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CBS’ All Live-Action Kids’ Lineup

TIMES STAFF WRITER

CBS on Wednesday announced a completely revised Saturday morning lineup for next fall, featuring live-action series--including a kids’ version of “Wheel of Fortune"--designed to fulfill a government mandate to provide educational children’s programming.

The network thus joins NBC in bailing out on animated programs for Saturday morning, where the major networks have seen ratings plummet in recent years, whittled away by the growth of alternatives such as the Fox Children’s Network, the WB Network and cable channels Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.

In addition to “Wheel of Fortune 2000,” CBS’ additions for the fall are “The Ghostwriter Mysteries,” based on the PBS series from Children’s Television Workshop, which produces “Sesame Street”; “The Weird Al Show,” a “Pee-wee’s Playhouse"-type series with song-parody artist Weird Al Yankovic; and “The Sports Illustrated for Kids Show.”

CBS has also acquired “Fudge,” based on the popular Judy Blume books, which previously was seen on ABC.

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Only one program, the science-teaching half-hour “Beakman’s World,” returns from the current lineup.

CBS will reduce its volume of Saturday morning children’s programs from five to three hours, filling that time instead with a two-hour news show titled “CBS News Saturday Morning.” The network will also revive “In the News” vignettes--tailoring current-events information to kids--which CBS last aired in the early 1980s.

Beginning next fall, television stations must meet a Federal Communications Commission guideline requiring them to carry at least three hours a week of children’s programs that can be broadly characterized as educational or informational, or risk losing their broadcast licenses.

“We’re quite dedicated to this area,” said Lucy Johnson, CBS senior vice president of daytime/children’s programming, who added that the network hasn’t ruled out animated fare in the future.

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Still, CBS’ decision reflects the competitive handicap the major networks face in programming to children. Rival broadcast services, such as Fox and WB, have an advantage in that they also run children’s shows Monday through Friday, allowing them to promote their Saturday programs.

NBC was first to blink by switching in 1992 to a two-hour block of live-action shows geared toward teenagers.

By contrast, ABC, now owned by the Walt Disney Co., is committed to animated programming as part of the studio’s marketing strategy. Disney is producing ABC’s entire Saturday morning lineup next fall, including a new animated version of “101 Dalmatians.”

Fox continues to offer such superheroes as “Power Rangers,” “X-Men” and an upcoming version of Marvel Comics’ “The Silver Surfer.”


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