In his new cartoon show, Izzy the Olympic mascot has to jump into a r
ATLANTA (AP) _ In his new cartoon show, Izzy the Olympic mascot has to jump into a raging river and ride a bicycle through an avalanche. After the drubbing he’s taken from media critics over the years, it seems a piece of cake.
Yes, the Atlanta Olympics’ blue glob of a mascot has his own television special.
Part entertainment, part marketing tool, ``Izzy’s Quest for Olympic Gold″ will debut at 5:30 p.m. EDT Saturday on Turner Broadcasting System Inc.’s TNT cable network. The 30-minute show will be repeated at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and again at 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Sunday.
Few would have predicted TV stardom when Izzy first appeared at the closing ceremony of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Then called ``Whatizit,″ he was greeted by a worldwide chorus of catcalls.
The critics have never let go, but Izzy has proven popular with kids _ a prime target for Olympic merchandise. With the 1996 Games looming, the marketing types at the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games are hoping the TNT show will fuel Izzymania.
Bad news, though, for Izzy haters: the show introduces a gaggle of Izzy-like characters, in various colors, who may soon begin showing up alongside the Blue One on T-shirts, pins and other Olympic souvenirs.
Among them are George, Izzy’s perpetually perturbed dad; bullies Spartan and Martin; and a trio of ``elders″ who guide Izzy toward his goal of competing in the Olympics.
``I’ve seen a couple of pins so far with the other characters,″ said Darby Coker, spokesman for the ACOG’s marketing program. ``I think the market will determine whether we see the other characters broadly or not.″
The cartoon features Izzy _ a computer generated creature who can ``morph″ into various objects _ as a slightly mischievous teen creature who is determined to compete in the Olympics, though no one from his ``Torch World″ ever has.
To do so he must achieve the virtues symbolized by the five Olympic rings _ perseverance, integrity, sportsmanship, excellence and brotherhood _ while fending off various animated meanies.
The cartoon is remarkably absent of the hucksterism Atlanta Olympic organizers sometimes are accused of, and Federal Communications Commission rules prohibit ACOG from running Izzy commercials during the program.
Veteran animator Phil Roman acknowledged that Izzy, who resembles an upside-down teardrop with huge feet, arrived at the doors of his Hollywood studio needing some shaping up.
``It had a certain hardness to it, a solidity,″ Roman said of the mascot.
``Our change was to get it some character and make it animationally appealing _ take the harshness away,″ said Roman, whose Film Roman studio has produced ``The Simpsons″ and ``Garfield and Friends.″
Ted Turner’s TNT grabbed the program after NBC, which paid $456 million for the rights to broadcast the Atlanta Games, passed on the Izzy show.
``Obviously, we wanted more Olympic involvement on Ted’s part, being in Atlanta. It’s a good opportunity to get a little rub-off,″ said Tom Karsch, a TNT vice president.
TNT plans to run a second Izzy special during the Christmas holiday season.