The most successful animated kids shows in the U.S. are written from a kid’s perspective and feature characters in which kids can find a reflection of themselves.
These shows come from producers with strong creative visions, a generation of animators who grew up on ‘the good stuff,’ as PBS director of children’s programming Alice Cahn terms it, shows like Sesame Street, that serve as their inspirations.
What’s behind some of the most popular kids animated shows?
Rugrats: The most watched children’s animated show-with a cumulative 5.3 rating and 2.2 million viewers, based on total national households, according to Nielsen Media Research-Rugrats appeals to different ages for different reasons. Little kids look at the characters and point to the fact that they are not babies anymore; older kids enjoy the humor, according to Cyma Zarghami, executive vice president and general manager of Nickelodeon. ‘The storytelling is so different because it is really about real life in animation, rather than action and fantasy.’
Arthur: PBS’s highest-rated animated kids show also specializes in relevant real-life situations and humor. ‘Arthur works for children because it is true to who kids are,’ says Cahn. By presenting an honest reflection of real life in an animated environment, children are at a comfortable distance to watch and understand it, but do not feel threatened by the problems posed in the stories, she adds.
Disney’s One Saturday Morning: ABC’s two-hour block has resuscitated the network’s Saturday morning schedule-up 47 percent over last year. Jonathan Barzilay, vice president and general manager of children’s programming at ABC, attributes Disney’s One Saturday Morning’s success to the ‘tremendous credibility’ and connection that the characters in its anchor shows Doug, Pepper Ann and Recess have made with kids.
Dexter’s Laboratory: Cartoon Network’s ace for the past two seasons is an example of the back-to-basics approach to cartoon making-seven-minute shorts that are visually based, character and gag driven, and feature smart writing-that stems from trusting the animators to follow their creative instincts. Dexter’s Laboratory has a feel that is both contemporary and classic, according to Rob Sorcher, executive vice president at Cartoon Network, qualities that he feels will resonate with kids today and 50 years from now.
Animaniacs: The anchor of the surging Kids’ WB! lineup sets the tone and attitude for the rest of its shows. ‘Those qualities gave Kids’ WB! an identity right off the bat that it was a place for silliness and fun,’ says Tom Ruegger, executive producer of Warner Bros. Television Animation. The input of executive producer Steven Spielberg has brought cinematic sensibility to Animaniacs, in terms of pacing, background action, camera angle and colors that have given the show a movie-like feel, he adds.
Fox Kids: Creative freedom has been the driving force behind Fox’s top-rated animated hits Toonsylvania, Life with Louie and Sam & Max. Although each program is different in terms of its animation, attitude and humor, they share a writing style that plays to younger and older viewers on different levels. ‘Our viewers never know what they are going to get in terms of surprises, and yet they always know that they are going to get great stories, interesting styles and diversity,’ says Maureen Smith, senior vice president of planning, scheduling and station relations for Fox Kids.