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Kids' TV Getting Some New Players

Television: Producers of adult-oriented shows are entering the arena, saying that they are concerned about quality series for children.

August 01, 1996|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A major television producer known for his gritty series about crime and justice has an idea rolling around in his head for a one-hour series called "eight-something" or "ninesomething."

Another veteran producer known for dealing frankly with social and sexual issues in his comedies is developing a series for children bout a pirate TV station.

And a young producer of a new prime-time situation comedy about a couple of "homeboys" cruising around in outer space is putting together a series in which kids could learn lessons from animated rockers and rappers.

Even before Monday's historic decision by the nation's broadcast television industry to give in to intense pressure from President Clinton and agree to air three hours of educational children's programming each week, the creators of adult television have been thinking about kids' stuff.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday August 2, 1996 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 22 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Network--A story on children's programming in Thursday's Calendar incorrectly identified the network that will broadcast the series "Dangerous Minds." The drama will be seen on ABC.

Dick Wolf, the producer of NBC's "Law & Order" and Fox's "New York Undercover"; Norman Lear, the producer of "All in the Family" and "Maude"; and Miguel A. Nunez Jr., one of the producers of the new UPN series "Homeboys in Outer Space," have been thinking of jumping or have already dipped their toes into the children's programming arena.

They believe the quality and quantity of educational programming needs to be upgraded, and that networks and major producers experienced in the workings of television need to demonstrate more leadership toward that end.

"We really need to take more responsibility in giving our children programming that will educate and entertain," said Nunez, who is developing "Rap N' Rock" for UPN. "Prime-time producers who have had success should be taking the lead in this because they know the ropes of the business."

But the agreement by the four major networks and the National Assn. of Broadcasters--who for years had resisted making such a commitment to children's television, calling it an infringement of their 1st Amendment rights--also has thrown a harsh light over some of the traditional pitfalls surrounding children's television: creating programs that youngsters will want to watch while also learning social and academic lessons. The blending of entertainment and education remains an elusive goal.

"The key thing is, you can't chain kids to the TV set," said Don Ohlmeyer, president of NBC West Coast. "With the exception of 'Sesame Street,' it's difficult to find shows that will appeal to kids beyond 7 or 8."

Former CBS Entertainment President Peter Tortorici agreed: "The big problem has always been that legislators try to address this issue by mandate, but it doesn't address the issue of getting kids to actually watch."

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In the agreement announced Monday between broadcasters and the White House, but which is yet to be approved by the Federal Communications Commission, educational programming is defined as shows designed with specific academic or informational ideas and produced with assistance from educators.

Lear and producer John Baskin, who are developing "Umptee 3 TV" with creator and animator Jim George for a fall 1997 debut on the WB Network, feel that writers and producers of adult shows will embrace the genre if they see it can be approached with imagination and humor. The series will mark Lear's first venture into children's programming.

"It's just a matter of respecting the content," Baskin said. "We're going to do the kind of show that is entertainment based on an idea. There are more receptive buyers now, and this decision should open up doors."

"Umptee 3 TV" will be about a pirate television station that broadcasts between channels. "The van that the station broadcasts out of is always on the move, because the establishment doesn't want them," Lear said.

Wolf and veteran TV comedy producer Ed. Weinberger said they have also been interested in getting into children's television at some point, although they have yet to take concrete steps in that direction.

Wolf said his three young children have been begging him for years to do a youth-oriented show.

"I could not do a traditional children's show, but I would like to do something in the tradition of 'Little House on the Prairie' or 'The Waltons' or 'Family,' " he said. "I've been thinking of a show like 'Third Grade' or 'eightsomething,' looking at a shared experience that everyone has had."

Weinberger, a veteran of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Taxi" who is currently producing the urban comedy "Sparks" for UPN, said: "I would be happy to do a children's show, but nobody has asked me. My wife and I are very concerned about what our children are subjected to. Whatever I did, it would have to be funny. But at this point, I would not know where to start."

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