Children's television series (or children's television shows) are television programs designed specifically for children. They are typically characterised by easy-going content devoid of sensitive or adult-facing themes and are normally scheduled for broadcast during the morning and afternoon when children are awake, immediately before and after school schedules generally start country-by-country. Educational themes are also prevalent, as well as the transmission of cautionary tales and narratives which teach problem-solving methods in some fashion or another, such as social disputes.
The purpose of these shows, outside profit, is mainly to entertain or educate. Complicating matters somewhat is that not all children's programs are equal: some are aimed at infants and toddlers, some are aimed at those aged 6 to 11 years old, and then there is broadcast content for adolescents and those aimed at all children.
The dominance of YouTube in the 21st century has also seen the platform become a crucial platform for children's content, with some channels aimed at preteen viewers being among the most followed channels globally. The quality of some children's programs on YouTube, particularly those aimed at younger children, has before led to widespread controversy, culminating in the late 2010s as what became known as Elsagate.
Children's television is nearly as old as television itself. In the UK, the BBC's Children's Hour was first broadcast in 1946, and is in anglocentric circles generally credited with being the first TV programme specifically for children.
Some authors posit television for children tended to originate from similar programs on radio. Running with the UK example, the BBC's Children's Hour was launched as a radio broadcast in 1922, with BBC School Radio commencing live broadcasts in 1924.
Evolution of style in the US and beyond edit
Early children's shows included Kukla, Fran and Ollie (1947), Howdy Doody, and Captain Kangaroo. Another show, Ding Dong School, aired from 1952 to 1965. Its creator and host, Frances Horwich, would sit in front of the camera and simulate small talk with the viewing audience at home, demonstrating basic skills for the camera.
This practice lives on in contemporary children's broadcasting as a genre in of itself, with Australia's ongoing program Play School one example.
At one time, a program called Winky Dink and You took a more interactive approach, prompting its viewers to affix a clear vinyl sheet to their television and draw pictures to match what was going on on-screen. This format did not persist, nor was it replicated, due to a number of factors unrelated to its popularity: children whose parents did not buy them the vinyl sheet would draw with crayons directly on the television screen itself, potentially causing expensive damage; there were also concerns that having children within arm's length of a television screen of the era could expose them to harmful radiation.
Later and more recognisably modern shows for young children include Sesame Street, The Electric Company and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. In the 1990s, more children's television series such as Barney & Friends, Blue's Clues, SpongeBob SquarePants, Bear in the Big Blue House, and The Big Comfy Couch were created.
A voluminous range of children's television programming now exists in the 2020s.
Notable successes outside the US include shows like Play School, Noggin the Nog, Thunderbirds, Mr. Men and Thomas & Friends originating from the UK, Le Manege Enchantè from France, The Singing Ringing Tree from Germany, and Marine Boy from Japan.
Canadian studio Nelvana is a particularly prolific producer of children's programming. Much of Nelvana's product is broadcast worldwide, especially in the US, where the similarities in dialect do not require any dubbing or localization.
Role of advertising edit
In the United States, early children's television was often co-opted as a platform to market products and it rarely contained any educational elements (for instance, The Magic Clown, a popular early children's program, was primarily an advertisement for Bonomo's Turkish taffy.) In the early years of television, advertising to children posed a dilemma as most children have no disposable income of their own. As such, children's television was not a particularly high priority for the networks.
This practice continued in a toned-down manner through the 1980s in the United States after the Federal Communications Commission prohibited tie-in advertising on broadcast television. These regulations did not apply to cable, which remains out of the reach of the FCC's content regulations.
Due in significant part to the success of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, the 1980s saw a dramatic rise in television programs featuring characters of whom toy characters were being sold to retail consumers in bricks and mortar stores, underscoring the value potential of manufacturing merchandise for fans of children's programs. This practice remains firmly embedded in the broadcast sector's business case broadly in the 2020s.
Saturday morning cartoon blocks edit
In the United States, Saturday mornings were generally scheduled with cartoon from the 1960s to 1980s.
In 1992, teen comedies and a "Today" show weekend edition were first to displace the cartoon blocks on NBC. Starting in September 2002, the networks turned to affiliated cable cartoon channels or outside programmers for their blocks.
Preschool-oriented programming is generally more overtly educational. In a number of cases, such shows are produced in consultation with educators and child psychologists in an effort to teach age-appropriate lessons (the series Sesame Street pioneered this approach when it debuted in 1969). A format that has increased in popularity since the 1990s is the "pseudo-interactive" program, in which the action of the show stops and breaks the fourth wall to give a young viewer the opportunity to answer a question or dilemma put forth on the show, with the action continuing as if the viewer answered correctly.
Shows that target the demographic of persons 6 to 11 years old focus primarily on entertainment and can range from comedic cartoons to action series. Most children's television series targeting this age range are animated (with a few exceptions, perhaps the best-known being the Power Rangers franchise). Typically, programs are either 'for boys' or 'for girls'.
