UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. -- As cable networks grow and mature, they often seek to distinguish themselves from the pack.
For 3-year-old Hub Network -- a children's channel that operates in the same space as Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and others -- an annual signature event might help set it apart and draw more eyeballs.
Where some cable channels go wild with wall-to-wall Christmas programming, Hub Network has set its sights on Halloween.
Earlier this month, Hub introduced a new animated series, "Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch" (12 p.m. Saturday) with actress Ashley Tisdale ("High School Musical") giving voice to the title character.
This week, Hub debuts a special and a series.
"Hub Network's First Annual Halloween Bash" (8-10 p.m. Saturday) was taped on Saturday at Santa Monica's Barker Hangar, home to past TV events, including the TV Land Awards, Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards and the Billboard Music Awards.
"It's basically a Halloween-themed variety spectacular into which we are placing a national, state-by-state, Halloween costume competition," explained executive producer Bob Bain during a July Hub Network party at Universal Studios Hollywood theme park.
Kids, teens and families submitted costumed photos in six categories: spook-tacular, howl-arious, blast from the past, everyday stuff, animal kingdom and mad genius.
Fifty semifinalists -- one from each state -- won a trip to Los Angeles and tickets to the "Halloween Bash" where they were to compete. Each category has a prize of $1,000 and the grand prize winner gets $25,000 and a trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, for a walk-on role in Hub Network's "R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour."
"The audience will be a large participant in this event because many of them will be costumed themselves," he said. "It's a super-charged, massive Halloween party with music and celebrities."
Kenan Thompson ("Saturday Night Live") will host the event and Martha Stewart will be among the celebrity judges. Musical guests will include pop star Cody Simpson
An annual special is a good way to generate buzz and brand awareness for a network, but weekly series are what keep audiences coming back. That's the aim of "Spooksville" (10 p.m. Saturday), a semi-serialized half-hour show.
Written by Dan Angel and Billy Brown ("R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour," "Night Visions"), the TV-PG-rated debut begins with a warning to parents ("some scenes may be too scary for younger children. We suggest watching together, as a family") but executive producer Jane Startz said "Spooksville," based on a book series by Christopher Pike, is more thriller than horror show with none of the characters in serious jeopardy.
"It's for younger teens and has the same sense of wonder and adventure as a contemporary 'Hardy Boys,'" she explained.
The premiere begins as Adam Freeman (Keean Johnson, Broadway's "Billy Elliot") and his father move to Springville, which is nicknamed Spooksville because the town is a magnet for the supernatural. Adam's mother recently disappeared and he and his father are trying to start a new life.
Adam befriends spunky Sally (Katie Douglas) and Watch (Nick Purcha) and he also meets Ann (Taylor Campbell), who Sally and Watch think is a witch. Adam is dubious about Sally and Watch and their investigations into the supernatural.
"It's a small town," Sally says. "I'm fearless and easily bored. What am I supposed to do? Cow tipping?"
Hub Network has ordered 22 episodes, 11 each for the show's first two seasons.
In Pittsburgh, Hub Network can be found on traditional Comcast systems (Channel 130/1511 HD) and former Adelphia systems (Channel 101/1511 HD); on FiOS TV (Channel 259/789 HD) and Armstrong (Channel 403). It's also on DirecTV (Channel 294) and DISH Network (Channel 179).
Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published October 19, 2013 8:00 PM