When it comes to eyeballs, programmers at Canada’s kidnets want ‘em all. Family Channel VP of programming Kevin Wright calls it ‘audience harmonics,’ Phil Piazza at Corus refers to it as ‘co-viewing,’ and Teletoon’s Carole Bonneau talks a lot about ‘growing with the audience.’ But in the end, it amounts to the same thing: Finding and scheduling shows that cross over from kid viewing to reel in adults and young kids as well. It is, in part, a response to the success that broad-appeal shows such as SpongeBob SquarePants and Scooby-Doo have had. But add to this the fact that parents seem to be responding seriously to admonitions about spending more time watching TV along with their children – and that attracting older viewers can bring in older-skewing ad dollars – and you’ve got a pretty compelling argument for co-viewing strategies. The trick for Canada’s kidnets now will be to implement them in a way that doesn’t alienate their core audiences.
YTV shifts its anime out of prime time
One major benefit to going after multiple demos with the same programming block is that it inherently makes for a smoother schedule in terms of transitioning. And that’s one reason why YTV VP of programming Piazza has decided to scrap the net’s prime-time anime block that aired from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. last season in favor of slotting in girl-friendly dramas conducive to family viewing.
Leading off the block is Nickelodeon’s Unfabulous, about a 13-year-old who channels her teen angst into song-writing. ‘We have a very strong boy audience on YTV, but we’re always looking to add some girl appeal,’ says Piazza, who also reupped 14 half hours of teen tennis soap 15 Love (Galafilm/Telefactory/Marathon) for this daypart.
Anime series including Gundam Seed and Inuyasha will shift into Friday night’s older-skewing Bionix block, but YTV will also attempt to stretch the genre’s appeal to a younger audience on Saturday mornings this month, when Nickelodeon’s first crack at producing anime with a North American narrative flavor, Avatar: The Last Airbender (13 x half hours), joins the Vortex block.
YTV is hoping that two 26 x half-hour reality co-productions will bring in the kind of broad audience that regularly tunes in for top-rated prime-time formats including American Idol and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. ‘Families are watching a lot of the current reality shows on television together,’ Piazza says. ‘We just need to find programming in this genre that fits our key demographics, and we think these shows do that.’ Ghostrackers (with CCI Entertainment) tests the courage, skill and teamwork of kid competitors by sending them into haunted houses in search of paranormal phenomena, and Prank Patrol (with Montreal’s Apartment 11 Productions) teaches six- to 11-year-olds how to plan and execute practical jokes.
Treehouse expands on its strong franchise foundation
The Corus preschool net is building on its three biggest hits this season, and the name of the game is spin-offs. Go, Diego, Go! (Nick, 19 x half hours) tags along as Dora’s cousin Diego travels the world to help save endangered wildlife. Blue’s Room (five x half hours, also from Nick) brings the famous detective dog into the puppet world and gives her a voice so she can lead kids in what Piazza calls ‘literacy-based adventures’ that encourage reading and verbal interaction. And HIT Entertainment’s Bob the Builder – Project Build It sees Bob, Wendy and his team of personified vehicles construct a brand-new eco-friendly town from the ground up.
Piazza says picking up these franchise extensions was pretty much a no-brainer because they offer the chance to introduce a whole new generation of preschoolers to the properties, as well as the potential of attracting older kids who grew up on the originals and are now just slightly out of preschool range. He adds that it will be particularly interesting to see whether Go, Diego, Go! can recreate the same fervor with boys that Dora has with girls.
Teletoon buys aspirationally
The focus at Teletoon this year is on aging up its after-school block to target nine- to 12-year-olds with three new original productions of very different flavors.
VP of programming Carole Bonneau describes Carl2 (26 x half hours, Portfolio Entertainment), about a 14-year-old slacker with a secret clone, as having a similar sense of humor to What’s With Andy?, which already draws a healthy nine to 12 audience in its 5 p.m. slot. Centering around two stylish teen spies, Delilah & Julius (26 x half hours, Collideascope/Decode) should also skew older with story lines that are reminiscent of Totally Spies!, but that highlight a more sophisticated sense of humor focused on relationship-building. Finally, the super-quick pacing of Planet Sketch, a new comedy from Aardman Animations and Decode, should make the CGI/Flash series challenging enough to hold tweens’ interest.
Based on a ratings trend that has seen more preschoolers tuning in to shows that are actually intended for six- to nine-year-olds, Bonneau has picked up more transitional programming that straddles the two demos. She points to recent acquisition Gerald McBoingBoing, a 26 x 30-minute Cookie Jar Entertainment series based on the Dr. Seuss book about a boy who only speaks in sounds, as a particularly apt example. While its bold and colorful visual style should serve to draw in the six to nine set, preschoolers should also closely identify with the show’s young lead character.
