360-degree programming strategy, with Friday nights featuring fantasy and adventure programming, anchored by Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Thursday nights becoming the network’s original comedy night.

As part of the announcements, the network said it picked up a sequel to its successful live-action movie, Ben 10: Race Against Time, also announcing a second-season pickup for comedy series Chowder and a new series based on the Batman franchise, Batman: the Brave and the Bold.

And Cartoon announced that it picked up new series The Secret Saturdays, about a family of world-saving scientists who protect against evil. The network ordered 26 episodes, which will premiere during the fall.

Also getting a series pickup was The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, about a child (Flapjack) raised by a talking whale named Bubbie who rescue an old pirate, Captain K’nuckles, from a shipwreck.

Beginning in June, Sunday nights on the network will be movie night, featuring the television premieres of films such as Ant Bully, Hoodwinked and Open Season, as well as the network premiere of Will Ferrell comedy Kicking and Screaming.

“These are just the first steps in the evolution of a programming strategy that will lay the groundwork for highlighting all of our strengths moving forward,” chief content officer Rob Sorcher said. “We now have great tent poles to launch these new nights and a platform to showcase established and up-and-coming talent.”

The network also announced the creation of the Cartoonstitute, an in-house think tank and development studio that will endeavor to create up to 150 pieces of programming over the next 20 months. The Cartoonstitute will be led by Craig McCracken of The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends and Rob Renzetti of Dexter’s Laboratory. The goal is to create programming that can get the fast track to series or film.

“The Cartoonstitute will create an unprecedented swift development track for animated pilots,” Sorcher said. “This program is unique in that it is run by artists themselves who understand what it takes to create the right environment for success.”

And Cartoon is expanding its relationship with the FDA on their Spot the Block campaign, which aims to help kids understand food labels and help make healthy food choices. An expanded edition of the campaign will kick off next week across all of the network’s platforms.

For complete coverage of the upfronts, click here.