No kidding: Comedy Central targets adults with cartoon

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it's a show with cute, cuddly and iconic characters that, despite its colorful animation, is not for kids. Sound familiar? It's not NBC's "Father of the Pride," whose racy content quickly ran afoul of the Family Friendly Programming Forum, which initially sponsored it. The new show is "Drawn Together," set to hit Viacom's Comedy Central later this month.

Its rating-for mature audiences-and its marketing strive to make the point that the show is not kid-safe, even though its characters look like Pokemon, Superman, SpongeBob SquarePants and a Disney princess. "We're strictly targeting 18-plus," said Cathy Tankosic, Comedy Central's senior VP-marketing. "The characters look very young and friendly, so we made sure the copy was very edgy."

The cable network will air "Drawn Together" after new episodes of perennial hit "South Park."

Marketing around the show, billed as the first animated "reality" series, has hit hard at gamer and comic-book geeks, with DVD compilations distributed in Xbox magazine and PC Gamer, and meet-and-greets with the creators at this year's Comicon convention.

Print ads are appearing in such magazines as Playboy Enterprises' Playboy, Wenner Media's Rolling Stone and Dennis Publishing's FHM and Blender. Executives bought ads for the first time in publications such as independents Fader, High Times and DC Comics titles. There's an extensive viral campaign, with a clip that has already been viewed nearly 2 million times, along with radio, TV and online advertising, handled in-house.

reaching out to men

Graffiti artists are painting outdoor murals for the show in club districts and hipster neighborhoods in New York and Los Angeles. The network is using sibling channels VH1 and Spike along with Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN, Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block and Time Warner's TBS to reach 18-to-34-year-old men. Street teams have been promoting the show at colleges, movie theaters, music festivals and video-game retailers.

"Drawn Together" is Comedy Central's twisted take on reality shows. Its characters, all parodies of animated icons, live together in a swanky house and get into mischief a la MTV's "The Real World."

Just like the non-animated variety, there's sex, catfights, binge drinking and hot-tubbing. "Family-values groups tend to make a lot less noise about places like Comedy Central," said Robert Thompson, chair of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. "It's clearly identified as `not a safe haven."'

Years ago, TV animation in prime time started and stopped with squeaky-clean shows like "The Flintstones." Now, post "Beavis and Butt-Head," there are more-adult offerings such as "South Park" and "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." All have "mature" ratings and air in late-evening slots.

"Cartoons that aren't appropriate for kids are common," Mr. Thompson said. "The one thing that might make people nervous about `Drawn Together' is that these animated characters are parodies of ones we know from kid animation and they look familiar for that reason."

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