Did you know that for ten bucks and a couple of beaver pelts, you can get your own Canadian kids channel? Well, maybe not, but it must feel that way to Canuck kids programmers sometimes. As Corus Entertainment’s executive VP of programming and development Peter Moss quips: ‘English Canada has a population less than that of Mexico City, and it has more than 100 cable and digital channels.’
That environment breeds a race for the best programming, and because Canadian nets have substantial homegrown content requirements, the competition for shows is set to become fiercer as domestic producers feel the funding squeeze. When the Canadian Television Fund was partially bailed out this year after a US$17.5-million cut, the money came from next year’s budget. Unless something magical happens, what was a US$70-million production fund will look more like US$44 million next year, although Moss, who is on the CTF board, is hopeful that the government will step in.
As Canadian producers, broadcasters and their international partners wait to exhale on the funding future of kids TV, Canada’s kidnets are busy strategizing for the impending fall TV season. Read on for a channel-by-channel gameplan breakdown.
CBC re-brands to foster destination viewing
This fall, CBC stands for ‘colossally big change.’ The pubcaster has amalgamated its after-school kids content under a Kids’ CBC brand, complete with logo, branded buffers and IDs. Cheryl Hassen, creative head of children’s and youth programming, says the CBC wants ‘kids to know they are watching programming designed specifically for them from the time they tune in until they leave.’
While the Get Set For Life! morning preschool block has netted new shows like Tractor Tom (Contender Entertainment) and Poko (Salter Street), the biggest change will come after school, with CBC picking up Angela Anaconda (26 x half hours, Decode in association with C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures) and The Blobheads (26 x half hours, Decode and Wark Clements), which Hassen deemed a must-have because it was funny even at the bible stage. The channel is making what Hassen describes as ‘an absolutely conscious move to take a bold step into teen programming.’ New to the net’s non-branded afternoon teen block are Chilly Beach, a 2-D animated series about an unsuccessful Canadian resort community (26 x half hours, March Entertainment); Kenny vs. Spenny, a live-action tale of two friends who spend their time trying to humiliate each other (26 x half hours, Breakthrough Television); and the 13 x half-hour reality series Rock Camp, which follows the music industry struggles of several fledgling bands (Collideascope).
Teletoon looks to pack a punch with its action-centric fall sked
Teletoon’s late afternoon daypart will shift into high gear this fall with the addition of one-hour action block Ka-Pow!, showcasing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (26 x 30 minutes, 4Kids Entertainment) and MegaMan: NT Warrior (14 x 30 minutes, ShoPro). ‘We’re starting small,’ says Teletoon’s VP of programming Carole Bonneau. ‘We did a lot of research and found that while kids love reality-based shows [about kids' lives like Braceface]…they also want action.’
Nothing says action like monster-rock, so look for Teletoon to add 2-D toon My Dad the Rock Star, the brainchild of Kiss veteran Gene Simmons (26 x 30 minutes, Nelvana). Bonneau describes it as ‘an animated version of The Osbournes for kids – but without the bad language.’ The show centers on the trials of growing up with a rock star dad (Rock Zilla) and an earth-mother mom.
Other additions include tween series Silverwing, a 13 x 30-minute 2-D toon from Bardel based on Kenneth Oppel’s novels. Look for Teletoon to try to duplicate the success of Totally Spies! (for which it has another 26 eps in development with Marathon for 2004) with another European property for the six to nine set: Kid Paddle (26 x half hours from Dupuis, Spectra, M6 and Canal J). Based on the popular comic book title by Bande Desinée, the show follows the exploits of kids who love video games so much they sometimes confuse them with real life.
TVOntario picks up educon with entertainment value
With an educational mandate foremost on its agenda, you’d think TVO might have a hard time coming up with original and fun programming every year. Not so; TVO has a full bag this year. New for preschoolers is Boo!, a 52 x 10-minute series from Tell-Tale Productions that sees its main character play an endless game of peek-a-boo with viewers. Notes Pat Ellingson, TVO creative head of children’s, youth and daytime programming, ‘we went to great lengths to get this. It’s probably the most innovative educational/entertainment preschool show that we’ve seen in a long time.’
Ellingson is also excited about new pick-ups Little Robots (52 x 10 minutes, Create TV & Film) and Yoko! Jakamoko! Toto! (52 x 10 minutes, Collingwood O’Hare Entertainment.
While Ellingson believes the industry is returning to simpler storytelling – both because of economic necessity and because that’s what kids want – an interesting experiment in minimalism is the 52 x 13-minute series Oobi from Noggin. The show’s barehanded puppet characters teach kids basic vocabulary and conceptualization. A new partnership between TVO and the Canadian Cultural Society for the Deaf will result in deafplanet.com, a 10 x five-minute series with TV and web components revolving around Max, a boy who crashes his ship onto Deaf Planet and has to learn science and sign language to get home again.
Family Channel aims to solidify its tween audience
With its ‘Never a Dull Moment’ branding message last year, Family looked to capture tween eyeballs with regular weekday airings of live-action hits like The Amanda Show and That’s So Raven, as well as the introduction of its Popcorn Picks movies on Friday nights.
This year, the net is aiming to differentiate its Friday night schedule from the rest of the week even more, with The Amanda Show (6 p.m.), Even Stevens (6:30 p.m.) and Teen Angel (7 p.m.) airing exclusively that night in a lead-up to the Popcorn Picks.
Family is also looking to grow its hold on the mid-kid demo a little, and having enough episodes now to strip Raven Mondays through Thursdays should help.
And new on the 2-D animation front this year are: King (13 x 30 minutes, Funbag Animation and Decode), which checks in on a 12-year-old boy with a portal under his bed that leads to a strange land where he is king; and Something Else (13 x 30 minutes, Studio B Productions and TV-Loonland), which takes viewers to the whimsical Land of Elsewhere, where anything can happen.
The Corus collective vies for family eyeballs
At Corus, Peter Moss is hoping YTV will continue to expand its audience into the family realm this year, although he’s not planning to abandon the kids demo. ‘I still think of YTV as the food-fight channel,’ he says. ‘The kids from the neighborhood are in the basement, they’re making a whole lot of noise, and they’re having a lot of fun.’ But, he adds, ‘we’re looking to expand our audience appeal a bit. We’re looking to bring families into the net…television is like the modern fireplace.’
New for YTV this year will be: Nelvana’s Jacob Two-Two, a 26 x 30-minute, 2-D animated series based on a same-name Mordecai Richler book; and Spider-Man, a computer-animated, 13 x half-hour series (produced by Sony Pictures and animated by Mainframe Entertainment) that picks up where last year’s feature film left off.
On the live-action front, look for Mental Block (13 x 30 minutes, Zone 3) and Fries With That (26 x 30 minutes, Ciné Télé-Action) to try to build on the success of last year’s Radio Active (also Ciné Télé-Action), which nets roughly 600,000 viewers each week. Moss also has high hopes for the live-actioner Phunkee Zee (Savi Media, The Nightingale Company and Megafun Productions), a 13 x half-hour series in which real life and a game blend together.
Preschool net Treehouse TV has picked up a HIT Entertainment package for this season that includes Rubbadubbers, The Wiggles, Thomas the Tank Engine and a Bob the Builder Christmas special.
And over on Discovery Kids, look for the digital net to pick up Trading Spaces: Boys vs. Girls, Endurance, Adventure Camp and Operation Junkyard from its southern counterpart.