POWER OF POKEMAN; MOVIE TICKETS CONTEST OVERWHELMS STUDIO.
Pokemon fever has been burning up store shelves and little hands for months; now it's burning up phone lines in the Valley.
A morning TV news show's promotion of tickets to attend the premiere of the Pokemon animated movie overwhelmed telephone lines in the Burbank area, forcing Warner Bros. to shut down its voice mail system for several hours, studio spokesmen said.
As many as 70,000 calls per minute glutted a contest line at the studio Monday morning immediately after KTLA (Channel 5) entertainment reporter Sam Rubin announced the promotion for free tickets to Saturday morning's premiere at Mann Chinese on Hollywood Boulevard, the studio said.
The call load was so heavy that it spilled over into not only the rest of Warner's voice mail system, but also affected the phone systems of nearby NBC and Disney studio operations.
The calls were still pouring in at midafternoon at 40,000 per minute, enough to force the studio to shut down its voice mail system until 7 p.m. Monday.
``This is absolutely without precedent,'' said Brad A. Ball, Warner Bros. Pictures' president of domestic marketing. ``That one announcement on the local morning news could provoke such an enormous response is an incredibly exciting indicator of Pokemon's appeal.''
``Pokemon the First Movie'' is an animated film based on the massively popular Game Boy video game, Pokemon, and a closely related animated TV show and trading card game.
The movie has been advertising a Nov. 12 opening, but Warner Bros. moved up the debut two days to Nov. 10, to ``give kids an earlier jump on the film but also allow parents more flexibility in getting them there,'' said the company's president of domestic distribution, Dan Fellman.
The studio will shut down Hollywood Boulevard for its invitation-only premiere at 10 a.m. Saturday at Mann Chinese. Members of Team Nintendo will be teaching tricks of the game to children attending the event, and some of the special Volkswagen Beetles decorated to look like the Pokemon mascot, the pikachu, will also be present.
The Pokemon game has been fabulously successful, with the Red and Blue versions of the original game perched consistently among the top sales rankings since debuting in the United States in September of last year.
Nintendo estimates it will generate more than $1 billion in revenue from the Pokemon franchise, helped by the Pokemon Snap
game, a best seller the past couple of months for Nintendo's N64 gaming system, and the just-released Yellow edition of Pokemon.
Nintendo officials said this week that sales of Pokemon Yellow, an only slightly different version of the Red and Blue editions that features the pikachu throughout the game, is the fastest-selling video game of all time, with more than 1 million units already sold in its first two weeks.
Warner's record label Atlantic also is expecting to cash in on Pokemon, shipping a whopping 1.5 million copies of the movie's soundtrack for release this week. The soundtrack will include songs by artists such as `N Sync, Christina Aguilera and BWitched.
Another collection of music from the television show, ``Pokemon 2 B.A. Master,'' has already sold 700,000 copies since its summer release, topping Billboard magazine's sales charts for children-oriented music for 16 weeks.
Photo: no caption (Pokemon)