The dice are hot; the crowd is tense, and a small fortune hangs in the balance… while it may sound like a typical night in Vegas, the same can also be said about the television industry. Due to the unpredictable nature of the viewing audience, the business of television is a tricky one. A collaboration of writers, executives, and producers gamble each time a new idea is pitched and put into production.
Ideally, all programs are designed to appeal to target audience; however, most newly aired shows fail. Part of the reason for this failure is the difficulty of providing realism through a medium that is inherently presentational; part of the reason is simply bad luck. In order to be successful, every program must be both original in its narrative structure and creativity while simultaneously echoing successful formats of the past. To accomplish this task, the television industry like its big screen processor, groups programs of similar content together in categories known as genres.
Genres provide a shortcut; genres serve as rubric for a programs narrative structure, allowing a certain degree of imitation across a wide range of programs while acting as guideline for viewers’ expectations. Genres, however, have their limitations. Some scholars have even advocated abandoning the study of genre as a means of understanding television and film. The categories, themselves, are usually broadly defined, and grouping seemingly similar programs together under a single label is often problematic.
Furthermore, genre conventions are often broken in a producer’s attempt to be innovative. Consider three genres: children’s television, television news, and documentaries; these genres all share the responsibility, in one form or another, of informing the general public, but providing the truth is generally overshadowed by the need to generate revenue for advertisers, social agendas, and the inherent biases of the television medium.
The genre of children’s television is unique, in of itself, in that it is the only genre that is strictly defined by its viewing audience. Therefore, Children’s television must provide content which appeals toward all ages from, from toddlers to teenagers. The content of children’s television must is expected to be educational. Sesame Street for example provides basic learning skills in reading and math, using advertising techniques such as repetition and music. Children’s programs are also meant to be entertaining. To accomplish this goal, networks and stations dedicated to children’s programming ensure that children’s television’s structure mimics adult genre structures.
The common subdivisions of drama, comedy, animation, and even horror which characterize adult television can also be found in children’s television. However, one distinctive feature of the genre of children’s television is the flexibility regarding realism in its presentation. Since children are, on a whole, viewed as more imaginative, the genre is not held to same standard of providing realism within its narrative structure. Thus, magic and other elements of fantasy are common themes in the genre.
No other genre has sparked such heated controversy more than children’s television. At the center of this controversy, lies the growing fear about the negative impact that television has on children, resulting in an increasing conservative attitude about what and should and should be shown. Thus, the core characteristics of the genre consist of what the genre lacks, namely sexual content and violence, or anything which might endanger a child’s morality. This is the reason that television is edited for content which limits graphic violence, language, and sex during the daytime hours until nine pm as this is seen as the time to which children are likely to watch television.
This is also the reason behind the debate behind violent video games; though no studies have proven conclusively that violent content produces violent behavior. Furthermore, children’s television is also expected to aid in the psychological and cognitive development. This need to protect children is derived directly from the idea of the passive viewer; children have historically been characterized as particularly susceptible to images and narrations provided by the television. Children have in the past been seen as, cultural dupes, lacking the ability to distinguish between reality and the illusion of realism provided by the television.
However, research has demonstrated that, like adults, children actively engage in their television viewing; if they did not, shows such as Sesame Street would have never have been a success. Children choose which programs they watch, which programs they like, and those programs that fail to hold their interest; indeed, children’s decisions concerning programs is what drives advertising. Children’s television is seen as a service which provides for the public good and should be funded by the state. However, unlike the United Kingdom, most television in the United States is funded by advertising. Advertising in children’s television has always been a bit contradictory.
One hand, advertising during children’s programming is often viewed with disdain, as advertising is seen as a corrupting force. On the other hand, the children’s market is a commercial goldmine, particularly in the food and toy industries. This phenomena is known as brand culture where children through advertising link merchandise to their favorite programs. Children, by virtue of their parents, choose which products to buy and further express their identity. This buying power positions children to be inherently active in their viewing experiences and is why children’s networks have become so highly valued. Successful branding of products generates sales which generate revenue and the cycle continues.
Since the rise of the post network era, children’s programs have increased. No longer does Disney have a monopoly on children’s programs; now there is nickelodeon and the cartoon network, just to name a few. As competition increases, so does the need to extend networking practices to other alternative media platforms such as the internet. The networks which successfully master all media outlooks, from film, to television, to the internet, will greatly increase the duration of their business; the main objection raised by critics is that educational television for children may get lost in the networks’ zeal to turn a profit.