The teen demographic targets viewers 12 to 17 years of age. Live-action series that target this demographic are more dramatic and developed, including teen dramas and teen sitcoms. In some cases, they may contain more mature content that is usually not permissible on shows targeting younger viewers, and can include some profanity or suggestive dialogue.
Educational programming targeted at this demographic has historically been rare, other than on NASA TV's education block. However, some programming aimed at the demographic has had some tangential educational value in regard to social issues, such as the now-defunct TNBC block of sitcoms, which often tackled issues such as underage drinking or drug use.
Under-represented groups edit
According to at least one journalist, for years, Broadcast Standards and Practices departments of networks, Parental Guidelines, and campaigns by social conservatives limited "efforts to make kids animation more inclusive."
One former executive of Disney, David Levine, said that "a lot of conservative opinion" drove what was depicted on Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, and other alike channels. Some argued that cable television, which began to pick up in the 1990s, "opened the door for more representation" even though various levels of approvals remained.
Through the 2000s', advocacy group GLAAD repeatedly highlighted the lack of LGBT representation in children's programming in particular. Two years later, they recorded the highest number of LGBTQ characters they ever recorded up to that point.
In 2017, some said that LGBTQ+ characters in animated television were somewhat rare, despite the fact that GLAAD praised the number of characters in broadcast and primetime television.
From 2017 to 2019, Insider noted that there was a "more than 200% spike in queer and gender-minority characters in children's animated TV shows." In 2018 and 2019, GLAAD stated that Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix, had increased LGBTQ representation in "daytime kids and family television."
In their January 2021 report, GLAAD praised LGBTQ representation in episodes of DuckTales, The Owl House and Adventure Time: Distant Lands. Despite this, some industry practitioners state that more than 90% of LGBTQ characters in kid's animated shows within Insider's database of characters in children's animated television shows "require either a cable, satellite, streaming, or internet subscription to view them on first airing."
United States edit
In the United States, there are four major commercial cable networks dedicated to children's television. All three also operate secondary services with specialized scopes drawing upon their respective libraries, such as a focus on specific demographics, or a focus upon classic programming that fall within their scope and demographics; all three have also extensively franchised their brands outside the United States.
- Nickelodeon, the first children's television channel, launched in 1979 (though its history traces back to the 1977 launch of QUBE's C-3 channel); it consists largely of original series aimed at children, preteens and young teenagers, including animated series, to live-action comedy and action series, as well as series aimed at preschoolers, and appeals to adult and adolescent audiences with a lineup of mainly live-action sitcom reruns and a limited amount of original programming on Nick at Nite.
- Nickelodeon operates four digital cable and satellite channels separate from the main service: Nick Jr. Channel, a channel devoted to preschool programming; Nicktoons, which primarily (although not exclusively) runs animated programming; NickMusic, a pop music video service branded as "MTV Hits" prior to 2016; and TeenNick, a channel devoted to live-action programming. This is in addition to a flexible number of free digital channels under the Nickelodeon brand on parent company Paramount Global's over-the-top service Pluto TV. Subscription video on demand service Paramount+ includes much of the Nickelodeon archives.
- Cartoon Network, launched in 1992, is devoted primarily to animated programming. It primarily targets children 6–12, while its early morning Cartoonito is aimed at preschoolers and kindergarteners aged 2–6, and its overnight daypart block Adult Swim targets older teenagers and young adults, 18–34.
- Cartoon Network operates one digital cable: Boomerang, a channel that specializes in programs centered around classic brands that parent company Warner Bros. Discovery owns (particularly Hanna-Barbera, MGM and Warner Bros. Animation), along with some imported programs, reruns of Cartoon Network original programs, and burn-off properties. Warner Bros. Discovery also operates Discovery Family (along with its Spanish-language counterpart Discovery Familia), a joint venture with Hasbro that Warner Bros. acquired a majority stake in along with its merger with Discovery Channel and carries animated programming in daytime along with family-oriented factual programming (including Discovery library programs) at nighttime.
- Disney Channel launched in 1983 as a premium channel; it consists of original first-run television series, theatrically released and original made-for-cable movies, and select other third-party programming. Disney Channel – which formerly operated as a pay-TV service – originally marketed its programs towards families during the 1980s, and later at younger children by the 1990s, and primarily at teenybopper females aged 13–16 between 2006 and 2017, before returning to families.
- Disney Channel operates two digital channels separate from the main service: Disney Junior, which launched in 2011 and primarily broadcasts animated series catered towards a preschool audience, and Disney XD, which caters primarily to an older youth audience with an action-oriented focus. Disney does not have a traditional television outlet for its archival programming, which it has historically kept in a proverbial vault with limited access; much of its programming is available through Disney+, a subscription video on demand service. Disney also operates Freeform, a channel primarily carrying live-action programming catered towards a teenage/young adult audience. Although its previous incarnations under other owners had family-oriented formats and children's programming, they have since been phased out in favor of series such as teen dramas, some coming from Disney Channel.
