A wayward, 6-foot stuffed gorilla arrived at WDSE-TV in Duluth, Minn. in time for the annual Kids Club Circus last week. Its former owner tried to leave it at a landfill but the gorilla was turned away (it wasn’t construction debris), and it fell from the truck into the path of a state official’s car. A state trooper somehow sensed WDSE would adopt. The star of Martha Speaks (shown at right with Sgt.
With the all-digital future arriving, if haltingly, and a bigger share of viewers likely to come through DTV multicast channels, public TV stations are reconsidering how to use their bitstream, making over their channels, and in some cases adding new services to woo audiences. The wee audience, for one. Little kids and their parents are a vital audience and constituency for public TV, and mockups of the stations’ future DTV menu often featured a dedicated channel for them. To supply it, stations had access to a 24-hour PBS Kids feed, packaged by PBS. That changed in 2005 when the network acceded to the desires of its two biggest producers for children and joined a partnership to package Sprout, a cable channel for preschoolers.
PBS Kids Island, an online amusement park located on the Raising Readers website (www.readytolearnreading.org), offers learning games created by producers of Super Why!, Word World, Sesame Street and Between the Lions, most collected from their separate sites, grouped by reading skill and divided into three levels of difficulty. On the cartoony Island, kids can choose games to play from a carousel ride and win tickets they can use to buy things from the prize booth — video downloads, printable games and coloring sheets. In their own tree house, a kid can stash or play with their prizes and display their awards. Project advisors who work with low-scoring schools eligible for federal Title 1 aid encouraged PBS to give kids the opportunity to choose activities on their own on the Island, because low-income kids don’t get to make many choices or take risks or try experiments, says Sharon Philippart, project director for Raising Readers at PBS. Parents, teachers or caregivers sign up their kids and can monitor their progress through the levels.
Debut this fall 
Jim Knox’s Wild Zoofari
Producing organizations: Jim Knox’s Wild Zoofari LLC. Producer: Rob Child. Creators: Rob Child, Jim Knox, Bruce Knox. Episodes: 14/30. Status: released on DVD 2006.
KCET in Los Angeles unveiled a multimillion-dollar initiative to help prepare kids for kindergarten by training the adults who care for them. Two new daytime talk series — one produced in English and the other in Spanish — are centerpieces of the project. Through daily broadcasts of A Place of Our Own and Los Ninos in Su Casa, KCET aims to provide skills, information and inspiration to unlicensed caregivers and enlist them in the important work of nurturing early learning skills. These friends, neighbors and relatives of parents often work in isolation and have little access to training. Shaped by input from leading educators and formative research on its target audiences, the station’s education initiative has raised $20 million so far, including the largest grant in KCET’s history—$10 million from the energy company BP.
Mister Rogers was one of the first programs that I can remember watching. I was, of course, part of the show’s target demographic back then. I can’t recall much from my preschool years, but I do know that I loved the trolley, I loved the neighborhood and I loved Fred Rogers.Like many early loves, it faded with age and distance. I moved on to programs intended for older kids: flashier, action-oriented, violent in the ways that caregivers and watchdogs lament and children adore. For the most part, I forgot about Fred and his neighborhood, reminded only on occasion by the parodies that proliferated in the ’80s as yesterday’s innocents grew into sarcasm and despair.
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.
International stardom has not been easy for Tinky Winky, the Teletubby recently “outed” by the Rev. Jerry Falwell as a gay role-model for children. First there was a big flap in England, shortly after the show’s 1997 debut, over the dismissal of the actor playing Tinky Winky. Producers said he had been too rambunctious on the set. But the actor apparently endeared himself to viewers by flamboyantly waving the now-notorious red handbag, and did not go quietly. The Sun, Britain’s largest tabloid, launched a campaign to reinstate the actor, but to no avail.