By offering educational kids block, the new network could attract best affiliates and promote goodwill in Washington.
As we all now know, a new network is coming to town this fall. The CW will merge the best of The WB and UPN in primetime, and it promises to provide affiliates with five hours of kids’ TV every Saturday morning.
That block, now called Kids’ WB!, is mostly animated action shows aimed at boys, such as Xiaolin Showdown, Viewtiful Joe, The Batman, Loonatics Unleashed, PokÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â©mon and Johnny Test. While some of the shows—PokÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â©mon and Xiaolin Showdown, for example—are imported, some come directly from WB sister company Warner Bros. Animation. There’s nothing wrong with providing kids with fun shows that they enjoy watching.
But TV stations are required by the FCC to air three hours of educational/informational kids’ programming. If they don’t, they risk trouble at license renewal time. And, right now, The CW is not planning to provide its affiliates with such shows. That means they would have to continue to find them on their own.
While there is some E/I kids’ programming available from independent producers such as DIC Entertainment, The Television Syndication Co. and Raven Moon Entertainment, there isn’t much.
The Big Three networks have been filling their kids’ TV requirements by contracting them out to programming partners. CBS signed DIC to provide its Saturday morning kids’ block. CBS had gotten its kids’ fare from sibling company Nickelodeon before CBS was kicked out of the Viacom nest. NBC teams with Discovery, and ABC uses parent company Disney.
DIC may be the answer not only for CBS, but for other non-Big Three stations. It offers multiple blocks of kids’ programming, so more than one station in a market could have an exclusive block of shows. And DIC makes it convenient for stations by filing the related paperwork at the FCC.
However, some kids’ advocates in Washington complain that many of DIC’s shows are neither educational nor informational, despite DIC’s educational advisory board. Former FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani, now managing director of the United Church of Christ’s Office of Communication, has been actively challenging stations’ licenses on the basis that DIC’s kids’ programs don’t meet the FCC’s requirements. Tristani says she will wait until CBS starts airing its DIC programs this fall before passing judgment on them.
While there is plenty of quality kids’ educational programming on the air on networks such as PBS, Nickelodeon, The Discovery Channel, The Disney Channel and Cartoon Network, that doesn’t help stations. In fact, because there is so much good kids’ programming, independent programmers and syndicators aren’t that interested in creating more of it. It’s expensive to develop and produce, and it doesn’t get ratings. Kids have learned where to go to watch the shows they love, and it’s not their local broadcast station.
That’s where The CW should come in. In an ever-fragmenting programming world, the station business is harder than ever. The CW could do its potential station partners a huge favor by providing E/I kids’ programming as well as an entertainment-only kids’ block. It could produce new E/I shows or simply cobble together the best of what’s now floating around in syndication.
It would be a strong selling point for The CW. It wants the best possible affiliate in every market and taking on the E/I chores would be one way of insuring that. Stations agree. “There would be some benefit if they were to include an E/I block, as much from a convenience standpoint as anything else,” says Paul Karpowicz, president of Meredith Broadcasting Group. Meredith owns one WB affiliate in Kansas City and one UPN affiliate in Portland, Ore.
It would also create goodwill in Washington for The CW’s principals, its affiliates and broadcasting in general. There can never be enough of that.
With the backing of two of the country’s biggest TV studios—Warner Bros. and Paramount—surely The CW can come up with great programs that kids will watch and that will satisfy the Washington E/I monitors.
And since we are talking about kids, it’s really not asking much.