As producers begin to respond en masse to Cartoon Network’s arms-wide-open appeal for more original programming pitches, projects that go after the four to seven demo will no doubt make a first stop on the desk of Alice Cahn, a former Sesame Workshop and PBS programming exec who joined Cartoon in January as VP of development. And she’s got very definite goals when it comes to hunting for new shows.
First and foremost, says Cahn, she’ll be looking for projects that respect the tools of humor that four- to seven-year-olds grok to, such as knock-knock jokes and absurd slapstick. Cahn argues that too many programmers err on the side of information-based programming for this demo. But for a show to compete in the cutthroat TV ratings race and in the wider competition for kid eyeballs that plays out across other platforms like videos and DVDs, interactive games and cell phones, kids must find it really funny.
And Cahn maintains that all programming that’s developmentally suitable for this audience is arguably educational by default. ‘Everything they see, touch, sing, etc. will leave them with a difference that they did not have before,’ she says, reiterating that she is not looking for shows with specific cognitive information goals.
The other thing she’s after is multimedia playability. At press time, Cartoon Network’s five-hour weekday block for the four to seven set was airing classic toons such as Tom & Jerry and Scooby-Doo, which also exist as web games on www.cartoonnetwork.com. ‘I think it would be foolish to be in the children’s business today and not consider all the screens our children are playing with,’ Cahn says. She believes that although the tube is a primary medium for kids, an increasing number of parents and children are accessing programming on-line and using handheld platforms and multiple screens to watch shows.
Cahn’s focus on multi-screen interactivity borrows heavily from her most recent post as managing director of interactive media for children at the Markle Foundation, where she headed a broad funding program designed to explore and encourage market-driven and research-based interactive media for kids.
‘This is a terrific opportunity to craft programming based on everything I know about the impact of media on children, how they have fun with it, and how parents and children work with it together,’ she says.