A special report from Pamela Schechter detailing what's new and what's being renewed in animation on American television this coming season.
In the United States, late August and early September marks a time when children return to school and the new TV season starts. In terms of animation, the new fall schedule reflects some major corporate changes, including the takeover of Capital Cities/ABC by Disney and the establishment of two new broadcast networks--Warner Bros.' WB Network and Paramount's UPN--both of which rely heavily on animation.
The new terrestrial networks have effectively cut down the amount of air time available for syndication companies to sell their shows to independent stations, many of which have now become affiliated with one of the two new networks. Despite this, the amount of animation offered in syndication is still rather substantial. Some shows, like Dinobabies (Fred Wolf/Shanghai Morning Sun), have been successful overseas, but have yet to have aired in the US.
On the cable front, Nickelodeon its expanding the parameters of its animation programming to prime time, as its more adult-oriented Nick at Night block of evening shows starts to fade away in favor of its new cable outlet, TV Land.
With these changes in mind, what follows is a rundown of what's new or renewed on American television on the broadcast networks, cable and in syndication this coming season
The Broadcast Networks
ABC: One of the most visible signs of Disney's takeover of the ABC-TV network is the studio's complete dominance of the network's Saturday morning lineup. Gone are such independently-produced shows as Reboot and Bump in the Night, which have been replaced by shows turned out by various divisions of the Mouse House.
Among the newcomers to Saturday morning is The Jungle Cubs, a sequel to The Jungle Book. The series, which debuts October 5, features Baloo, Prince Louie and other favorite characters who learning the importance of friendship and the laws of life in the jungle. There is also The Mighty Ducks, inspired by the Disney live-action films, as well as by the fact that Disney owns a hockey team with the same name. The characters in the show are crime fighting, hockey playing ducks from another planet and some of the voice regulars are Jim Belushi, Ian Ziering and Tim Carrey. It debuts on September 8 and is also airing in syndication. Brand Spanking New Doug is from Jumbo Pictures (now owned by Disney) and, yes, based on the old Nickelodeon standard, Doug. It begins on September 12 and shows how young Doug "gets by in life."
Street Sharks, from DIC Entertainment (now also part of the Disney empire), which enjoyed a successful run in syndication, will be added to the network's lineup, as well as also being cablecast on the USA Network. Distributed by Bohbot, it is an action-adventure series about four half-shark, half-human brothers who dominate the street as they enforce their brand of Jawstice and the Law of the Jaw. Also returning in syndication and premiering on the network is Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles from Disney Television Animation. It follows the adventures of a mystical, ancient clan of fearsome, winged creatures who come alive at night and turn to stone at sunrise.
CBS: Project G.eeK.eR. is an action adventure series focusing on the exploits of a nerdy hero who happens to have unlimited powers. The problem is he does not know how to use them. Film Roman's The Mask (based on the popular Jim Carry feature) and The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat (the latest incarnation of the classic character) have been renewed for a second season. Also returning is Disney's The Lion King's Timon & Pumbaa, which will have new episodes running both on Saturday morning and in syndication; the show, of course, deals with the exploits of feisty meerkat, Timon and his buddy Pumbaa, Also returning are Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Fred Wolf Films' old perennial, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Fox: The Fox Kids Network, which has been the dominant force among terrestrial broadcasters these past few years, has renewed most shows from last season, but will introduce several new titles this time around. These include Casper, inspired by the old Famous Studios cartoons and last year's live-action film, from Universal Cartoon Studios and Harvey Entertainment. Also new is Film Roman's C-Bear and Jamal, which explores the relationship between Jamal, a young African-American boy, and C-Bear, his stuffed animal companion who walks, talks and transports him to imaginary places.
Returning are Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego (DIC), Bobby's World (Film Roman), Eek! Stravaganza (Nelvana), The Adventures of Batman & Robin (Warner Bros.), Life With Louie (Hyperion), Spider-Man (Marvel), X-Men (Saban/Graz) and The Tick (Sunbow/Graz).
In the meantime, The Simpsons (Gracie/Film Roman) comes back for another season on prime time..
UPN: The new network, which is still finding its legs, will premiere four new shows this fall. The Mouse and the Monster, produced by Saban (which is programming the UPN Kids lineup), is described as a Rocky & Bullwinkle for the 21st century. The plot involves an "outrageous monster" and his sidekick mouse who are being chased by a mad scientist who is after the monster's brain. Also from Saban is Bureau of Alien Detectors, which is being touted as an "X-Files meets The A-Team." This action-adventure series, which premieres in September, is about a secret group who protects the world from supernatural encounters.
