Isn't That a CTW Show on ABC? Children's Television Workshop's `Cro' Reaches for a Wide Audience

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WITH its latest effort to both educate and entertain young TV viewers, the Children's Television Workshop has ventured into terra incognita. The New York-based production company has had a long string of acclaimed shows on public TV, including "Sesame Street," "3-2-1 Contact," "Square One TV," and "Ghostwriter." But its new creation, "Cro," is running on commercial television, in partnership with and airing on ABC.

In addition to the new tie with a commercial network, CTW has veered away from its longtime preference for programs with live actors. "Cro," which premiered in mid-September, is a cartoon. The lead character is a adventurous Cro-Magnon boy living in a village of good-hearted but none-too-bright Neanderthals. The real geniuses in the neighborhood are the wooly mammoths. One of them, Phil, reappears in modern times in the company of scientific colleagues Doctor C and Mike after being thawed from an iceberg. Phil's commentary on the old days leads into various episodes.

It's a far-fetched and somewhat complicated premise, but one that CTW and ABC hope will provide enough humor (springing mainly from the antics of a gang of dire-wolf bad guys) to hold Saturday-morning audiences while delivering a few gulps of science instruction.

The response from some of those who closely follow children's television has been less than positive.

Diana Huss Green, editor-in-chief of Parents' Choice Quarterly in Newton, Mass., says "We really expected more." In her view, the new show is not up to the standards of past CTW productions, but she sees the collaboration with a commercial network as hopeful in any case. "The fact that ABC went for it is quite commendable."

Peggy Charren, a longtime advocate for better children's television, suspects there was "entirely too much collaboration... . They {CTW} paid too much homage to the commercial broadcasters' idea of what you have to do to get kids to watch." She, like Ms. Green, is confident that the show will improve as its creators continue to work on it - and if it survives the network's cut.

CTW has not sold its soul to make it big on network television, asserts Franklin Getchell, the company's senior vice president for programming and production. The motivation was to expand the workshop's audience:

"We decided, basically, that we wanted to reach as many kids as we could reach with our type of show."

The best way to do that, Mr. Getchell says, was to break into the Saturday-morning cartoon lineup - "through what kids already liked," Mr. Getchell says. That is, "cartoons with funny, appealing characters and narrative story lines."

Recent activism by private groups, regulators, and congressional reformers is aimed at forcing Saturday-morning network programmers toward more constructive fare. …