Cartoon Net animated over its new live-action slate

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For a network with the word "cartoon" in its name, there were an awful lot of real-life performers on hand during Cartoon Network's upfront presentation Wednesday.

Of the 19 new series and movies announced, more than half were not animated projects. In fact — as if to drive home the message that the network is not just about cartoons anymore — the confab at the Time Warner Center in New York closed with about 20 young actors gathering onstage, including a foursome that will headline a new live-action "Scooby-Doo" movie.

Cartoon Network's brass touted the move into live-action content as part of an ongoing "evolution," a much-repeated word during Wednesday's presentation.

"Our voice is changing," said Stuart Snyder, president and COO of Turner Broadcasting's animation, young adults and kids media division, comparing the network to a young boy who wakes up one day with a deeper voice. "This is an evolution of our brand."

Continuing that evolution, Cartoon Network has commissioned two live-action scripted pilots: "Unnatural History," from writer Mike Werb and Warner Horizon, about a teenage son of adventurous anthropologists, and "Prepped," from ICM-repped Paul Dini, which chronicles the goings-on at a mysterious prep school.

The projects are part of the live-action development slate Cartoon Network announced in January with the goal to order as many as three pilots this year and launch a night of live-action programming next year.

Three of the four showcased upcoming movies — "Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins," "Ben 10: Alien Swarm" and "Tiger's Apprentice" — were also live-action, joined by the CG-animated "Firebreather."

In addition, the net unveiled a spate of boy-oriented reality series, including the standout "Destroy Build Destroy," in which teams of teens attempt to rebuild cars, trucks and the like that have been destroyed by demolition experts. Other reality projects scheduled for the coming season are in a similar vein, including the wacky-experiment series "Dude, What Would Happen" and "Survive This," the latter essentially a teenage version of Discovery's "Survivorman." Cartoon has also tapped rising child star Bobb'e J. Thompson ("30 Rock," "Role Models"), known for his irreverence, to host his own series.

That sort of programming is part of Cartoon Network's efforts to distinguish itself from competitors Nickelodeon and Disney Channel and to become "a dominant youth-culture brand," one that really understands the needs of high-energy teen boys, said Brenda Freeman, CMO for Turner animation, young adults and kids media.

Also following the reality trend is the shortform series in development "My Dad's a Pro," which will feature seven-year-old Jaelen House, the son of Boston Celtic guard Eddie House. The project is part of the recently announced partnership between the NBA and Cartoon Network. To promote their new relationship, the network arranged a brief appearance by NBA commissioner David Stern, who joked: "If I were a buyer, I would buy."

Although live-action stood out during Cartoon Network's upfront, animated series still captured a significant share of attention. The network announced a slew of new toon series: "Marvel Super Hero Squad," which depicts the younger years of superheroes such as Iron Man and the Hulk; "Generation Rex," about a 15-year-old kid who can grow machines out of his body; the surfing-themed "Stoked"; and "Scooby-Doo — Mystery Inc."

Returning for another season are "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," "The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack," "Chowder," "The Secret Saturdays" and "Batman: The Brave and the Bold."

Will Levith is web editor at Mediaweek.
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