The heroes in a half shell have conquered Saturday morning, and CBS is reaping the benefits of turtle power.
"Thank God for the Ninja Turtles," said Jerry Dominus, the CBS senior vice president of entertainment sales.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are already responsible for one of the top-grossing movies of 1990 and hundreds of millions of dollars in toy merchandising. Now, they have taken CBS to the brink of ratings leadership on Saturday morning, prime time for ,, children, for the first time in almost a decade.
"In the season-to-date ratings, we're now tied with ABC," said Judy Price, CBS' vice president of children's programs. "But we're on our way up. We've won the last couple of weeks. Last year ABC dominated. To overtake them this fast is nothing short of a miracle."
Perhaps it is not quite so miraculous. After all, CBS had Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michaelangelo on its side. They are the heroes in a half shell -- and they are green.
Everyone who has been connected with them for the last three years has touched green as well, lots of green. Now it is CBS' turn.
The two half-hours of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" are the two top-rated shows on Saturday morning. They also have the strongest ratings among the viewer group most sought by advertisers on Saturday morning: children age 2 to 11.
The network's timing in landing the Turtles, even this far along in the phenomenon, has worked out spectacularly well. Advertising for children's shows this season has been unusually strong, advertising executives said, especially in contrast to the soft advertising market for adult programs.
"It's a healthy market," Dominus said. "A lot of people are coming to us with $300,000 or $400,000 to spend."
For several years, the networks had doubts about the long-term viability of network children's shows on Saturday morning, mainly because of the competition from syndicated programs on independent stations. NBC has even considered shifting to adult programming, like the "Today" show, on Saturday morning.
But now the networks are having second thoughts. Advertisers spent heavily on the networks' children's shows last spring during the advance, or "up front," market for advertising time and pushed the overall children's market well beyond $200 million a year.
Betsy Frank, senior vice president of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, said many of the usual children's advertisers -- fast-food companies, cereal companies and toy makers -- had increased their spending this fall.
And, she said, several other categories of advertisers, including makers of clothing, sneakers and even microwave meals, are now chasing the children's market.