Marvel will provide an animated incarnation of The Incredible Hulk, which features the classic character in various modern day adventures. Lou Ferrigno, who played the Hulk on the live-action TV show, will supply the voice, joining a vocal cast that also includes Luke Perry, Genie Francis and Mark Hamill. Also new on UPN is Jumanji, based on the Robin Williams film, which follows the adventures of two children who find their lives turned upside-down when they discover a mystical board game that pulls them into a perilous jungle world.
WB Network: The surprisingly strong showing the new network has had in the ratings race has, in large part, been attributed to its strong animation lineup. It also helps to have a number of popular franchise characters readily available from Warner Bros. and Steven Spielberg.
New this fall is Superman based on the classic DC Comic character from Warners. The series will undoubtedly draw its inspiration from the old Max Fleischer Superman cartoons, which had previously inspired Warner's highly successful Batman: The Animated Series. Tim Daly is supplying the voice of the Man of Steel while the voice of Lois Lane belongs to Dana Delaney.
Warners is also producing Waynehead, which provides comedian Damon Wayans' debut in animation. The show is about Darney Walker, a 10-year-old living in lower Manhattan, who is the neighborhood underdog and struggles with the problems of preadolescence. Then there is Road Rovers, which feature some superhero dogs who protect the galaxy. Animaniacs, Pinky & The Brain, Freakazoid (all three from Spielberg/Warners), The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries (Warners) and Earthworm Jim (Universal Cartoon Studios) are all returning.
PBS: The public broadcaster is expanding its initial foray into series animation that began with The Magic Schoolbus with two new shows. Premiering in October is Arthur, which is based on Marc Brown's popular children's books about the trials and tribulations of an eight-year-old aardvark. The network is also debuting its first prime-time animated show, Adventures From the Book of Virtues. Based on William J. Bennett's best-selling book, The Book of Virtue, from PorchLight Entertainment and Fox Animation. The Magic Schoolbus (Scholastic/Nelvana) based on the popular science books for children, returns on a daily basis, starting October 7. Lily Tomlin once again supplies the voice of the peripatetic bus driver cum teacher, Mrs. Frizzle
Cable Nickelodeon: The network which practically invented the current trend toward "creator-driven" TV shows with its Nicktoons, will debut its new lineup on October 7 in prime time with Craig Bartlett's Hey Arnold! The show, which explores childhood through the eyes of Arnold and his best friends, was inspired by some of Bartlett's popular clay-animated shorts.
Decidedly less conventional is Kablam!, which debuts October 11, which is billed as "the first-ever animated sketch comedy show." Designed as a creative outlet for new and established animators, it will use a variety of styles and techniques, ranging from cutout to pixiliation, along with more traditional cel animation. Each episode will feature two segments, Action League Now! (which follows the ongoing adventures of a group bumbling, crime-fighting action figures) and Sniz & Fondue (about a pair of cartoon cats and their friends in pursuit of fun and "self-amusement."). Additional recurring segments will rotate throughout the series.
Finally, there is Mitch Schauer's Angry Beavers (Gunther Wahl), which will debut in 1997. It deals with two brothers who set out on their own for the first time and try to make it in the big world.
Returning Nicktoons are Rugrats 1997 and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters (both from Klasky Cuspo). Little Bear (Nelvana), which is not part of the Nicktoon curriculum, is also coming back; the show tells the story of a young cub taking his first steps of independence always under the guidance of his mother.
The Cartoon Network: The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, the much touted return of the Hanna Barbera perennial premiered in August on the Cartoon Network, as well as its two sister Turner cable outlets, TBS and TNT. (All three networks, along with Hanna-Barbera, are now controlled by Time Warner, which got them in its takeover of Turner Broadcasting.) Also on the schedule is Dexter's Laboratory and the World Premiere Toons series of original animated shorts, both from Hanna-Barbera.
MTV: Daria, the Beavis and Butt-Head spinoff, which debuts early next year, follows its heroine as she moves to a new town and starts school. MTV is also currently developing Cartoon Girl and Migraine Boy. The latter character who, not surprisingly has a constant headache, has a dog named Tylenol, not surprisingly has a constant headache.
USA Network: Universal Cartoon Studios and Electronic Arts have combined forces to produce Wing Commander Academy, based on the CD-ROM game, which will debut this fall. It focuses on futuristic pilots earning their wings. Also premiering (on September 21) is Mortal Combat: Defenders of the Realm, which is being produced by Film Roman in association with Threshold Entertainment. The series chronicles the adventures of the Chosen Warriors assembled to protect the Earth from the evil emperor Shao Kahn.
Returning in the fall for its second season are Street Fighter (InVision), another video game derivative, and Savage Dragon, based on the comic book. In addition, there is Highlander, The Animated Series (Gaumont) and the prime time comedy, Duckman (Klasky Cuspo).
Comedy Central will feature new episodes of The Tick along with its award-winning Dr. Katz Professional Therapist.
