While best known as must-see TV for the Canadian preschool set, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is looking to shake that rep a bit. The national net is hoping some edgy homegrown animation and a revamped Saturday morning block will prove to comedy-loving older kids and tweens that the CBC has more to offer to them than content for their younger siblings.
Although she only has an hour to play with in the key after-school slot, new creative head of children’s programming Kim Wilson plans to mix things up this month with a slate of quirky new shorts that lead into to the net’s half hour perennial hit The Simpsons. Wilson feels the new programming is a much better complement to the satirical humor of The Simpsons, and that it’s also unique enough to create destination viewing. However, she’ll be relying more on grassroots buzz than marketing dollars to drive kids to the new programming – there just isn’t as much in the promo kitty for kids shows as there is for drama, sports or news at the CBC.
Anchoring the block is the bizarre and hilarious The Very Good Adventures of Yam Roll in Happy Kingdom (39 x 11 minutes and 39 x three minutes). Produced by Sudbury, Canada’s March Entertainment, it’s a the story of a cowboy boot-sporting piece of sushi looking for love.
The surreal comedy won the audience vote in March 2005′s on-air Maple Shorts competition. Airing after Chilly Beach, episodes of Yam Roll frame three other new shows – The Morgan Waters Show (CBC, 30 x six minutes), a live-action series hosted by a young comedian; Naughty Naughty Pets (Decode, 26 x three minutes); and Mr. Meaty (Lenz Entertainment, 13 x three minutes), an animation and puppet show about two tweens financing their horror flick by reluctantly working at a fast-food stand. Wilson says she’s on the lookout for more of the same offbeat humor to keep the block fresh into 2007, and will likely pick up at least one more half hour series and a couple of shorts running up to 15 minutes in length.
The after-school block has always been a challenge for the CBC, especially since it’s competing with 24-hour cablenets Teletoon and YTV nationally, as well as a three-and-a-half-hour block on pubnet TVOntario.
While CBC’s block has slowly aged up over the last few years from its older preschool mandate, Wilson says it took until this year to acquire the inventory the net wanted. It also doesn’t hurt the adult-targeted mid-afternoon schedule that now preceeds the kid-block features comedy. Granted, political satires This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Air Farce aren’t traditional kid draws, but they’re certainly more compelling for this group than predecessor, Brit soap Emmerdale. ‘I’ve always felt we were a bit of an island, but now we have some cohesion and a better flow,’ she says, adding the new target demo moves to 10- to 15-year-olds from the eight to 12 set.
Saturday’s 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. slot allows for much more flexibility and Wilson says she’s exploring the possibility of adding an extra hour of programming. She’s keen to make this block appealing to the older demo as well, and is hammering away on a complete rebrand that includes new ID, interstitials and wraparounds, which will highlight homegrown animation and play on the idea that being Canadian is cool.
While core kids programs such as Dragon Booster continue to do well in this time slot, upcoming fall additions such as My Goldfish is Evil (Sardine, 26 x 22 minutes) should help the block draw in more tweens with its darker humor. The first couple of hours in this block will remain preschool-targeted and age up throughout the morning. Wilson will also be poaching from her after-school block to help fill this time slot, and hopes to add a few more shows this fall and in 2007.
In order to give the makeover a higher profile, Wilson plans to embark on several outreach initiatives, like the World’s Biggest Poutine event that took place in Toronto last year. Participants whipped up a gigantic batch of the French Canadian delicacy of French fries, cheese curds and gravy, which actually made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. Cross-media activities will also be key for the promo strategy, she says, and Wilson’s looking to put themed video games on the website and license some of the characters for mobile phone applications.