‘We have to respect the fact that kids do two things in their lives: they play and they learn and we need to help them do both.’ This, according to Peter Moss, the newly appointed head of programming and production for YTV and the four-month-old preschool channel Treehouse TV, is his programming philosophy.
Moss, who has been at YTV’s programming helm for just over a month, made his way there via the stage (he spent 25 years directing theater, including 11 years as the creative director at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre), public broadcasting (a four-season stint as the head of children’s programming for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) and most recently, a year as executive producer for Children’s Television Workshop (where he worked on the development of preschool properties). His Young People’s Theatre experience, he says, was the true test of his ability to keep kids entertained. ‘You get to watch 500 kids watch the story that you’re telling eight times a week. There’s nothing like that for focus testing and getting an instinct for what holds an audience and what doesn’t.’
As for YTV, the audience that is testing his entertaining mettle is kids age 18 and under. ‘I think that gives it both its identifying brand and its major advantage,’ says Moss.
Five major blocks of programming, all with hosts, make up YTV’s programming schedule. ‘B-Zone’ kicks off the day, each weekday, from 7:25 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Extreme Ghostbusters and Wishbone are part of the block. ‘The Zone,’ aimed at kids six to nine years old, takes care of the after-school time slot with shows such as The Secret World of Alex Mack and The Mask. ‘YTV Shift’ takes over for YTV’s kids prime time at 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. and provides the framework to showcase Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Goosebumps, among others. The weekend morning ‘Brainwash’ ties its shows together with an ‘in-your-face wacky sketch comedy approach.’ Shows include Jumanji, Flash Gordon and Video and Arcade Top 10. The commercial-free preschool block, called ‘The Treehouse,’ includes Bananas in Pyjamas, Big Comfy Couch and Groundling Marsh.
Treehouse TV, which Moss calls a ‘work in progress,’ concentrates on prosocial, non-violent and non-commercial-driven preschool entertainment geared at the 18-month to six-year-plus viewer. A four-hour block of shows, which includes Little Star, Rimba’s Island and Barney and Friends, is repeated continuously throughout the day, but with new episodes of the shows in each block.
The obvious conflict between this work in progress and its preschool mandate and YTV’s preschool block would seem to be problematic. Moss admits that, in some day parts, the two are competing against each other, but he also points out that YTV is part of the basic tier of cable service and Treehouse TV is part of the third tier and nothing that airs on YTV airs on Treehouse TV. ‘Eventually, the services will be complementary,’ he says. But, for the time being, he believes this setup actually works in their favor. ‘Preschool programming is the hardest to finance in terms of original programming. You can’t sell commercial revenue, so having two streams to develop for and to be able to do acquisitions and co-productions that are for both-one broadcast window on YTV and then one broadcast window on Treehouse TV-gives us just that much more flexibility.’
YTV’s mandate regarding its role for these acquisitions and co-productions over the years has shifted to one where the broadcaster is now looking for greater equity in its commissioned original programming. ‘Although we were co-producers and involved in the creative development and there with the originators, essentially what we did was rent the shows,’ says Moss. ‘So now we spend a little bit more money or we consider what the financial scenario is and say we want some equity ownership in these shows.’
The reputation of the Canadian industry internationally and its growth over the last few years, he believes, has made that a much easier tack to take. ‘Internationally, Canada is known as one of the best, if not the best, provider of children’s programming in the world. So, a lot of the programs that we are developing and putting a lot of time and effort and money into have a much greater shelf life.’