Friday, February 27, 2009

Adults don't watch preschool shows, of course.

But it doesn't work for preschool shows.

At least, not usually. It's rare you'll hear from someone, "Man, I'm totally going to make a gentle, story-based show for toddlers that will be safe, yet funny, and they'll learn too! Yeah, that would rock!" Very few people get excited about shows for younger children, simply because they wouldn't be into watching them themselves.

If you browse any of the animation sites or blogs, when was the last time you saw them post about a show for very young children? There are fan sites all over for children's cartoons, many if not most driven by adults. But, of course, not for shows for younger children.

Adults don't watch preschool shows. The simple reality is it's just not an area of programming that interests most adults.

Shamefully, that usually also seems to apply to funders and even broadcasters. I have had meetings with funders who have totally dismissed the idea that preschool shows have any merit or value and certainly the idea that they could be artistic or represent the voice of a creator was deemed laughable. I have heard broadcasters push for shows they thought were funny with little thought to the actual target audience and then dismiss preschool as 'background noise'.

And yet children of a very young age are watching television. They are at a crucial stage in their development. And the only people who seem to care are people who have toddlers - and the second they're off to school, preschool shows cease to exist once more.

So, as a result of this disinterest, it seems many people producing children's shows are doing so reluctantly and their hearts just aren't in it. They have no concept of what children really like, research is difficult, and they rarely think about what children actually need, and so they end up second-guessing a demographic they don't understand and then pulling anything challenging out until there is nothing left but an exercise in blandness. An increasing amount of preschool shows are coming from book properties - it reduces risk, therefore doesn't require any understanding, and it doesn't need any real commitment from anyone in the process to adapt it.

It can be plugged in and set up as a process, not a creative or idealistic endeavor.

I could be biased here but it does seem the UK and Europe are far less guilty of this. We can counter your Mickey's Clubhouses and Tigger & Pooh travesties with Peppa Pig, which is cute and totally age appropriate and yet reflects the reality of a child's life rather than a diluted nothingness: sisters being mean to little brothers, not sharing, Daddy Pig's big tummy, and even sex wars (yep, Peppa versus Danny Dog - but we know they'll end up together, right?). We come in strong with Pocoyo, a kid who actually likes, you know, fun. Pingu too. There's a few more where they came from. Just a few though - they are still a rare breed.

Those shows are a lot of fun and yet don't shy away from negative aspects or more challenging aspects of a real child's life, things most US shows don't want to acknowledge. But these are all good things - they tell a child their life is normal. They're okay.

Yet, even with these shows, as I mentioned in a post a while back, we're lacking in educational content. These shows are fun and you could argue there is some social learning or reassurance in some of them but beyond that?

It's just not an area that interests most adults.

And, because many people are going ahead and making them anyway, for financial, funding, co-production, employment reasons, the very few who may well care about them will find it very difficult to get noticed. But, you know, this leaves one big question - what to do about it? I mean, it's very easy just to criticise these shows and the mentality behind them. Certainly it comes very natural to me. But that's not going to help. Well, perhaps it might get some people wondering, questioning - thinking, shouldn't we be doing better? But beyond that, I don't know.

I feel I need to turn this into positive action.


Red Pill Junkie said...

I think the positive action should be to point out exactly what kind of educational content these shows are currently lacking. Exactly what are we talking about here?

Maybe we should contact someone in the Ministery of Education or whatever they have in UK, and ask if they have any studies regarding the specific needs of educational development in pre-schoolers.

And maybe get in contact with people doing research in cognitive development. What are the best theories right now about how humans learn.

Humphrey Erm said...

One question Bitter Animator: What would you think of a show such as the Animaniacs? While it was a throwback to the zany antics of the original Warner Bros Cartoons, it had several segments I would say were pretty educational, as well as entertaining.

One of note was a song that recited all the American presidents in chronological order to Bill Clinton. I still remember the song and it really is a pleasure to know the presidents as well as to know a genuinely nice song.

So yeah, what do you think of a show like that?