Will Nick click with Saturday night programs for kids?

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles -- Acartoon Chihuahua, a girls' coming-of-age favorite, a new crew of hip-hop teens, scary stories, Mary Tyler Moore, Dick Van Dyke and the best of MTM through 2003.

What it all means is more very bad news for the old-line, traditional networks, namely ABC, NBC and CBS. Cable channel Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite, one of the most sharply focused and successful niche programmers in all of TV, is expanding. And, it is saying, "In your face," to the traditional broadcast networks.


Nickelodeon kicked off the cable portion of the fall TV preview press tour here yesterday by announcing it will launch a prime-time Saturday night schedule of all original programming aimed at kids and teens starting next month. It also announced something for the kids' baby-boomer parents, too. Nick at Nite, which bills itself as the "only network dedicated to preserving our television heritage," has bought rights to most of the MTM library through the year 2003 and will bring "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" back to prime time starting in September.

Nickelodeon's new Saturday night line-up for kids is an impressive one. It will launch Aug. 15 to join Fox in getting a jump on the traditional networks and will include two new shows and two of the hottest shows with young viewers on all of TV.


The evening will begin with "Clarissa Explains It All," a sitcom starting its second season with Melissa Joan Hart as a 15-year-old. Along with Fox's "Beverly Hills 90210" and NBC's "Blossom," it has one of TV's largest teen audiences. Following "Clarissa" will be "Roundhouse," a new hip-hop musical-variety show created by Buddy Sheffield, former head writer of Fox's "In Living Color." The preview looked terrific.

At 9, "The Ren & Stimpy Show," last year's cartoon hit with kids -- and a cult hit with their parents -- moves to prime time. Finishing off the evening will be a new anthology series -- "Are You Afraid of the Dark? -- featuring kids telling spooky stories around a campfire.

"We're moving into the broadcast networks' home turf," said Geraldine Laybourne, president of Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite. "The networks say there is no audience for kids programming on Saturday night. . . . We say the kids are there but they just haven't been served. The networks have used Saturday night either for tired series or to program to viewers 50 plus [50-years-old or older]. . . . As the most successful programmer of original series in TV, we think we can bring the kids out."

Nickelodeon yesterday emphasized a "dual demographic strategy," of also expanding its weeknight Nick at Nite programming, which features TV classics aimed at the baby-boomer parents of kids and teens. Besides "Mary Tyler Moore," Nick at Nite announced buying exclusive rights to "Rhoda," "Phyllis," "The Bob Newhart Show," the original "WKRP in Cincinnati," "Hill Street Blues," 'St. Elsewhere," "Newhart" and "The Betty White Show."

"Nick at Nite is the premiere proponent for preserving great TV and that's exactly what the MTM library represents," said Dick Van Dyke, chairman of Nick at Nite. Van Dyke said his new position is mainly for promotional purposes at present: "I'm a spokesman with my face and personality [used] for Nick at Nite." But, he added, "I plan to become more involved in programming."

Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite is part of MTV Networks, which also includes MTV: Music Television and VH-1.