Margaret Loesch, chief executive of the Hub. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)
Television's latest animated superhero sports a purple skirt and cape, pink gloves and white go-go boots.
She is also a he.
Meet SheZow, the star of a cartoon debuting Saturday on the Hub, a kids' cable channel co-owned by cable programming giant Discovery Communications and toy manufacturer Hasbro Inc.
In "SheZow," a 12-year-old boy — named Guy — uses a magic ring to transform himself into a legendary crime fighter. When evil lurks, Guy says, "You go girl!" and becomes SheZow.
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"When I first heard about the show, my reaction was 'Are you out of your minds?'" said Margaret Loesch, chief executive of the Hub. "Then I looked at it and I thought, 'This is just funny.'"
The Hub is hoping some of SheZow's magic powers rub off on it so it can better battle the giants of children's television: Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network.
Launched in October 2010, the Hub has barely registered a blip in the highly competitive kids' TV marketplace. It has a few minor successes including "My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic" and "Transformers," but overall its ratings are tiny. Among kids 2 to 11, the Hub's primary target, it averages 56,000 viewers a day, according to Nielsen. Disney and Nickelodeon each average 934,000 kids in that group.
"Obviously they have not grown as fast as we'd hoped," said Darcy Bowe, a media director at Starcom, an advertising firm whose clients include kid-friendly brands like Kellogg Co., Kraft Foods Group Inc. and Crayola. "They have a long way to go."
Executives counter that although the ratings are small, they are on the rise. Its ratings among kids 2 to 11 is up 45% from last year and 75% from launch. The Hub is even within striking distance of Nicktoons, which averages 80,000 kids 2 to 11.
"We're making a lot of progress," said Discovery Communications Chief Executive David Zaslav. "Launching a cable channel in America is never a sprint."
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Speaking from her toy- and memorabilia-filled Burbank office, the well-regarded Loesch, who headed Fox's kids' programming unit during its "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" and "X-Men" heyday, acknowledged that the Hub is not where she wants it to be.
"It is harder than I ever envisioned to rise above all the competition," she said. "Kids have access to so much content from so many sources."
Another problem for all networks targeting kids is a decline in spending by advertisers. According to Nielsen, advertisers spent just under $900 million in 2012 on kids' TV, a dip of almost 25% from 2010.
Advertising has dropped in large part because kids' networks, concerned about being accused of aiding and abetting childhood obesity, have become much more restrictive about accepting food-related commercials.
To make up for those dollars, the Hub has started running family fare and movies such as "Ice Age" at night, which has broadened its audience and brought advertising aimed at families, such as vacation spots and cars.
But the Hub also faces its own unique advertising challenge. The Hasbro co-ownership keeps some big toy advertisers, including giants Mattel and Lego, from buying commercials on the network.
"There is a lot of sensitivity with toy manufacturers supporting a network that is half-owned by Hasbro," Bowe said.
Loesch countered that the Hub has more than 250 advertisers and only a couple of holdouts.
Rival toy companies aren't the only ones leery of the Hub because of Hasbro. Several former Hub and Hasbro executives, who declined to speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the matter, charge that shows that performed well for the Hub but weren't in line with Hasbro's toy sales objectives have been canceled or had their episode orders reduced.
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Those shows include the cartoon "G.I. Joe Renegades" and "Family Game Night," a program in which kids and parents play life-sized versions of Hasbro games. The former was canceled because Hasbro did not have a doll that went with the show on the shelves of stores, these people said. The latter had its episode order cut when board games became less of a Hasbro priority.
Hasbro President and Chief Executive Brian Goldner denied those assertions, saying programming decisions are "up to Margaret and the team." Loesch said those moves were made for "business and budget considerations" and not because of pressure from Hasbro.
"They do not tell us how to run the business," Loesch said. "They of course share with me which of the properties they think would tie in best with their strategy, which is a win-win for us."
Another source of tension between Hasbro and the Hub has been the network's website, initially controlled by Hasbro. There were immediate concerns that the programming was getting the short shrift in favor of Hasbro products. After much debate, Hasbro relented and turned over control of the site to the Hub.