Over the hills and far away, Teletubbies come to play. In Teletubbyland, a lush green landscape of undulating hills spotted with clumps of bright flowers, the world is safe and fun — a place to explore and learn through play. We know this because the sun baby, who rises over the set at the beginning of each episode, gurgles, coos and shrieks with pleasure at the adventures of the Teletubbies, four alien yet adorable, toddlerlike beings who live there, cared for and entertained by otherworldly gadgets. Teletubbies, the groundbreaking BBC children’s series that’s prompted both an outcry and a massive consumer craze since its debut last March debut in Britain, is about to arrive in the PBS schedule, April 6. The series is based on the premise — already much-debated in Britain — that very young children are watching television but don’t understand it, so they might as well have a show that’s designed for them.
As I write these words, Frederick Wiseman’s 30th film, Public Housing, is about to be broadcast, Dec. 1 , through PBS, the national network that has presented all of his documentaries. It concerns the Ida B. Wells housing development on Chicago’s South Side. The sites of his past documentaries have varied from high schools to hospitals, from public parks to private playgrounds. He has shown us the inside of military and police units, welfare and model agencies, prisons, a primate research lab, a meat packing plant and a zoo.
Dolls have talked for years, but it was Microsoft’s ActiMates Interactive Barney that became a full-fledged peripheral for the computer–with hints of the nifty and bizarre stuff that will flood the world when digital broadcasting begins. Next month, at Toy Fair ’98 in New York City, the company is expected to announce the addition of an Arthur doll to the ActiMates line, and Children’s Television Workshop will introduce a similar smart doll of its own. And if the technology inside these little wriggling, sensing and talking input-output dolls develops as rapidly as other digital devices do, in a few years we’ll see smarter descendants become tools and toys for older kids and adults as well. For kids in the 2-3 range, and for Microsoft, Barney was enough of a phenomenon for now. Though Sesame Street’s much cheaper “Sing & Snore Ernie” easily outsold it, hundreds of thousands of Barneys galumphed out of the stores.