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Nickelodeon to shell out for 'Ninja Turtles'

The cable network will pay $60 million for rights to the 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' in an effort to stem a decline in boys tuning in to its shows.

October 22, 2009|Joe Flint

Move over, SpongeBob SquarePants. Some mutant ninja turtles are headed your way.

Viacom Inc.'s kids' cable network Nickelodeon has struck a $60-million deal with Mirage Group and 4Kids Entertainment Inc. to acquire the rights to "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," which was one of the biggest children's shows of the 1980s and even spawned a successful movie franchise. Nickelodeon will produce a new cartoon series that it hopes to premier in 2012, and sister studio Paramount Pictures will release a new feature based on the series.

For Nickelodeon, the move is part of a continuing strategy to attract more boys to the channel. Over the last five years, Nickelodeon's reach among boys ages 6 to 11 has fallen almost 10%, and 6% among boys ages 9 to 14. Rivals including Walt Disney Co.'s new cable network Disney XD and Time Warner Inc.'s Cartoon Network each take direct aim at preteen and teenage boys.

Nickelodeon, on the other hand, has often tried to make programs that appeal to both boys and girls, with cartoon shows such as "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Dora the Explorer," or primarily to girls, as is the case with "iCarly" and "True Jackson, VP."

The deal also signals a shift in direction in the type of programming Nickelodeon typically carries. Whereas its cartoon shows tend to be soft and cerebral, a harder-edged "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" follows the adventures of four mutant turtles who fight evil from their home base in the New York sewer system and are guided by their leader, a rat named Splinter.

"Action adventure has not been part of our DNA," Nickelodeon President Cyma Zarghami said in an interview. But the acquisition of the boy-targeted programming, she added, would enable the network to "stretch our brand and embrace a lot more stuff."

Although the deal is modest compared with Disney's pending $4-billion purchase of Marvel Entertainment, the rationale is the same: It's easier to buy than to build.

Even though it's more than 2 decades old, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," thanks in part to continuing merchandising and product licensing, is still well-known among potential audiences.

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is "rich with opportunity for a tent-pole movie," Paramount Pictures President Adam Goodman said in a statement. The last "Ninja Turtles" theatrical release was in 2007 and took in $94 million at the box office worldwide.

Currently, the CW network carries a new version of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," but that will go off the air next year. Nickelodeon will get rerun rights to that show and said it was also looking into acquiring the rights to the 1980s version of the program.

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joe.flint@latimes.com

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