Roll Over, Michelangelo, It's The Mice

Could "Biker Mice From Mars!" be the next "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"? That was the consensus at this year's National Association of Television Program Executives convention in San Francisco, where programmers from around the world came to buy and hawk rights to TV shows. Amid the festivities, "Biker Mice" set an industry record by bagging more than 100 big-city stations. And there's still three months until its September launch. Kids may also be interested in the show's other claim on history. Executive producer Rick Ungar-whose pedigree already includes such benchmarks as "Totally Hidden Video" and "America's Cutest Kids"-chortles, "I've created TV's first heavy-metal cartoon."

He's not just talking soundtrack. The Biker Mice are three human-size rodents (Modo, Throttle and Vinnie) who vroom around the universe dispensing trash talk ("It's tail-whippin' time"), rock-group-inspired puns ("Guns and Noses," "Metallican") and hip/dumb catch phrases ("Let's rock and riiiiide!"). Says Ungar, who also gave us Fox's equally inane "X-Men": "All my cartoon shows are based on the same formula. Combine macho, fast-talking wiseguys with really cool vehicles." In other words, just the sort of thing the newly vigilant FCC would like to run out of kidvid. Does that bother Ungar? "Hey," he replies, "little boys like action programs. What good is it to send them educational messages if they're not interested in hearing them?"

The issue of succeeding "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is no trifling one. Launched modestly through a small comic book produced in the kitchen of a New England farmhouse in 1984, the Turtles have now spun off more than 2,000 merchandise items, as well as a series, three movies and several best-selling video games. Last year the Turtles action figures alone pulled in more than $200 million in sales-and that was a slow year. The parallels between the Mice and the Turtles are overt enough that even a convention full of programmers couldn't miss them. The Turtles love rock and roll and pizza; the Mice love rock and roll and root beer. The Turtles live in the sewer; the Mice live in the scoreboard of a Chicago stadium. Both drop slang and pop-culture references willy-nilly.

But the parallel that really counts is in the licensing. Besides being president and CEO of Marvel Productions, Ltd., and its two new operating subsidiaries-New World Family Film Works and New World Action Animation-Ungar also operates his own cartoon-licensing company, Brentwood Television Funnies. Months before "Biker Mice" is scheduled to air, he has already signed deals for no fewer than 70 merchandising spinoffs, from sleeping bags and gumball machines to boys' briefs. Hear that annoying buzz in your ears? It's your own little Modo or Throttle, demanding the full "Biker Mice" line, beginning with the miniature Harley hog. Lock and hiiiiide!