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W WHAT'S THE HOTTEST property for youngsters in America today? The answer is simple -- anything that involves the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Started as comic-book characters in 1984, the Turtles have since moved into about every conceivable entertainment outlet and make their debut Sunday as a comic strip in The Buffalo News and hundreds of other newspapers in America. The following day, the daily strip starts in the afternoon editions of The News.

Frankly, we were not that impressed with the sample strips of the Turtles. But given my age, it's not too surprising. We asked quite a few newsroom people who have young children for their appraisal and, without exception, they all said that it's a must for The News.

Hopefully, it will bring youngsters back to the comic pages. That may sound like a strange statement, but the fact is that adult readership of newspaper comic pages far outpaces readership of children. Many years ago the reverse was true.

And we are also hopeful that a strip such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will encourage young parents to read the Turtles and other appropriate strips to their children.

The Turtles' creators had difficulty even selling their idea to a comic-book company six years ago. Several of the majors in the field rejected the idea. But youngsters who did read it in comic books really took to it. However, when it was later offered up for a movie, the major studios thumbed their nose at the Turtles. When it was finally produced by an independent, the 1990 film grossed almost $150 million, and the second Turtle movie now is scheduled for release in March.

Turtles big in merchandising

The Nov. 26 New York Times reported that the Turtles "have taken CBS to the brink of ratings leadership on Saturday morning, prime time for children, for the first time in a decade."

The Times business section article continued:

"The two half-hours of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are the two top-rated shows on Saturday morning. They also have the strongest ratings among the view group most sought by advertisers on Saturday morning: children age 2 to 11."

The Turtles' popularity has been translated into the No. 1 toy product in the history of the toy business as well as video games and merchandising items such as shirts, greeting cards and calendars. The Dec. 17 edition of Fortune magazine includes the Turtles on its annual list of the hottest 1990 properties, citing $1 billion in worldwide sales this year.

The youngsters, and I am told this includes teen-agers, are fascinated with the Turtles characters and relate well to their antics, such as putting peanut butter on pizza.

The Sunday Turtles comic strip will consist of an activity center for children. The daily strip combines humor and good artwork. We hope all enjoy it and particularly those who some day will become regular readers of all the sections of The News.

Doonesbury and Ann Landers

The still-controversial Doonesbury comic strip celebrated its 20th anniversary about a month ago. Launched in 1970 in 29 newspapers, it now appears in more than 1,200 daily and Sunday newspapers.

Buffalo News readers certainly are ambivalent about Garry Trudeau's strip, which in 1975 became the first comic strip in history to win a Pulitzer Prize. In a survey we conducted this summer, 2,200 said Doonesbury was their favorite, 1,583 said they could take it or leave it, and 3,047 voted for us to eliminate it from our lineup.

The Ann Landers advice column marked its 35th anniversary in October. Landers (and her staff) have written the column seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, and it is estimated that 90 million readers are drawn to her column each day.

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