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As far as I’m concerned, it started with the Muppet Babies. Knowing how popular the Muppets were, some bright spark decided to baby-fy them to appeal to a younger audience.
Anyone over six hated it but it must have proved successful because it is a formula that has been repeated over the years. Now we have baby Tom and Jerry, Baby Looney Toons, all helping to boost the schedules of an already saturated market.
I’m sure I am not the only parent who often sees their kids glued to the television and wonders what has happened to children’s TV. I am not talking about quality – a lot of it is actually very good and not just the stuff that is on CBeebies. It’s the sheer quantity that makes me despair, no more so than during the summer holidays when the rain sets in. In my day there were set times when you knew there’d be kids’ shows on.
In fact, as geeky as it sounds, I can remember getting excited as August approached and checking the Radio Times to see what kids’ programmes they were going to be showing in the morning. Would it be the Monkees or the Red Hand Gang? Would the kids on Why Don’t You be the ones whose accent I could never quite make out? I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it. There’d be a couple of these shows, the obligatory Jackanory story when you’d nip upstairs and get dressed and maybe an episode of the Perils of Penelope Pitstop before Play School came on at half past ten. Obviously you’d be too old for Play School but you’d cling onto it knowing it would be the last kids show on the telly until the brief 15 minutes or so at lunchtime – then nothing until teatime; they even moved the Play School repeat back to 4.20. And the reason was so that we could go out and play, or go and make something, or if you were particularly geeky read a story as though you were presenting Jackanory (I never did this – honest).
In this pre digital age, this really was public service broadcasting, stopping us from becoming couch potatoes and encouraging us to use our imaginations. Nowadays no-one cares. Indeed TV stations want nothing more than our kids to sit down and watch as much television as possible to boost ratings and attract more advertisers. As for the Radio Times, they don’t even bother listing the shows on in the morning on terrestrial TV anymore, a sad sign of the times.
Kids today don’t know they have been born. They can find something for themseves on the telly when they get up and before they go to bed. You can try to stem the tide and restrict how much they watch but I am sure I am not the only parent with a five-year-old daughter who’s come up to them, pointed at a mobile phone and said ‘do you know you can turn that into cash?’ I also believe my three-year-old son’s current obsession with cleaning products is partly to do with the adverts for miracle laundry liquids he keeps seeing on screen (you know the one!)
What we need is a return to structure. A few kids shows’ in the morning, a few in the afternoon and then if they want to see anything else, they have to get into something a little more grown up (but still for a family audience) like we did with early evening showings of Doctor Who. OK the onus is on us parents to restrict their viewing but the temptation sometimes when there is work to be done is to use the TV as a babysitter. Besides kids get to know how to switch on the TV and find the channels they want. You can try playing tag with one but the other is bound to get bored and sneak off and turn on Fireman Sam. Because they know they can.
It sounds weak I know but with all this talk of abolishing the nanny state and standing by as people smoke and drink themselves to death, I’m all for a return to the days where there were limits on how much TV kids could see. Put out the best and scrap the rest I say, at least over the summer. Something like:
9.00 Shaun The Sheep
9.10 Mister Maker
9.30 Lazy Town
10.35 Doctor Who
And then that’s it until teatime. Let them loose to go out and pretend to be Doctor Who or Sportacus or even Mister Maker (maybe a bit less camp). Society would really be better for it. More importantly I wouldn’t have to sit through another episode of Baby Looney Toons ever again!