Cartoon Network: 'Our voice is changing'

More than half of series announced at upfront are live action

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 morning.

Of the 19 new series/movies announced, more than half were not animated projects. In fact, as if to drive the message home that the network was 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 two projects are part of the live-action development slate Cartoon Network announced in January with the goal to order up to 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 of similar vein, including the wacky-experiment series "Dude, What Would Happen," and "Survive This" -- essentially a teenage version of Discovery's "Survivorman." Cartoon has also tapped the rising kids star Bobb'e J. Thompson ("30 Rock," "Role Models") -- known for his childish 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 of its new mission 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 shortform series in development "My Dad's a Pro," which will feature 7-year-old Jaelen House, the son of Boston Celtic 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 at 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."