PRODDED by Congress, television stations are sharply increasing
the number of children's programs they carry. But the kind of
programming they offer is coming under scrutiny.
The surge in both animated and live-action shows for young
audiences is evident at the independent stations - who consider
these programs an economic and public relations plus.
The three major networks, however, provide a minimum of
children's programming, except for Saturday morning cartoons which
serve to promote products.
The Children's Television Act, passed last October by Congress,
is designed to limit the number of commercials shown during
children's shows, and to require commercial broadcast stations to
prove that their programming serves educational purposes.
What the problem boils down to is the traditional conflict
between the ratings-and-money-oriented TV industry, and those who
maintain that television has responsibilities that go beyond
commercial considerations; that television executives must recognize
and make realistic concessions to the medium's powerful influence on
"If America's children are to become more literate, more
numerate, more civic-minded, more prepared for formal schooling, and
more prepared for lifelong learning, we need more children's TV
programming - and better programming," says Keith Geiger, president
of the National Education Association.
The Children's Television Act, to be enforced by the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC), in effect obligates the stations to
carry a certain number of programs designed to "develop children's
Critics say that the commission's definitions of what constitutes
educational TV are too vague and need to be more tightly and
explicitly redefined to properly serve the purpose.
The Children's TV Act also creates a national advisory council to
monitor the quality of children's TV programming; and it limits
advertising on shows for the young to 12 minutes an hour weekdays
and 10 1/2 minutes during weekends. This, in theory at least,
eliminates the kind of action-cartoon programs which constitute one
long commercial, designed strictly to promote the sale of certain
The problem of insufficient educational content in programs aimed
at children, a problem painfully evident at ABC, CBS, and NBC on
Saturday mornings, is beginning to find its mirror image in Europe.
For decades, the state-controlled European TV networks have
routinely programmed shows for youngsters every weekday afternoon
and also on weekends, much the way the US networks used to do. Now,
the enormous growth of new, privately owned commercial stations is
threatening that pattern.
"We carry an hour a day of children's shows," said Marcus
Scheechter, head of children's programming for Germany's state-run
ZDF TV network. "We are proud of our children's programs. They are
very carefully designed, but now the commercial stations
'counter-program' with hours of just cartoons. They undercut us, and
we may have to change our schedule. It's a very bad situation."
A similar comment comes from Ed Pugh, the children's editor for
Britain's Granada Television. "If and when the satellite channels
start carrying shows for kids, we'll be competing with a flood of
meaningless cartoons," he says.
While children's programs on the three major US networks have
declined - from a one-time 12 hours a week during the early '70s
down to a current five hours - commercials on all channels still
have significant impact on young audiences.
And, according to Mr. Geiger, 1990 research showed that roughly
20 percent of children's viewing time last year was consumed by
(Efforts to reach Judy Price, vice-president in charge of
children's programming at CBS, a network that once led in that area,
All three networks, particularly ABC and CBS, used to carry
after-school specials. …