Family Channel introduces a launch-centric lunchtime menu
Leaning heavily on its long-standing partnership with Disney, Family Channel is giving its lunch-hour block a little extra TLC this season, scheduling two brand-new animated series from the Mouse House in this daypart for the first time ever. Director of programming Donna Dos Reis says the idea is to extend the humor of Family’s Mad Dash after-school block back to lunch hour because older kids who come home from school to eat weren’t previously being served by the channel. Jumping into these slots are The Buzz on Maggie (21 x half hours) and Brandy and Mr. Whiskers (39 x half hours), both of which target kids six to 11.
Family’s weekend live-action lineup has traditionally been a little higher on estrogen than testosterone, with Lizzie McGuire and That’s So Raven leading the charge. But that’s about to change this fall with the launches of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody (26 x 30 minutes from L.A.-based It’s A Laugh and Disney) and Life With Derek (a Canuck co-pro from Shaftesbury Films and Pope Productions). Both series feature male leads and aim for the upper end of the tween demo, but Dos Reis is quick to emphasize that their casts are rounded out by plenty of strong supporting roles for girls, so they should draw viewers from both gender pools.
Taking a slow-burn approach, Family plans to roll out the rest of its 22 new acquisitions and co-productions over the course of the season, rather than creating a launch bonanza in the fall. ‘We’re trying to offer something new and interesting to our subscribers every month,’ Wright says.
TVO overhauls its preschool block to keep it real for kids
The most noticeable change at TVO this fall will be the addition of Gisele’s Big Backyard, a new block housing the regional pubcaster’s preschool programming on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. The revamp is based on feedback from a team of educational consultants, who advised the net’s programmers that reflecting the real world in its framing would make the shows and the channel itself more relevant to young viewers. So rather than simply having a host introduce new shows standing in front of a wall (the standard operating procedure for TVO’s old block, The Nook), Big Backyard features more built-in interactivity with actual preschoolers. Gisele will talk directly to the viewers from familiar settings featuring home-based backdrop elements such as a garden, a porch and backyard critters like squirrels.
Perhaps the shiniest new acquisition that will live in the Big Backyard is Charlie and Lola, a much-hyped and high-on-style preschool series from BBC and Tiger Aspect based on the best-selling picture books by author/graphic artist Lauren Child. The daypart will also showcase the second season of This Is Daniel Cook, which echoes the block’s real-world reinvention through its six-year-old host who interviews people like breakdancers and airline pilots about what they do. Daniel joins TVO preschool standbys including Dora the Explorer and Peep and the Big Wide World.
Taking over from Big Backyard at 3 p.m. is The Space, which runs for four hours and caters to kids ages six to nine. Pat Ellingson, creative head of children’s and daytime programming, is thrilled to have landed a new 13 x half-hour astronomy series called Heads Up, featuring Canadian science entertainer Bob MacDonald. She really can’t say enough about MacDonald’s unique ability to make science understandable and fun for kids.
CBC’s interstitial surplus could prove to be an incubator for new series
Although news about the public broadcaster’s 2005/2006 mandate was difficult to come by due to a major lockout that still hadn’t broken at press time, the big news this year is as much about structure and personnel as it is about programming. The net recently added Robert Mills to its team as executive producer for Kids CBC, and the first order of business for the former Muppeteer and Radical Sheep founder has been to overhaul the framework of the net’s preschool block. Regional hosts will now speak to kids nationwide (and to each other), and they’ll be joined by CGI-animated pet pals. ‘We decided to go for broke and really change how things appear on-screen, as well as how things are produced in-house,’ says Mills. ‘In the process, we generated a great deal of [interstitial] material over a very short period of time, and the hope is that we’ll be able to spin some of these concepts out as longer-length shows.’
In the meantime, the fall schedule relies heavily on reorders, with new episodes of favorites including Poko (26 x 23 minutes, Alliance Atlantis). Joining the lineup for the first time is George Shrinks (40 x 26 minutes, Nelvana), which stars a 10-year-old experiencing some unique coming-of-age challenges due to the fact that he’s only three inches tall. In December, the net will debut new episodes of The DoodleBops (26 x 21 minutes, Cookie Jar), as well as Sesame Workshop’s Pinky Dinky Doo (a 26 x half-hour co-pro with Cartoon Pizza) and Lunar Jim (26 x 22 minutes) from Alliance Atlantis.