David Kleeman scares me. In a good way. When I was in Sheffield this summer at Showcomotion I looked up from my Earl Grey tea and there was David Kleeman. When I was at the Kidscreen Summit in New York trying to sneak in without a badge, there was David Kleeman. And while I was jogging in Munich at sunrise before Prix Jeunesse, who ran past me? David Kleeman.
Let’s face it, David Kleeman gets around.
Now, for those of you who don’t know David, he is the President of the American Center for Children and Media (ACCM). His organization “promotes the exchange of ideas, expertise and information as a means for building quality.” But even this lofty mission doesn’t do justice to the enormous contribution that David makes to the children’s television industry all over the world.
David is a connector. He knows everyone and he tirelessly and selflessly connects all of us. Like Kevin Bacon, I suspect that everyone in our business has no more than six degrees of separation from David Kleeman. And so, because David is everywhere and knows everyone, I wanted to get his take on the state of the global children’s television scene.
JOSH: How’s the running?
DAVID: Great! I’m in final training for a December trail marathon in Indiana, a triumph of scenery over sanity.
JOSH: What excites you most about international children’s television in 2008?
DAVID: I’m gratified at the rising level of debate about media’s positive role in kids’ lives. The UK crisis woke people worldwide – but especially in North and South America, Australia and Europe – to the need to spotlight our creative and cultural contributions, and kids’ right to quality entertainment.
I’m also excited by work done in new places, bringing new perspectives. I just chaired a jury at Japan Prize, and one winner was the website for an animated series about the Tlingit people of Canada/Alaska, by a small company in Edmonton. “Mytho-cartoons” are letting South Asian companies that previously did work for hire create and sell series incorporating Indian culture.
JOSH: And what frightens you most about international children’s television in 2008?
DAVID: Without question, the financial foundation. Political changes affecting revenue are combining with the global economic mess, wrapped up in the shifting technology bed. My concern is creative: when money is scarce, risk and innovation are first to be sacrificed, just when audiences need to be captivated with new content and delivery models.
JOSH: Who are some of the bright stars you see coming up on the international scene on the production side and broadcaster side?
DAVID: Just being back from Japan, I’m increasingly impressed with the NHK’s children’s programming. It’s extremely clean without being cold, and they invent surprising, clever visual approaches. CCTV in China has opened up considerably, becoming less didactic, more entertaining, and giving kids a voice.
I’m drawn to people who do amazing work with no resources. You’ve featured WhizKids from Ethiopia. Citurna Productions in Colombia is building an ambitious preschool series and website that may generate segments that could work elsewhere. I love international exchanges where each country contributes items in exchange for everyone else’s; very cost effective.
Finally, Sinking Ship in Canada shows a masterful instinct for TV and online formats built around real kids, finding and directing presenters who connect through the screen.
JOSH: Do you believe that the Internet has finally arrived as a viable means of distribution or are we still waiting?
DAVID: All digital platforms are in such flux that I think no one honestly has more than short-term answers. The Internet is certainly whetting people’s appetite for content, but I’m disappointed how little I’ve seen that truly integrates multiple media.
To me, the most interesting question is how channels maintain brand and cohesion – how programmer and scheduler roles change – as kids increasingly find content online or via DVRs.
JOSH: What do you love most about your job?
DAVID: My work is unpredictable – the next e-mail could be an invitation to advise a new initiative (sometimes the message really is from Geena Davis), a producer sounding out a promising idea, or some new bit of research to dissect. Also, I’m privileged to meet fascinating people worldwide: most of what I know comes just from listening, whether in formal meetings or over several…cups of coffee.
JOSH: Where can people learn more about you and ACCM?