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Published on February 6th, 2011 | by Christian Cawley

Children’s TV in Crisis?

We’ve long stated that Doctor Who is family viewing – but The Sarah Jane Adventures is most definitely aimed primarily at children, and stands as a solitary beacon of the best in television for the younger members of the viewing public.

So it makes sense that someone with considerable experience in both children’s TV and The Sarah Jane Adventures, the great Floella Benjamin, should point out to the nation that children’s television is failing to engage the targeted viewers.

Baroness Benjamin is now a Liberal Democrat peer, and her history in children’s TV goes back to the late 1970s and the old daily BBC Play School program (which I personally recall with fondness!) and stretches right up to The Sarah Jane Adventures, where she played Professor Rivers in The Lost Boy (2007), Day of the Clown (2008) and The Eternity Trap (2009).

Speaking in the House of Lords during Lord Northbourne’s debate on “the role of good early parenting in preparing a child for success in school”, Lady Benjamin stated:

“Appropriate children’s television is beneficial to childhood development. It can improve attention, expressive language, comprehension, articulation, general knowledge as well as social interaction and life skills. So I urge the government and broadcasters to wake up to the crisis in the production and quality of public service broadcasting for children.

“I ask the government to find creative ways of funding to maintain the traditional well-made British pre-school programmes which contain all the necessary and essential elements required for our children’s well-being.”

Now just last night I watched the entertaining critic Charlie Brooker on BBC Four bemoaning the degeneration of quality children’s TV from shows like Swap Shop or even Network 7 to the rather ridiculous slang-ridden Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow (they don’t look like black teenagers, so why talk that way?) and some horrific expletive-laden promo clip of the so-called Plan B.

As cuts are made and other entities try and muscle in on the BBC’s services the corporation has to start showing some backbone and originality in this area of programming.

Being trendy does not equal being useful – if children’s TV isn’t in crisis now, it soon will be.


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About the Author


A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

4 Responses to Children’s TV in Crisis?

  1. avatar Leosw4 says:

    Totally agree with Ms Benjamin’s comments.

    The BBC in particular (and to be fair ITV) once upon a time produced ground breaking drama that used to be aired before 6pm midweek and weekends.

    Ignoring Classic DW (which I agree is family drama), the BBC productions where first rate as where many of the ITV productions and a treasure trove in terms of fantasy and si-fi using that genre in this instance. For example, Tomorrow People, Stig of the Dump,Lizzie Dripping (there’s was a scary Witch that lived in the Church yard) and of course Worzel Gummidge with the legend that is Mr Pertwee.Many many more.

    To top the lot, there was a drama called Children of the Stones-once seen, never forgotten.It would probably be considered too shocking now for TV.

    Thankgod for Sarah Jane.

    Aside from this and one or two other examples, thought provoking childrens TV seems to be of little importance anymore.


  2. avatar Jez Noir says:

    Children’s TV certainly isn’t as thought-provoking as it used to be, and I feel sorry for the little ‘uns who have to grow up without Dramarama, Dogtanian, Knightmare, that Australian one about the girl from the future etc etc.

    However, some of the modern stuff is much funnier than we had. Rastamouse, Horrible Histories and the Ooglies are very guilty pleasures. The children aren’t doing too bad for themselves.

  3. avatar Maxtible Crust says:

    Kids have got it pretty good these days, pre-schoolers have their own channel Cbeebies which is high quality and there’s a huge range of programming for older children including plenty of excellent dramas, factual tv and just plain fun stuff.

    Of course we have fond memories of the things we watched growing up in the seventies and eighties, but really, compared to the range youngsters have today it pales in comparison. Yes there’s plenty of dross in there too but there was rubbish in the seventies as well – it just tends not to be remembered much after its been put through the rose coloured spectacle filter.

  4. avatar 23skidoo says:

    I don’t consider Sarah Jane a “kids show” – it’s a family show just like Doctor Who. Only difference is the stories tend to, on the whole, be a bit lighter in tone. And then the show gives you Mad Woman in the Attic which was a darker episode than Doctor Who had delivered in the previous two years (it aired before Waters of Mars and Vincent and the Doctor). The problem is you say “kids show” and a lot of people roll their eyes and assume it’s either Teletubbies or some watered-down adventure show (a term I heard used to describe SJA by someone who’d never seen it but had heard it described). But in many ways children’s programming – done right – is just as mature as so-called “adult programming”. SJA is exhibit A. iCarly is better than 99% of “adult” sitcoms, but it’s pitched at kids. Merlin is considered a kids show by some. I can’t speak for shows like “Da Bungalow” because they tend not to be distributed overseas. And I continue to be horrified by Teletubbies. But between what the BBC is producing under the banner of so-called “children’s programming” and some of the other works being produced by channels such as Nickelodeon, I think today’s kids have it good. And so have their parents, because a lot of these shows are just as appealing to them.

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