HBO: The premium cable channel will bring back The Neverending Story (Nelvana), which is based on the live-action German feature version of the classic novel.
Showtime: Returning this season is Cinar's The Busy World of Richard Scarry, based on the popular children's books. Also coming back in September is A Bunch of Munsch based on Robert Munsch's tales.
Aladdin (Disney), the popular series based on the feature that follows the escapades of Aladdin, Jasmine, Genie, Iago and Abu returns for another season.
All Dogs Go to Heaven: The Series is the new MGM show based on the Don Bluth film featuring the further exploits and shenanigans of Charlie and a pack of gangster dogs living in New Orleans. The series, which debuts September 21, is distributed by Claster.
Beast Wars (Claster) premieres September 16 and features powerful robotic beings--Maximals and Predicons--who crash land on an earth-like planet and battle each other for control of a uniquely powerful energy source called energon.
Blazing Dragons (Nelvana/Ellipse) tells of a battle between knights and dragons from the dragons' point of view.
Bruno The Kid features Bruce Willis as the voice of a 10-year-old computer wiz whose digitally-generated, super spy alter-ego gets him involved in international espionage. The show begins September 23.
Captain Simian & The Space Monkey (Hallmark/Monkeyshine/Bohbot) features Captain Simian and his monkeys in their battle against the evil Nebula.
Cave Kid Adventures (Hanna Barbera) is a Flintstones spinoff that features Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm as prehistoric preschoolers.
Dinobabies (Fred Wolf Films, Dublin/Shanghai Morning/Westinghouse), tells of how five dinosaurs and their neighbor act out fairy tales.
Dragon Ball Z (Saban) is a mystical action adventure show featuring characters "who embody the essence of good and evil."
Eagle Riders (Saban) is about a team of five young avengers who use their special powers to battle evil villains.
The Fantastic Voyage of Sinbad, which is based on the classic character from the Arabian Nights, is being distributed by Warner Bros.
Flash Gordon (Hearst) is a new series based on the classic comic strip. It is set in a future filled with black holes, time warps, humanoid creatures and ingenious technology.
G.I. Joe Extreme (Claster) has G.I. Joe and his squad protecting humanity from the forces of SKAR, thus keeping the world free from impending disaster.
Home to Rent (Gaumont) is about five alien monsters who find refuge in an abandoned house and will do anything to keep it from being rented.
Mayan Monsters of the Yucatan Kort (EM3/Bohbot) is an action adventure series that shows how team work, intelligence, speed and agility are what triumphs in the end.
Pocket Dragon Adventures (Bohbot) follows the adventures of miniature dragons who live in "an environment of adventure and learning."
Quack Pack (Disney) has Donald Duck as a cameraman for an entertainment news show called What in The World? and who has to contend with raising his three 16-year-old nephews.
Reboot (Alliance/Mainframe/Claster), the all-CGI show which made its debut on ABC in 1994, takes viewers into Mainframe, a covert electrical world inside a personal computer controlled by The User.
Richie Rich (Film Roman/Harvey/Claster), based on the classic comic book character, tells of the further adventures of the world's richest 11-year-old, who has a virtual fairyland of fun and power at his disposal.
Saban's Adventures of Oliver Twist (Saban) attempts to present Charles Dickens' characters in a new light as anthromorphic animals. The story, though, is still set in Victorian London, which is home to 12-year-old Oliver.
Samurai Pizza Cats (Saban) features a group of superhero crime fighters who own their own pizza parlor in the thriving metropolis of Little Tokyo.
Sky Dancers and Dragon Flyz (Gaumont/Abrams/Gentile). When Gaumont decided to build an animated series around Sky Dancers, the popular girl's toy, they also came up with a companion show for boys, Dragon Flyz. (The new show naturally brought about a new line of toys, as well). The former show follows the adventures of five young dancers who are chosen by the last reigning monarch to become Sky Dancers. The latter is a futuristic action-adventure series that takes place in the 41st century, in which a man and dragonfly live as one as they battle against the evil Dreadwing.
Sticken Around (Nelvana/Ellipse) stars imaginary stick figures from the mind of an eight-year-old girl and her best friend.
UltraForce (DIC) is about superhumans called Ultras who were created by alien sound waves.
VOR: Tech (Universal/Claster Television) is an action/fantasy program that features two research scientist brothers, who harness a computer virus to create a new technology that transforms ordinary beings and machines into a single biomechanical unit.
The Why Why Family (Saban) features a family able to travel anywhere to find answers to questions.
Pam Schechter is an entertainment attorney in New York City. Her practice includes a special concentration in the animation industry. She represents several animators including Eric Fogel, the creator of the MTV animated series The Head and Beavis and Butt-Head animation director Yvette Kaplan.
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