Robbery, car chases and factory fires are out; Bosnia, street violence, AIDS and sexual harassment are in. So are jump-rope contests and the Roach Olympics. In syndication, on MTV, Nickelodeon and on public television, news shows targeting children and young adults offer a unique window on the world. What the view is from that window varies with each show and the philosophy behind it.
"NICK NEWS W/5" Saturdays, 1 p.m. Nickelodeon
Age range: 8 to 11, but "we know from studies that about a third of our audience is grown up," says the show's creator, Linda Ellerbee.
Format: Half-hour magazine and talk show playing off the "who, what, when, where, why" of journalism. Veteran reporter Ellerbee, casual in tennis shoes and leisure wear, is the show's host and guiding force. Lots of on-location footage, kid reporters, in-studio discussion of issues between Ellerbee and schoolchildren.
Story sampling: "When is a house not a home?"--profile of sons and daughters of members of the House of Representatives. "What if you had to choose?"--to join a gang or not.
"When did the Navy go overboard?"--kids invited on a Navy vessel as a goodwill gesture after the Gulf War catch the sailors doing wholesale, illegal trash dumping into the sea. They snap pix with their cameras and alert napping film crew to capture it on film. Embarrassed senior officer shown later trying to explain in official hearings.
Highlight: Ellerbee's upbeat sign-offs: "Brought to you by the Earth. The best show on Earth, is Earth." Every show ends with the dictum: "If you want to know, ask."
Focus: "We want to encourage kids to question everything," Ellerbee says.
She rejects the view that "everything should be in short bursts," MTV-style, to hold a child's attention, deciding to concentrate instead on being "good storytellers."
"Most of what we tell kids is news to them. If we have to do a story on a town that was decimated by the closure of a military base, we have to spend eight minutes and explain what the Cold War was."
Some issues, such as events surrounding the Rodney King beating and a talk about AIDS with Magic Johnson, are given an entire half-hour. Sexual harassment was another "long story," Ellerbee says.
"There is no subject we wouldn't do," Ellerbee says. "Part of our mission is to take those stories that are ongoing in the grown-up news, stories that are probably working their way into the kids' consciousness . . . and try to explain them in terms of issues."
Ellerbee hopes that if kids get anything from the show it's that they "come away nosy. Nosy and loud. We don't have an agenda of \o7 how \f7 kids ought to think. Our agenda is that kids \o7 should \f7 think."
"IN THE MIX" Sundays, 5 p.m. KCET
Age range: 12 to 16.
Format: Half-hour magazine, a production of WNYC-TV in New York. Multiethnic teen hosts, MTV-style graphics; fast cuts, slo-mo, color and black and white, animation, hip hop and rap music videos. Lots of "Yo, wassup?" and "check it out" intros. Teen reporters are frequently part of the story. Snippets of commentary on issues from teens around the country.
Story sampling: Profile of rapper Heavy D, "American Gladiator" tryouts, racism, sex, paying for college.
Highlight: Teen reporter Kevin Jordan behind the scenes at the circus keeping his cool as he's shoved out of the way by an adult photographer who snarls, "You're not press, you gotta card?"
Focus: "It's important that they can think fast on their feet. They actually are reporters," says executive producer Sue Castle about the show's main teen trio, Jordan, Melanie Glickson and Alimi Ballard, and the other reporters in the field, ages 15 to 20.
When the show was in its planning stages, Castle says, the consensus among "hundreds" of local kids was that they wanted to see "real kids talking about issues that concern them."
Some of the "heavy issue" features have been about "prison, alcohol, steroids, a whole range," always from a personal angle, Castle says, "which is what kids will listen to." Upcoming: a story about homeless teens, one on teens in East Los Angeles and Rebuild L.A., a one-hour special called "Teens Talk Violence" and, "We're going to follow one teen through drug detox for four weeks."
The show is heavy with rap and rock-star profiles, but Castle says, "We won't do celebrities like Ice T," not because of controversy, but "it's just not the image we want to promote to the kids. When we do rappers, they're giving positive messages."
Castle says that no stories have earned negative responses, not even when the ebullient maven of sex education, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, answered in-studio teens' questions with "the 411 on sex, dating and relationships."
"If something's worthwhile and important content-wise, such as the AIDS story, that's what the program's for," Castle says.