Friday, 15 June 2007

Children's tv


Hey, at least I'm honest about it.

I've waited a while before writing this as penning stuff when angry is surely A Bad Move. But, as Peter Finch put it in Network (one of the best movies about tv ever, check out how they got the hideous future of news spot on right back in the 70s) "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it any more".

So think of an industry where Britain leads the world. Something that we do better than anyone else. Ever. The motor industry? Nah, all our major car companies are owned by American or German companies. Computers? Tsh, when was the last time "Surallen" Sugar's Amstrad made a PC? 1988?

I can think of two. First the making of barometers. We have more barometer producers here than the rest of Europe combined, fact fans. Result!

And, secondly children's tv. More specifically pre-school telly, designed for the tiny ickle babies. Teletubbies' tenth anniversary has been all over the news recently. Mark Lawson (yes, artsy farsty Mark Lawson!) interviewed the creators on BBC Four (yes, high falutin' BBC Four!). As well as being inventive, superbly shot and incredibly well researched, the Tubbies went on to generate hundreds upon hundreds of millions of quid for this country, selling everywhere.

That's not the only one, the list is genuinely too long to type here. We do this stuff better than anyone else - less schmalzty than the Americans ("gee, you know, I shouldn't'a done that. I love you Mom") Someone I make shows for describes moments like that as "Canadian" moments as lots of kids' programming devised worldwide is made in Canada as their government subsidises it massively. As it's made by international co-pros of a huge variety of countries It means it tends to be bland and wholesome.

Our government decides to intervene in children's tv too. Do they give us stacks of cash to make luvvy-duvvy crud? No. Oh no. They ban ads for junk foods from children's telly so millions of quid goes out of the business. Now I know junk food is bad. Everyone does. Even if you're five years old, you kinda know a bright blue string of sugary goo isn't a health food. But I can't see how a 2-5 year old can actually buy it, ads or no ads. Their parents do. And if their parents are swayed by their kids bleating on about it, or by watching these ads themselves, then there's little hope for them as parents. Us children's tv producers aren't making their little darlings fat. Not the evil multinational junk food companies. It's the parents feeding their kids too much crap.

Still, through gritted teeth maybe, but I do understand the ad ban. But then what happens? One of the major funders of children's tv, ITV, decides it simply can't be arsed any more. They've lost all that dodgy phone-in money and need to make cuts. After thirty years of public service broadcasting to the next generation of Corrie viewers, they think they can save money and boost ratings by replacing their award-winning CiTV slot on ITV1 with new, original programming. Like repeats of Morse or Marple.


ITV apply to Ofcom to get the number of hours of kids' tv they must show down from 10 a week to 2. Boo. Ofcom reject this. Yay. ITV do it anyway, saying they'll make the hours up over Christmas and Easter - when the toy ad revenue is the highest, obviously. Boo. Ofcom then say that, actually, they can't really do anything anyway, it's up to ITV. Triple boo. So Ofcom are 'investigating the crisis in children's tv' and then there'll be some compromise and ITV will still spend bugger all on kids.

And just to make things worse, the BBC get a lower licence fee settlement than they wanted and identify (guess what) children's tv as an area to save money on. As they shunt their inhouse producers up to Salford. Not Manchester, Salford. Way to show you care, Aunty.

But there's more, he says with steam blowing from his ears. Some snooty scientists, authors and 'experts' whine on that watching tv is bad for kids. Blah blah inactive yadda yadda obesity rah rah vegetables. Rubbish. If you've ever watched a two year-old be entranced by Tweenies, a bunch of four year-olds making paintings along to Art Attack, see the incredible pro-activeness and charity on a Blue Peter appeal, then you know it can't be bad for kids. What will children do instead? Play outdoors - er, no, not allowed now. Too dangerous. Are they supposed to surf Myspace and Youtube? At three years old?

Five's Milkshake strand is the one bright spot, commissioning new shows and genuinely doing a public service - unlike ITV or C4 (remember Pob and The Hoobs - C4 dumped kids' stuff years ago). The digital channels (rightly) rely on their incredibly popular output from their US parent companies, with the occasional British show, and are trying to do more on ad money that has been cut significantly.

It really gets on my wick (another Northern expression there). People will rightly complain when there's no well-made, well-funded British children's tv; just a bunch of sickly sweet US imports and some cheapo studio shows. It'll be too late then. Do something now. Write to your MP telling them to support the Early Day Motion supporting children's tv. More details on

Rant over. Normal service will be resumed next time.

No comments: