For his next trick, Genndy Tartakovsky will try to turn a sullen samurai warrior into an American cultural icon.

Tartakovsky, the red-hot creator of the Cartoon Network's popular "Dexter's Laboratory" and one of the forces behind the cable station's phenomenally successful "Powerpuff Girls," has launched his latest animated series, "Samurai Jack," to wide critical acclaim.

That's what Cartoon Network had in mind when it signed the Burbank-based animator to an almost unprecedented 26-episode deal for "Samurai Jack," with an option for 13 more, before a single show was made.

Looking for a repeat of the commercial success of "Powerpuff Girls" which the company says has generated revenues of $500 million in two years through various licensing deals Cartoon Network is aggressively promoting "Samurai Jack" as a series with appeal for children and adults.

The show's unusual look and sound featuring flat, two-dimensional characters, long sequences with no dialogue, colorful, richly textured backgrounds and a world beat, techno-soundtrack is drawing rave reviews from animation aficionados. But the action-adventure show may be too stylized and dark, and its sword-bearing protagonist too aloof to approach the mass commercial appeal of the spunky "Powerpuff Girls."

'We're either ahead of our time or behind it, you never know," said 31-year-old Tartakovsky. "This is the best thing I've done since I've been in animation. Everything has clicked."

Linda Simensky, senior vice president of original animation for the AOL Time Warner-owned Cartoon Network, said Tartakovsky was given virtually free rein to create "Samurai Jack" because of his track record as the creator of "Dexter's Laboratory" and as a producer/director on "Powerpuff Girls."

"We'll take chances with the things that are more experimental," Simensky said. "The trick is how to be bold and ambitious and move the medium forward while pleasing our audience at the same time."

Simensky said the network is gunning for ratings in the "high ones or low twos" for "Samurai Jack," meaning an audience of about 1 million to 1.5 million viewers. "Samurai Jack's 75-minute premiere garnered a 1.7 when it debuted Aug. 10 and a 2.0 during an encore airing Aug. 12. But ratings slipped to 1.3 for the next episode on Aug. 17, a drop of nearly half a million viewers.

One factor in "Samurai Jack's" favor is that the series debuted ahead of the new slate of fall shows on the networks.

With production costs of between $500,000 and $1 million per episode the company declined to be more specific "Samurai Jack" represents a major bet by the Cartoon Network, especially considering the 26-episode commitment. But Simensky said she has little doubt the show will find an audience.

"We approach every show thinking it will be a hit," she said. "My belief is that any show that has good characters should work on any level outside of the show."

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