Convulsion Cartoon Bound for U.S. TV

Syndicator to hawk Japanese series; fall 1998 launch eyed

By Joal Ryan Jan 03, 1998 7:00 PMTags
American kids who, according to a new study this week, apparently will watch anything may just get the ultimate test: the cartoon that causes convulsions.

Yes, Pokemon, the animated series that provoked epileptic-like seizures in more than 10,000 Japanese kiddies earlier this month, looks to be headed to U.S. shores.

Summit Media will be hawking the show--called "animated junk" in the words of one critic--to local TV types at next month's National Association of Television Program Executives convention in New Orleans. The plan is to launch Pokemon in syndication next fall.

There'll be no repeat of the Japanese health scare that resulted in the hospitalization of more than 700 youngsters following a December 16 broadcast on TV Tokyo, its U.S. distributor pledges.

"We're comfortable it won't be a problem," Al Kahn, CEO of 4 Kids Entertainment, a division of Summit Media, tells USA Today. "We've taken the problem seriously and fixed it."

The problem with Pokemon apparently was a brief sequence featuring bright, blinking lights--a recipe for "television epilepsy." The children stricken in Japan experienced symptoms ranging from nausea to headaches. Japanese officials moved quickly to prevent further Pokemon illnesses--pulling the episode from video stores, and preventing its rebroadcast on other stations.

All in all, not the greatest introduction to American audiences for Pokemon, a popular, violent cartoon based on Nintendo's Pocket Monsters games. But publicity is publicity. And a TV consulting executive tells USA Today that its notoriety should make it an easier sell to stations here.

This is not good news to Peggy Charren, founder of the influential Action for Children's Television--an advocacy group for quality kids' TV. Charren's the one who thinks Pokemon is "animated junk."

In the newspaper, she says she wishes that "companies like Summit would look for shows that are breathtakingly wonderful."

Yes, but for kids who are watching an average of 312.5 hours of TV a year, "breathtakingly wonderful" probably isn't a big priority. Any old test pattern and/or gory cartoon show will do.