Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Is Pre-School Television Having A Golden Moment?

From The Guardian:
Is pre-school TV having a golden moment?

Ex-Doctor Who boss Russell T Davies says kids' TV is in decline – but just look at Abney and Teal, Peppa Pig or Charlie and Lola

No less an authority than former "Whopremo" Russell T Davies – who cut his TV teeth on Children's Ward and whose latest project is CBBC action romp Aliens Vs Wizards – recently lamented the decline of kids' TV. "I'm amazed people don't recognise the genius of children's writers," he said. "For example, Andrew Davenport, the creator behind Teletubbies and In The Night Garden, is up there, in my opinion, with Tom Stoppard and Samuel Beckett."

Putting aside the curious choice of comparison, his comments were fired by anger at ITV for ending production of children's shows. But judging by the TV I watch over my toddler's shoulder – OK, sometimes he watches over my shoulder – Davies need not worry. There's enough excellent stuff on the BBC, Five's Milkshake, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon to keep the nation's little smashers more than happy.

Pre-school programming, aimed at under-sixes, is certainly in rude health. I can vouch for that, as can the parents I talk to outside the nursery gates. My son's current favourite is The Adventures Of Abney and Teal on CBeebies, the latest cult hit from Davenport's Ragdoll Productions. This charming romp cleverly combines a retro, nostalgic feel (the animation is Oliver Postgate-esque) with a contemporary setting (the titular characters live in an inner-city park). It takes child-like delight in simple pleasures – the weather, bubble-blowing, found objects – and is genuinely funny, as nightly giggles from our front room testify.

Many pre-school shows are surprisingly witty. The two franchises from animation studio Astley Baker Davies, Peppa Pig and Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom, are like bite-sized Pixar films, with gags for grown-ups too. Charlie and Lola is similarly knowing and Yo Gabba Gabba! mixes Day-Glo puppetry with sketches, celebrity cameos and DJs in trippy style. US hipsters are such fans, the characters perform at Coachella festival. Similarly, our own Rastamouse played last year's Glastonbury.

Some of the shows look: pretty amazing too. At last year's Children's Baftas two gongs went to Cartoon Network's Amazing World Of Gumball, a groundbreaking transatlantic venture that employs several different styles of animation, often simultaneously. The Beeb's two-strong flock of baa-ing Ardman shows, Timmy Time and Shaun The Sheep, use Nick Park's trademark claymation techniques. African folk story series Tinga Tinga Tales is co-produced in Kenya and stylishly incorporates indigenous Tanzanian artwork.

The CBeebies brand celebrated its 10th birthday at the weekend – and recently became the only channel to win the best bhannel Bafta for two consecutive years. "Pre-school television is phenomenally successful at the moment," says controller Kay Benbow. "The whole sector is flying high." The channel has doubled its audience since launch and now claims to be watched by about half the UK's under-sixes every week (2.3 million).

Benbow is particularly proud of the way CBeebies alternates animation with live action factual content, fronted by the likes of channel favourite Justin "Mr Tumble" Fletcher . "Our gardening show, Mr Bloom's Nursery, has been a huge hit too," she says. While kids learn about veg, their mums lust after courgette-wielding presenter Ben Faulks. "Yes, I gather he's popular with the ladies," laughs Benbow. "Ben's a delightful man, so good for him."

Recent scare stories about Peppa Pig (for encouraging bad behaviour and, shock horror, puddle-jumping) and Rastamouse (accused of both racist stereotyping and teaching kids Jamaican patois) suggest that toddler TV has even become a watercooler topic. As Benbow says, "At least people are taking notice of what we do and talking about pre-school television … Our aim is to open up the world to pre-school children – inspire, excite and engage them. I strongly believe TV does that."

I tend to agree. But do you? Were things better in your day, when it was all fields round here? Or should kids obey the Why Don't You? theme song and "just switch off the television set and go out and do something less boring instead"?
Also, Tweeted (posted) by Nickelodeon UK and Ireland's Press Office on their official Twitter profile page (@NickelodeonUKPR):
With @NickJrUK doing soo amazingly we're definitely having a pre-school golden age, loving this guardian article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2012/feb/14/pre-school-childrens-tv

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