Under current mandates, all broadcast television stations in the United States must show a minimum of three hours per week of educational children's programming, regardless of format. Until 2019, this rule also applied to digital subchannels; as a result, digital multicast networks whose formats should not fit children's programming, such as Live Well Network and TheCoolTV, were required to carry educational programs to fit the FCC mandates. (The rule for digital subchannels was repealed in July 2019; in practice, most still carry educational programs anyway.) In 2017, there was a programming block that aired on syndication called KidsClick; it was notable as a concerted effort to program children's shows on television without regard to their educational content, one of the first such efforts since the E/I rule took effect. The transition to digital television has allowed for the debut of whole subchannels that air children's programming 24/7; examples include BabyFirst, PBS Kids, Smile, and Universal Kids. The country's only directly nationally operated TV service for public consumption, NASA TV, also includes educational programs in its schedule for use in schools.
English-language children's specialty channels in Canada are primarily owned by Corus Entertainment and WildBrain. Corus operates YTV and Treehouse, as well as localized versions of the Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, and Nickelodeon brands. WildBrain operates Family Channel, as well as the spin-off services WildBrainTV and Family Jr. it has been majority owned and operated by British Columbia's public broadcaster Knowledge Network.
In French, Corus operates Télétoon and La chaîne Disney, WildBrain operates Télémagino (a French version of Family Jr.), TVA Group operates the preschool-oriented Yoopa, and Bell Media runs the teen-oriented Vrak. Via its majority-owned subsidiary Telelatino, Corus also operates two children and family-oriented networks in Spanish and Italian, TeleNiños and Telebimbi respectively.
On broadcast television and satellite to cable undertakings, children's television content is relegated to the country's public and designated provincial educational broadcasters, including CBC Television and Ici Radio-Canada Télé, as well as City Saskatchewan, CTV Two Alberta (formerly Access), Knowledge Network, Télé-Québec, TFO, and TVOntario (TVOKids).
Aided by the cultural similarities between Canada and the US, along with film credits and subsidies available from the Canadian government, a large number of animated children's series have been made in Canada with the intention of exporting them to the United States. Such programs carry a prominent Government of Canada wordmark in their closing credits.
United Kingdom edit
The BBC and ITV plc both operate children's oriented television networks on digital terrestrial television: the BBC runs CBBC as well as the preschool-oriented CBeebies, while ITV runs CITV as well as the preschool-oriented LittleBe, as a programming block on ITVBe. Both channels were spun off from children's television strands on their respective flagship channels (BBC One, BBC Two, and ITV). The BBC and ITV have largely phased out children's programming from their main channels to focus on the dedicated services; in 2012, as part of the "Delivering Quality First" initiative, the BBC announced that it would end the broadcast of CBBC programmes on BBC One following the completion of the transition to digital terrestrial television, citing low viewership in comparison to broadcasts of the programmes on the CBBC channel. Channel 5 also broadcasts a preschool-oriented block known as Milkshake!, while its owner, Paramount Networks International, also runs versions of Nickelodeon and its sister networks Nicktoons and Nick Jr.
Narrative Capital operate a number of children's channels under the Pop and Tiny Pop brands. British versions of Cartoon Network and its sister channels Boomerang and Cartoonito also operate in the country, some 25 years after the initial launch.
Ireland has one dedicated children's TV service RTÉjr. Since 1998 RTÉ2 has provided children's programming from 07:00 to 17:30 each weekday, originally titled The Den, the service was renamed TRTÉ and RTÉjr in 2010. Irish-language service TG4 provide two strands of children's programming Cúla 4 Na nÓg and Cúla 4 during the day. Commercial broadcaster TV3 broadcast a children's strand called Gimme 3 from 1998 to 1999. And then broadcast a new strand called 3Kids.
Children's channels that exist in Japan are NHK Educational TV, Kids Station, Disney Channel, Disney XD, Nickelodeon (also under a block on Animax, known as "Nick Time") and Cartoon Network (Cartoon Network's age demographic is moving towards older viewers with shows such as Hello Kitty, Regular Show and Adventure Time)
One of the most well-known children's TV programmes comes from Iceland, LazyTown, was created by Magnus Scheving, European Gymnastics Champion and CEO of Lazytown Entertainment. The show has aired in over 180 countries, been dubbed into more than 32 languages and is the most expensive children's show of all time.
In 1995, Cartoon Network became the first children's channel to be launched in India. Subsequently, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon arrived. Hungama TV (2004) was the first children's channel that had local content. Pogo and BabyTV came later in 2006. By 2018, 23 channels have aired in India.
Nickelodeon was the first children's channel in Romania, launched in December 1998. Afterwards, Minimax became the first Romanian children's channel to air locally produced content, launched on Children's Day in 2001. Since then, channels like BabyTV and Disney Channel have arrived.
See also edit
- List of local children's television series (United States)
- Saturday-morning cartoon for an in-depth history of children's television in the United States
- Advertising to children
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