NEW YORK — An advocacy group on Tuesday asked the Federal Communications Commission 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 – tasked 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.
"Skechers Entertainment is tremendously proud of 'Zevo-3,'" she said in a statement. "It's a fun, action-packed and beautifully animated series."
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.
"It's our hope they'll act quickly and decisively," she said. "We believe that the show violates several of the few existing rules we have to protect children from over-commercialization."
According to background in the complaint, there were plans back in the early 1990s for children's TV shows based on commercial spokescharacters – one that would have featured Chester Cheetah, who pitched Frito-Lay products, and another that would have starred Cheesasaurus Rex, a cheese-colored dinosaur who appeared in ads for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
Plans for both shows were dropped after an advocacy coalition raised objections with the FCC.
"Now Skechers and Nicktoons are attempting to escalate commercialization on children's television," the complaint said. "If they are successful, we can expect other companies to follow suit.
"A McDonald's show featuring Ronald McDonald, a Burger King show featuring the King, a Kellogg show featuring Tony the Tiger these are just some the possible children's television programs we may see in the future."
The three heroes of "Zevo-3" – Z-Strap, Elastika and Kewl Breeze – were created by Skechers several year ago to promote sales of shoes to children, and each is linked to a particular shoe.
"For children, these characters have become the embodiment of the shoe lines they represent," said the complaint. "So much so that retailers report that kids often ask for a shoe by character name rather than the shoe model."
Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood: http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/