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FCC is asked to block Skechers’ cartoon show

Skechers’ cartoon show “Zevo-3’’ is scheduled to air on Nicktoons starting next month. Skechers’ cartoon show “Zevo-3’’ is scheduled to air on Nicktoons starting next month. (Skechers via Associated Press)
By David Crary
Associated Press / September 15, 2010

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NEW YORK — An advocacy group asked the Federal Communications Commission yesterday to block a soon-to-debut TV cartoon show starring characters first created to market Skechers footwear to children.

Unless banned, the group said, the show could pave the way for Ronald McDonald, Tony the Tiger, and other iconic cartoon pitchmen to become stars of their own series — potentially inundating children’s television with what amounted to full-length commercials.

The complaint was filed with the FCC by the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, targeting a series called “Zevo-3’’ that’s scheduled to premiere Oct. 11 on the cable network Nicktoons. Its three teenage, super-powered heroes — working to save New Eden City from evil monsters — have previously appeared in comic books and TV ads promoting Skechers’ line of children’s shoes.

The main characters “are walking and talking advertisements for specific lines of Skechers shoes,’’ said the complaint. It depicted “Zevo-3’’ as “the first children’s television program starring characters that are known to children only as commercial logos and spokescharacters.’’

Specifically, the complaint said the half-hour show would violate a federal requirement in the Children’s Television Act that that no cable TV operator shall air more than 12 minutes of commercial matter per hour during children’s programming. The show also would violate the FCC’s requirement of a clear separation between commercial content and programming matter, the complaint said.

Kristen Van Cott, co-executive producer of “Zevo-3’’ and a senior vice president of Skechers Entertainment, said she and her colleagues had worked hard to ensure the show conforms with FCC provisions and were confident it would air on schedule.

There are no overt pitches for Skechers’ products in the cartoons, and Van Cott said the plot lines “often reflect issues that kids deal with on a daily basis — from peer pressure and bullying to relationships with family and friends.’’

A spokesman for Nicktoons, David Bittler, responded concisely to the complaint: “This show does not violate the Children’s Television Act.’’

Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, said she did not know what timetable the FCC might set for considering the complaint.