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Non-Toon Cartoon

April 10, 2006 12:00 AM

Cartoon Network has an innovative solution for boosting its sagging ratings. Producing better cartoons? Nope. Producing non-cartoons. The network announced last week it has begun taking pitches for live-action programming and hired Ramsey Naito as VP of long-form development. Only problem: Networks that significantly alter their programming or format run the risk of angering cable operators for deviating from their agreed-upon programming mission. "This is going to be a problem," said cable distribution consultant Cathy Rasenberger. "To add live action to a network that's defined by cartoons may be impossible to do given the content restrictions in their agreements. Allowing this is totally up to the operators. It just sounds like a major deviation." The Mostly Cartoon Network released this statement: "Cartoon Network airing a few live-action movies is not a departure or re-direction of the network strategy," and noted one of their projects is a live action-animation hybrid. But cable operators were split on whether such changes could cause a conflict. "We always closely watch what programmers do, especially if they make changes that take them away from how they sold us the service," said David Grabert, spokesman for Cox. "We have no position on Cartoon at this time. This is the first we've heard of these plans, but if we feel like they're going too far, we'll let them know." A spokesperson for another multiple system operator said Cartoon was off the hook. "Their contract with us doesn't stipulate against live action," the spokesperson said. "As long as the change doesn't alter the spirit of the channel, they're fine." -James Hibberd

Computer Geeks

For decades, people who wanted to be on the syndicated game show "Jeopardy!" had to first meet with one of the show's contestant coordinators. But for three days last month, "Jeopardy!" hopefuls were allowed to start the process from their own homes. For the first time, the show offered its 50-question, 50-category introductory test online, which garnered nearly 100,000 potential contestants. That's a big number for the show, which traditionally meets around 25,000 hopefuls a year through its coordinators and their traveling cycle of regional contestant searches. The rest of the process will be done the old-fashioned way, with face-to-face auditions. But with so many people taking the test, "Jeopardy!" may implement a random selection process or add audition sites. Most important for the show, the test went off as flawlessly as host Alex Trebek's delivery. Show spokesman Jeff Ritter said, "There were very few glitches and complaints." -Christopher Lisotta

'Idol' Online for Cash

Die-hard fans of Fox's top-rated music reality phenomenon "American Idol" also have made the show's Web site one of the most popular online TV sites. With more than 4 million unique visitors in February, AmericanIdol.com has attracted users by offering video clips, blogs and advice from the show's stylists. In Hollywood's latest version of self-congratulation, the Web site is asking fans to make 10-second video clips to explain why they are addicted to the site. As part of the AmericanIdol.com Video Contest, one video will be shown on the site during "Idol's" finale week in May, with the winning videographer taking home a $5,000 prize. No word on whether Simon, Paula and Randy will judge the videos. -Christopher Lisotta