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Cartoon Network Drops The Anvil On Competition!

Plus: Intruder Invades Toonami; All-New PowerPuff Girls This September; Of Annies and Emmys.

By Steve Fritz     September 11, 2000

The cable industry was rocked when Nielsen Data Research announced there was a new top dog in the cable wars. The Cartoon Network upended perennial powerhouses Nickelodeon, USA and even sister station TNT to tie super-station TBS as the most popular network in the U.S. for the week of August 7-13. Then they did the truly audacious and repeated it the week of August 14-20.

Overall the Cartoon Network is posting a healthy 1.3 rating overall with it jumping to an average of 2.1 during weekday prime time. The strongest performer, believe it or not, are repeats of DEXTER'S LABORATORY (2.6 rating or 1.67 million homes). But there's a lot more.

It's about time we take a good look at some of these high level performers.

TOONAMI INTRUDING ON BROADCAST AFTERNOONS

As reported a few columns back, the weekday afternoon Fox Kids block is fighting for its life with the network affiliates. One of the key reasons for this is the growth of Cartoon Network's TOONAMI afternoon block.

According to that block's Director of Programming, Jason DeMarco, the foundation for that afternoon is DRAGONBALL Z. 'It's been the cornerstone of our success,' DeMarco admits from the net's corporate office in Atlanta. 'DRAGONBALL Z is definitely our most successful show. DRAGONBALL and SAILOR MOON have become a good springboard for all the other shows who surround them.'

Now DeMarco has made a major step in securing this toehold in the afternoon wars. He just purchased the broadcast rights to three more DBZ Sagas, commencing with The Android Saga, which will be critical because of the new character it will introduce, Trunks.

'Trunks has become the most popular character in DRAGONBALL after Goku,' says DeMarco, 'even though he had never been seen on American television until now. We have more drawings of him and requests for his stuff than anything else. In fact, half of the DRAGONBALL merchandise has Trunks all over it.'

I'll leave it to my anime colleagues to go into more detail regarding these new DBZ episodes. I will add, however, that during the debut of the first of these new sagas (at least to us Americans) DeMarco and company will be unveiling what I consider a truly innovative touch to their block.

As fans of the Toonami block know, the programming is strung together through a series of interstitial blocks featuring a 3-D CGI robot named Tom and his spaceship, The Absolution. Starting on Monday, September 18, Tom and the Absolution enter the World Wide Web, becoming enhanced television.

Still in the experimental phase, this enhanced programming will only last for the week of September 18-22. The entire project has been titled INTRUDER.

'The interstitial bits features an invader coming on board The Absolution,' DeMarco explains. 'Tom will have to do battle with the intruder. Basically, you have go to our new website, Toonami.com, and download software that will allow you to have simultaneous things happen on your computer as on the TV.

'For instance, if Tom pulls up a gun on the TV screen, the computer will come up with a blue print displaying all the key features of the gunwhere it came from, why it was created, all that fun stuff. That will happen throughout each episode of INTRUDER. There will also be an INTRUDER online comic and an onsite video game you'll be able to play along with the TV broadcast. In the game you will be an on-site robot that assists Tom in the running of the Absolution.'

For the record, the Toonami block is the first attempt by any afternoon kids block to attempt a truly enhanced web-TV broadcast. DeMarco feels it will be a hit. 'We're all very excited about how it's going,' he admits. 'There's already plans in place for future such programming.'

But to be on the safe side, DeMarco also admits that he's hard at work on purchasing more DBZ Sagas as well as acquiring more GUNDAM programming. Again, I'll leave more of this reportage to my anime colleagues. It should keep them busy for a while.

ALL-NEW POWERPUFF GIRLS THIS SEPTEMBER

While DEXTER'S LABORATORY may still be the ratings king during Cartoon Network's prime time block, the show to keep one's eye on is THE POWERPUFF GIRLS. Originally conceived in 1995 by Craig McCracken as part of the net's original World Premiere Toons programming, the series at first quietly and then (over the last year) quite loudly has grown to capture the imaginations of a fanatical viewership.

