Is Nicktoons' 'Zevo-3' a TV Show or a Commercial?

There's a new show on Nicktoons, and it's based on characters who are part of an ad campaign for Sketchers shoes. In Zevo-3, three superheroes must protect their city from the mysterious Zevo Compound and mutant monsters.

It seems like more fantasy fun for kids, but considering the show is based purely on an advertising concept, does it push the envelope too far? The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) argues that when product spokespeople are the stars of the show, the envelope has not only been stretched, but obliterated. According to the CCFC, Zevo-3 is "the first children's television program to feature characters known to children only as commercial spokescharacters." The group complained to the FCC, saying the show violates commercial ad limits on weekday shows set by the 1990 Children's Television Act.

Some scoffers point to the myriad of existing kids' TV shows that employ toys as animated characters. In particular, The Hub -- a joint venture between Discovery Communications and Hasbro -- is introducing a slew of toy-based shows next month including Transformers, My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake. But, in this case, says the CCFC, Zevo-3's stars are spokespeople who’ve been talking up Skechers shoes to kids since 2006 in the form of comics that came inside Skechers shoe boxes.

"The characters themselves are ads," says CCFC's Director, Dr. Susan Linn. "Any television appearance by Kewl Breeze, Z-Strap or Elastika -- whether in a traditional commercial or on Zevo-3 -- should be considered commercial matter, regardless of whether the characters are wearing actual Skechers shoes."

As a point of comparison, the CCFC refer to a planned 1992 show called Yo! It's the Chester Cheetah Show!, which was scrapped "after advocates petitioned the FCC". At least the show didn't turn your hands orange.

To be clear, the CCFC is not all that thrilled with shows starring toys either. Calling yourselves "The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood" doesn't exactly project a reputation for recognizing nuanced differences in commercial entertainment for kids.

But there should be a line somewhere, right? This shoe company show is certainly a little... sketchy. And we don't want to see future kid series starring Count Chocula, Ronald McDonald or Aunt Jemima any more than we want to see a grown-up cartoon starring Mr. Opportunity, that annoying animated character in Honda commercials. But all that may just be a matter of preference. (I'd personally love to see Aunt Jemima throwing down with Mrs. Butterworth).

In the end, a kid is probably no more influenced seeing a TV show featuring a product spokesperson than he is seeing a show simply featuring a product. CCFC's point of distinction is also a little fuzzy. Are Power Rangers and Pikachu and Barbie not "spokespersons" for their related toys? Z-Strap might be taking the fall for a closet-full of culprits.

Whatever happens, the responsibility of curbing kid consumerism primarily lies not with producers or the CCFC, but with parents, who can choose from two points of intervention: The TV or the mall. Beyond that -- and moving to a TV-free desert island -- there's only so much you can do.

Do you think Zevo-3 is inappropriate for kids? Chime in now!

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