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Saturday, September 14, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Television

Saturday-morning TV gets ready to rumble

Seattle Times staff reporter

As you read this, your little ones are likely crunching on sugary breakfast cereals with their eyes affixed to the TV screen, thereby enjoying the very same Saturday-morning rituals many of us did. Perhaps that's a comforting thought, the notion that this institution has remained constant all these years.

Not quite. Let's just say those fond yesterdays when networks produced signature children's TV shows have completely given way to cable franchises. This trend began three years ago when CBS handed the reins to Viacom partner Nickelodeon, which reran its top-rated toddler block on Saturday mornings. Talk about your eye-openers. Where CBS once scraped the ratings barrel, it is now on top with toddlers thanks to the partnership.

This is why it's no shock that NBC is replacing its lame weekend teen block with Discovery Kids, hip reality shows and a sci-fi mystery series aimed at the coveted tween market. ABC similarly Mickeyed about with their formula, changing its name from "Disney's One Saturday Morning" to "ABC Kids," and let proven cable program successes from the Disney Channel dominate the lineup.

Fox and The WB, meanwhile, remain the prime destinations for bleary-eyed action seekers. Kids WB is riding movie coattails this fall, bringing along a cartoon offshoot of the Farrelly brothers' animated 2001 feature "Osmosis Jones" to their weekend lineup. Plus, a show about pint-sized Mexican wrestling kids and yet another Scooby-Doo series.

Which brings us to other common trends this fall: wrestling and retro-mania.

Wrestlers also body slam the Fox Block, along with Nickelodeon franchise character Kirby, another cinematic offshoot, and the return of cult Japanese action hero Ultraman. Did we mention the fighting food?

It's enough to keep the seventh network out of the game entirely, it seems. UPN is once again forgoing forays into children's television, leaving their programming to Buena Vista.

More information on each of the networks follows below. Please note that in some cases air times and schedules could change due to sporting events.

ABC (KOMO-TV)

Surprisingly, ABC's children's lineup is a repository for other recognizable brands that were bounced off the networks that made them famous, such as "Power Rangers: Wild Force" (5:30 a.m.), the ninth generation of the brand that won't just die already.

More lucrative is the network's clinching of "NBA Inside Stuff" from NBC, where it aired for 12 years, as part of the network and ESPN's NBA deal.

For the most part, however, ABC's taking advantage of Disney ownership by capitalizing on its strengths — animation and its reputation in family entertainment. ABC is simply importing proven successes on the Disney Channel to Saturday mornings.

The nifty 100 percent market penetration that networks enjoy means well-received but underexposed shows like "The Proud Family," about the travails of a suburban black girl (11:30 a.m.), and the teen spy adventure "Disney's Kim Possible" (5 a.m.) will be more widely appreciated. Also joining the schedule:

"Disney's Fillmore" (10 a.m.) As if there weren't enough cop shows, now Disney has created a sassy squad of safety-patrol officers solving crimes in their school. Unlike the herd of Dick Wolf clones, though, this one's actually a fresh and entertaining mix that recalls "Barney Miller," "NYPD Blue" and other great cop shows. To borrow a phrase from the show's main character, it's disco.

NBC (KING-TV)

Dropping their stale interpretation of the teen scene rendered in clunkers like "City Guys," the kiddie Peacock has placed its bets with Discovery Kids. Smart move. The new Discovery Kids on NBC schedule premieres Oct. 5 and 6 and includes the dino show "Prehistoric Planet" (3 p.m. Oct. 6) and recognizable conservationist and lunatic Steve "The Crocodile Hunter" Irwin's "Croc Files" (4 p.m. Oct. 6). Another show, "Scout's Safari" (3 p.m. Oct. 5), chronicles an American girl's adventures in South Africa. Also promising:

"Endurance" (3 p.m. Oct. 6). Basically, this is "Survivor" for kids, with 10 girls and 10 boys shipped to an island off the coast of California, where they compete for 10 pyramid pieces symbolizing inner strengths and with any luck degenerate into a page out of "Lord of the Flies," until two champions remain to share a dream vacation.

"Black Hole High" (3:30 p.m. Oct. 5). In the tradition of "Goosebumps" and other R.L. Stine-based series, the show follows the adventures of students at Blake Holsey High, where students fall prey to strange phenomena like magnetism gone wild, the spontaneous absence of gravity and disappearances.

