British terrestrial broadcaster GMTV is extending its preschool airtime with a new branded block. Called The Fluffy Club, the new on-air destination is launching this month and is slated to air seven days a week at various times across all GMTV channels, including GMTV1, ITV4 and CiTV.
When asked about the advisability of adding an ad-free preschool offering to a crowded channel universe at a time when spots for kids terrestrial TV have been disappearing, GMTV executive producer Sue Bowyer says, ‘There is a value attributed to growing up with GMTV – kids will be more likely to watch our older-skewing shows once they start school.’
The Fluffy Club is set to air on GMTV1 weekend mornings between 6 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., moving into new airspace on Sunday mornings that previously housed current affairs programming. The block will also be simulcast on children’s diginet CiTV on weekends, as well as airing on CiTV and ITV4 weekdays from 8:40 a.m. to 9:25 a.m.
GMTV is making full use of its library to fill the block initially with shows such as Engie Benjy and Jim Jam and Sunny. The programming team behind the effort is also dipping into tried-and-true fare from the Disney catalogue, including Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and My Friends Tigger & Pooh, as well as Nick hits Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go!
There are a handful of new acquisitions joining the schedule, including UK studio Inspire’s preschool offerings Odd-Jobbers and Boblins and a localized version of Southern Star’s hit Australian musical show Hi-5, produced by Darrall Macqueen. And Bowyer suggests that she may be open to more pick-ups down the road.
London’s Darrall Macqueen is also producing the The Fluffy Club interstitial segments, which include 107 x 15-minute eps starring a toddler-like duckling puppet called Tiny Little Fluff and a human female host. Darrall MacQueen MD Billy
Macqueen says the company is tapping into its previous experience producing similar shows for Disney and a BBC2 block called Smile to develop The Fluffy Club. A culminating theme song is used throughout the block, starting with a simple melody early in the morning that adds more pop beats as time goes on. It’s meant to engage the top-end of the preschool demo as well as reflect kids activities as they get more active during the day.
Macqueen says his company is also making an effort to stay away from the traditional verbal-based format of hosted blocks, instead incorporating activities such as songs, dances and make-and-do projects, while keeping the tone calm and gentle for the preschoolers’ early morning hours. ‘We need to move off the repetitive explanations directed at the camera and get into more visuals,’ he says. For example, for The Fluffy Club’s regular pet feature, rather than having the hosts talk about a kitten, the shot will focus for 20 seconds or so on the hosts holding a real kitten, showing viewers how to handle it.
The block is going live at the same time the UK government is instituting a brand-new curriculum for preschool education called Early Years Foundation Stages. Macqueen says his team is the first in the country to incorporate the new guidelines into preschool programming.
Besides complying with the very latest in curriculum standards, The Fluffy Club fills in certain gaps in the new directive. The guidelines emphasize learning categories such as language, numeracy and physical development be taught in formal preschool settings, so Macqueen rightly reasons that there may be less singing, dancing and role-playing in the classroom, creating an opportunity for TV to round out the development of UK children.