Breaking down the numbers, the PPG's got a 1.9 Nielsen rating for the month of July. It was a 37% increase over the same time last year. One quick scan of the series and it's hard not to see why.

The creation of Craig McCracken, college roommate of DEXTER creator Genndy Tartakovsky, the series revolves around one Dr. Nutonium, who accidentally creates three kindergarten-aged superheroes named Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup. A huge fan of anime himself, McCracken mixed a lot of Japanese action techniques with the clean line drawings of the Hanna-Barbera and UPA studios. Another telling element is that, in a previous column, McCracken admitted he was a huge fan of the works of comic artist Bob Burden (of Flaming Carrot and Mystery Men fame). Burden's subversive humor permeates the entire series, giving the PPG's a seriously sophisticated edge that keeps adults, as well as kids, tied to their seats every Friday at 8:30 p.m.

September should help lock the net's lead over its competition, if not put the Girls on top of Dexter once and for all. The reason for this is the entire month will be made of completely new Powerpuff episodes each and every Friday.

Although McCracken was unavailable for commenthe's currently hard at work on a PPG movie as well as producing more new TV episodeshe did manage to provide us with a sneak peak and synopses of all the new programs coming this month:

*Episode #29 (Premieres 9/8/00): 'Criss Cross Crisis' - Another one of the Professor's plans goes awry when he causes population of the entire town of Townsville to switch from one body to another. (22 minute episode)

*Episode #30 (Premieres 9/15/00) 'Bubble Vision' - Bubbles fighting has been really terribly lately because she needs glasses. They're so huge and horrible that Bubbles never wants to see or be seen again. 'Bought and Scold'- Princess buys Townsville she makes crime legal.

Episode # 31 (Premieres 9/22/00): 'Gettin' Twiggy With It' - The class hamster, Twiggy, is flushed down the toilet by class bully Mitch. Twiggy emerges bigger and badder than ever and it's up to the Girls to decide who to save. 'Cop Out' - A lazy cop gets fired and blames the Girls for losing his job. It's time for payback.

Episode #32 (Premieres 10/6/00) 'Jewel of the Aisle' - A crook hides a huge diamond in a box of the Girls favorite cereal. He has to trick the Girls into giving him some cereal and getting the jewel back. 'Super Zeroes' - The Girls don't think they have enough superhero stuff. So they emulate their favorite comic book characters, complete with gadgets and gizmos, but all this stuff ends up only getting in their way.

About the only major thing missing from these new episodes appears to be an appearance of everyone's favorite supervillain Mojo Jo Jo. Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if there's a cameo of the bad monkey somewhere in the future.

There's a lot more stuff coming from Cartoon Network in the very near
future. You can bet we'll be covering it as it arrives.

ON THE EMMIES AND ANNIE AWARDS

Yesterday, the television industry announced the names of the winners of its 2000 Emmy Awards. Personally, I've had it up to here with this bogus backstroking affair. My gripe is this: Why hasn't THE SIMPSONS ever been nominated for Best Comedic Series. As far as I'm concerned, in its excellent eleven-year run, animation's #1 animated family has consistently outperformed such winners as SEINFELD, FRIENDS and ALLY MCBEAL by a long shot. It's constantly more inventive, intelligent and, quite frankly, out-and-out just funnier than anything else that's hit the airwaves over the last decade. Heck, THE SIMPSONS also happens to be the longest running sitcom currently on television. Isn't that enough?

Obviously, the extremely catholic tastes of those who vote on such things don't want to see the over-priced egos of the stars and producers of the live action bore-a-thons receive the ultimate snub of getting tarred and feathered by 'a cartoon.' All I can say is I wish said industry would finally grow up and give Matt Groening and James Brooks the recognition they so richly deserve.

On the other hand, it's just been announced that the 28th Annie Awards will be held Saturday, November 11 at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, CA. The Annies are presented by the International Animated Film Society (a.k.a. ASIFA), the now 50-year-old international organization of animation professionals.

I've been promised the list of nominees for the Annies next week. You can bet I'll be running it in next week's column.

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