CBS (KIRO-TV)

"If it was once broke, and Nickelodeon fixed it, don't mess with it" seems to be the Eye's attitude toward kids programming. To be fair, it has added some popular shows for older kids to a block anchored by "Blue's Clues" (9 a.m.) and "Dora the Explorer" (9:30 a.m.). "As Told By Ginger" (11 a.m.) and "Pelswick" (11:30 a.m.) are bound to help CBS' Saturday mornings age up. But don't hold your breath waiting for "Spongebob Squarepants." As long as it's in the cable ratings' top 10, Nick's going to hold it tight.

Kids WB (KTWB-TV)

As the new kids season starts, Kids WB is king among networks but still second to Nickelodeon. That may change, and not necessarily for the better. The WB's Saturday lineup still has the popular card-battle show "Yu-Gi-Oh!" (8 a.m.) boosting its ratings, as well as a third season of the entertaining "Jackie Chan Adventures," (9 a.m.) "X-Men Evolution" (11:30 a.m.) and "Pokémon Master Quest" (10 a.m.). Joining them:

"What's New Scooby-Doo?" (8:30 a.m.). Do we really need to describe this show? Honestly?

"Ozzy & Drix" (9:30 a.m.). A hungry mosquito ensures the continuing adventures of "Osmosis Jones" when it takes the white blood cell and his cold-pill partner Drix out of the disgusting, aged body of Frank and puts them into a healthy boy named Hector. There they, and the Farrelly brothers (who produce the show) find new action and gross-out jokes. Where the movie failed, the show succeeds: funny, fresh and vaguely educational.

"Mucha Lucha!" (10:30 a.m.). A slapstick-comedy series set in a universe where Mexican wrestling isn't just an obscure obsession, it's the norm. And it makes for a very strange show.

Fox (KCPQ-TV)

Ditching their Fox Kids brand, the network reinvents itself with the action-heavy Fox Box, a frantic block that includes the movie/syndicated-TV-show-derived "Stargate Infinity" (8 a.m.), the Nintendo vehicle "Kirby: Right Back At Ya" (9 a.m.) and the bizarre intergalactic wrestling action comedy (yikes!) "Ultimate Muscle: The Kinnikuman Legacy" (9:30 and 10:30 a.m.), a show that should prove popular with kids if only because the hero is actually a coward with a flatulence problem.

Pop culture geeks of all ages should be excited at "Ultraman Tiga" (8:30 and 10 a.m.), the latest version of a 30-year-old Japanese action hero. Last are the "Fighting Foodons" (11:30 a.m.), a show that looks like an animated cross between "Yu-Gi-Oh!" and "Iron Chef." If you can imagine that.

UPN (KSTW-TV)

Where others are barreling ahead and revamping themselves, UPN hasn't even dialed in. Instead of entering the Saturday melee, it's staying with a meager two-hour block on Sunday, provided by Buena Vista Television, including "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" (8 a.m.,) "Disney's Recess" (8:30 a.m.), "Digimon" (9 a.m.) and "Disney's The Legend Of Tarzan" (9:30 a.m.).

Also new and noteworthy:

PBS

Joining its stable of educational programming, including "Caillou," "Sagwa the Chinese Siamese Cat" and "Clifford the Big Red Dog," is "Liberty's Kids," an animated history lesson following three youngsters working in Benjamin Franklin's shop during the War of Independence. A galaxy of celebrities including Aaron Carter, Annette Bening, Ben Stiller, Liam Neeson and Walter Cronkite voice historical characters. Weekdays at 5 p.m.

ABC Family

"Tokyo Pig" (10 a.m. Saturday), a trippy animé series about a boy whose imagination, and journal entries, generate a magical pet pig who helps him keep his meandering mind in check, lest he fill the sky with miniature pigs or make his mother's neck stretch out of control. Like we said, trippy.

Cartoon Network

Riding the retro theme, Cartoon Network has brought back the powers of Grayskull with new episodes of the '80s hit cartoon "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe." He and another popular '80s icon, "Transformers Armada," are already airing Fridays at 6 and 6:30 p.m.

Melanie McFarland: 206 464-2256 or mmcfarland@seattletimes.com.

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