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Spotting the trends in kids programming

Superher'es aren't coming to the rescue as often as they once did, and action adventure is being nudged aside by shows that make kids laugh. These are some of the insights that were voiced during recent conversations with international sales, production...
June 1, 1997

Superher’es aren’t coming to the rescue as often as they once did, and action adventure is being nudged aside by shows that make kids laugh. These are some of the insights that were voiced during recent conversations with international sales, production and programming executives.

‘There’s a turnoff from the superhero,’ says Theresa Plummer-Andrews, head of acquisitions and creative development for children’s programming for the BBC. ‘People are coming up with [concepts that are] either funnier or gentler. At the moment, people seem to be going more for the comedy aspect, more for the slapstick.’

Which is not to suggest that the superhero is dead. Kids’ fickle viewing habits will likely ensure that Superman and his cohorts will have another life. ‘I’m sure in two years time [the move away from superher'es] will swing back again,’ says Plummer-Andrews, as a new generation of kids search for something new.

But the changeable nature of kids’ tastes isn’t all that’s behind the move to more comedic programming. According to Vincent Chalvon-Demersay, general director for Saban International Paris, the availability and affordability of quality animation has helped push kids programming in this direction. ‘The level of the studios in the Far East has become so good that people are able to do good slapstick. [This wasn't] affordable for animated series for years. It’s this combination that probably pushed people in this direction,’ he says.

Action-adventure programming is also having a tough time. It’s not the program of choice for broadcasters these days, says Marc du Pontavice, head of Gaumont Multimedia. ‘It’s more and more difficult to convince broadcasters now to pay a lot of money for action adventure because they tend to link those kinds of shows to toys and merchandising, and broadcasters have become very demanding in terms of content, script, story, characterization.’

Live-action drama for younger kids is the big contender for ‘hot new genre’ status. The BBC, for one, is on the lookout for live action. ‘We don’t find an awful lot of really good live-action drama for children mainly in the seven to nine age category,’ says Plummer-Andrews. ‘We find it for older children. That seems to be missing in the market and that d’es very well in the U.K., so we are open to finding things like that.’

But live action faces a number of inherent problems that just won’t go away. The debate over how well live-action programming travels continues to plague the genre. There is still reluctance when it comes to dubbing live action for kids and, according to Sunbow’s senior vice president of international sales and co-production, Janet Scardino, it’s also tough to program. ‘From a programmers’ standpoint, this is an issue. Going from animation to live action and back is jarring. It creates flow problems and because there is already so much animation, it’s easier to integrate [other animated programming] within those blocks.’

And while action-packed programming is making way for comedy-based programming, there are also new opportunities opening up for shows geared to girls. According to Dolores Morris, vice president of program development at Children’s Television Workshop, programming for girls is on the rise. ‘Nickelodeon has proved that [this kind of programming has a market], with characters like Clarissa and Alex Mack.’ In the past in the U.S., says Morris, ‘buyers have been reluctant to buy girls shows because the feeling has been that girls watch everything and boys will only watch boys shows.’

That is just one accepted notion that is being challenged, along with many others, which makes spotting the next big trend all the more difficult.

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