Dash of Disney in Nickelodeon upfront slate

Michael Eisner pitches series to buyers in New York

NEW YORK -- Michael Eisner helped kick off the springtime cable upfront presentation season Thursday morning, as the former Disney CEO took the stage at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom to talk up a series he's developed for rival Nickelodeon.

Supporting his weight on crutches, his left ankle encased in a plaster cast -- he later joked that he had injured himself while "fighting with (Viacom topper) Sumner Redstone over a parking space at Bank of America" -- Eisner pitched the assembled throng of media buyers "Glenn Martin, DDS," his new stop-motion animated series that will bow this summer on Nick-at-Nite.

Eisner told his audience that he was "having fun" with the series, adding that the project has allowed him to focus on something other than the cratering economy. "I'm not worried about the meltdown. ... I'm worried about this show," he said. Eisner went on to note the irony of his association with Nickelodeon, which he characterized as "a once distant rival that is now in (Disney's) face."

Nickelodeon president Cyma Zarghami also touted another upcoming animated Nick series from a former top Disney exec (and former Eisner rival), DreamWorks Animation's Jeffrey Katzenberg. His "Penguins of Madagascar" premieres March 28.

Also making an appearance at the presentation were "Slumdog Millionaire" star Dev Patel, who toplines the upcoming Paramount/Nickelodeon Movies feature, "The Last Airbender," and former Nickelodeon star Nick Cannon, who is returning to the network's fold with a new two-year deal.

Under the pact, Cannon has been named as honorary chairman of the N as it transforms into TEENick where he will serve as a creative consultant on development and will have an on-air presence. Cannon also will host and exec produce TEENick's Halo Awards, a new hourlong special celebrating ordinary teens who make a difference.

The renaming of The N is part of a branding overhaul that will bring all TV and Web properties under the flagship Nickelodeon moniker in late fall, including preschooler channel Noggin becoming Nick Jr.

Heading into the upfront sales season, buyers are anticipating that the kids' space will enjoy a stronger showing than the rest of the TV bazaar, with volume expected to be flat or slightly up versus last year's $850 million take. CPMs should also be elevated slightly.

Part of the resilience of the kids' sector where Nickelodeon is the market leader, is its relative lack of exposure to moribund categories like automotive and financial services. And on the flip-side, buyers are seeing increased activity among kid-friendly segments like theatricals, video games and fast-food restaurants.

The presentation closed with a walk-on by Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman, who said that Nickelodeon would bear up in an increasingly tumultuous economic environment. "This is a tough market, and in a tough market, it's important to go with quality and consistency," Dauman said. "As great a brand as Nickelodeon is today -- and we think it's probably one of the greatest television brands -- there's still unlimited room for it to grow. ... And for your business to grow with it."
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