In a bid to expand its children’s franchise into an increasingly competitive daypart, PBS on Sept. 30 will launch Bookworm Bunch, a block of six new animated series slated for Saturday mornings. Produced by Toronto-based Nelvana Communications, Bookworm Bunch is PBS’s first offering of original children’s fare for weekends — when stations traditionally program their own selection of how-to programs and other fare. PBS created the block as a distinctive alternative to the rock ’em-sock ’em, boy-oriented fare aired by other broadcast networks on Saturdays. “It’s a tremendous thing that PBS is doing — something that’s almost revolutionary — in presenting American children with an alternative to what I call ‘toxic television,'” said Rosemary Wells, author of Timothy Goes to School, one of six children’s books to be adapted for TV in the new PBS Kids block.
Teletubbies haven’t officially landed in the U.S. public TV schedule yet, but they’ve already roused controversy in Britain and landed a great big licensing deal over here. Hasbro, makers of Playskool Baby and other major toy brands, will introduce a range of Teletubbies products–soft toys, figures, games, puzzles, bath toys and other items–by next fall. “It was important to find a partner who understands that young children need to be nurtured, not exploited,” said Kenn Viselman, president of the itsy bitsy Entertainment Co., which holds licensing rights to Teletubbies in the U.S. and Canada. Teletubbies, the children’s TV program that sparked both a craze and outrage in Britain with its debut on BBC2 this year, will begin airing on PBS’s Ready to Learn Service in April. If the British response to the show is any indication of what to expect from U.S. audiences, brace yourselves for a consumer grabfest of purple dinosaur proportions.
The late George Gerbner, a leading scholar of TV program content, wrote this article for the 40th anniversary of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, but it served the additional purpose of explaining why he founded the Cultural Environment Movement in 1996 after leaving the University of Pennsylvania, where he was dean of the Annenberg School of Communication. The article appeared in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: Children, Television and Fred Rogers, a collection of diverse essays published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. There is a story about a mother who said to her child, “I wish you would change your behavior.” The child said, “That’s all right, Mother; Mr. Rogers loves me as I am.” Forty years in children’s television — with an approach that is so different from so many other programs— is an event of historic significance.