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Mutant Ninja Turtles coming to play with SpongeBob and Dora at Nickelodeon

October 21, 2009 |  5:58 pm

TURTLES

Move over SpongeBob SquarePants, some mutant ninja turtles are headed your way.

Viacom Inc.'s kids cable network Nickelodeon has struck a $60 million deal with The Mirage Group and 4Kids Entertainment to acquire the rights to "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," which was one of the biggest kids shows of the 1980s and even spawned a successful movie franchise. Nickeloden will produce a new cartoon series that it hopes to premier in 2012 and sister studio Paramount Pictures will release a new feature based on the series as well.

For Nickelodeon, the move is part of an ongoing strategy to to attract more boys to the channel. Over the past five years, Nickelodeon's reach among boys 6-11 has fallen by almost 10%, and by 6% in the  9-14 category. Rivals including Walt Disney Co., new cable network Disney XD and Time Warner's Cartoon Network, both have programming that is aimed directly at boys and young teens.

Nickelodeon, on the other hand, has often tried to make shows that appeal to both boys and girls, such as its cartoon shows "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Dora the Explorer," or primarily girls such as is the case with its live action shows "iCarly" and "True Jackson, VP."

The deal is also a change in direction in the type of programming Nickelodeon typically carries, where cartoons tend to be soft and cerebral. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" follows the adventures of four mutant turtles who fight evil from their home base in the New York City sewer system and are guided by their leader, a rat named Master Splinter.

"Action adventure has not been part of our DNA," said Nickeloden President Cyma Zarghami in an interview. This acquisition, she added, will let the network "stretch our brand and embrace a lot more stuff."

While this is a tiny deal compared to Disney's recent $4 billion deal to acquire Marvel Entertainment, the rationale is the same. It's better to buy than to build. Even though its over two decades old, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is an established brand. The first generation of fans are now parents who can introduce their kids to the new version.

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is "rich with opportunity for a tent-pole movie," said Paramount Pictures President Adam Goodman, in a statement.The last "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" theatrical release was in 2007 and took in $94 million in worldwide box office.

Currently, the CW network carries a new version of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," but that will go off its air next year. Nickelodeon will get rerun rights to that show. It is also looking into acquiring the rights to the 1980s version of the program.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Credit: Dong Woo Animation Co.


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