Though children’s programming on Japan’s public broadcaster NHK is mostly homegrown, there may be opportunity for international prodcos to gain entry – especially if Keisuke Tsuchihashi gets his way.
The producer for NHK’s program development center and programming department says the few non-domestic children’s programs airing on the pubcaster tend to be acquisitions. But he’d like to make a case for domestic and international co-productions to be incorporated into the budget. Though the department doesn’t have earmarked funds at present, Tsuchihashi is looking for projects outside of Japan that are impressive enough to convince his higher-ups to spend on co-pros.
Currently, the bulk of NHK’s kids fare airs in the Children’s Zone preschool block that runs weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on its education channel. On Saturdays, the block starts an hour earlier in the morning and an hour later in the afternoon. It typically runs two non-Japanese acquisitions per season, and the chosen two right now are Ribbit’s Riddles from France’s Megafilms (which airs on weekday mornings and afternoons) and Universal/WGBH series Curious George (running on Saturdays).
Additionally, SpongeBob SquarePants airs just outside of the Children’s Zone once a week at 7:30 p.m. (It’s worth noting in relation to outlining NHK’s acquisitions lineup that Tsuchihashi says the net’s license fees are smaller than those paid by North American and European broadcasters.)
Acquiring and/or co-producing timeless preschool comedies that have an educational component, like Curious George, is Tsuchihashi’s top priority. He adds that series with an international feel tend to work best with NHK’s viewers. For example, Jimmy Neutron didn’t perform as well as hoped, sandwiched as it was between NHK’s anime series, and featuring as it does an American character and setting that Japanese kids had a hard time relating to. Lower-than-expected ratings taught programmers to stick to more universal shows. As for what NHK perceives as universal, Tsuchihashi points to Why? With Animals and Hooray for Fizi – two co-productions from affiliate company MICO, which handles international acquisitions and sales for NHK – as ideal. Both are based on Euro publishing properties and focus on animal characters, while staying away from culturally specific topics.
The Japanese-produced content on NHK is usually formatted as five- to 10-minute episodes and includes a mix of styles such as anime, English-language learning, variety shows and live-action puppetry. Currently, Shogakukan Productions’ Major, an anime series about a boy in a baseball league that’s in its fourth season, is a kid favorite on the net.