Children's television series
Children's television series are television programs designed for, and marketed to children, normally scheduled for broadcast during the morning and afternoon when children are awake. They can sometimes run in the early evening, so children can watch after school. The purpose of the shows is mainly to entertain and sometimes to educate.
Children's television is nearly as old as television itself, with early examples including shows such as Play School, Captain Tugg, The Magic Roundabout, Howdy Doody, Ivor the Engine, Clangers, Noggin the Nog, Bill and Ben', Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. In the United States, early children's television was often a marketing branch of a larger corporate product, such as Disney, and it rarely contained any educational elements (for instance, The Magic Clown, a popular early children's program, was primarily an advertisement for Bonomo's Turkish taffy product). This practice continued, albeit in a much toned-down manner, through the 1980s in the United States, when the Federal Communications Commission prohibited tie-in advertising on broadcast television (it does not apply to cable, which is out of the reach of the FCC's content regulations). Though there is some debate on the intended audience, later non-educational children's television programs included the science fiction programmes of Irwin Allen (most notably Lost in Space), the fantasy series of Sid and Marty Krofft, and the extensive cartoon empire of Hanna-Barbera.
In the United States, from the 1960s through approximately the 1990s, children's programming was primarily concentrated on the Saturday morning cartoon block. All three of the major television networks carried Saturday morning cartoons and various other children's programming during this time. While most shows had short, 13-week runs, others could last for decades (an example is Scooby-Doo, which ran on a near-continuous basis in numerous incarnations from 1969 until 1991). A combination of factors led to the collapse of Saturday morning cartoons; some include the near concurrent entries of Cartoon Network, Fox Kids and Nickelodeon (with its Nicktoons) into the animated market in 1992 with cartoons in non-traditional time slots, the implementation of the Children's Television Act educational television mandate in 1996, and a general erosion of sponsorship base and viewership for broadcast programs. These factors, however, were a boon to animation studios in Canada, where subsidies for Canadian content were aids to the continued production of animated series there (particularly the newly in-demand educational series).
Many children's programs also have a large adult following, sometimes due to perceived quality and educational value, and sometimes among adults who watched the shows as children or with their own children and now have a nostalgic emotional connection (an example is the continuing popularity of programming from Nickelodeon, which prompted the network to launch The '90s Are All That, a late-night block featuring reruns of 1990s Nickelodeon shows). The relatively low-cost nature of much early children's programming has given it a campy reputation, which is a second source of entertainment for adults who, as children, were unaware of the medium's limitations.
Children's television series can target a wide variety of demographics. Few television networks target infants and toddlers under two years of age, in part due to widespread opposition to the practice. The preschool demographic is children from two to six years of age; shows that target this demographic are generally overtly educational and have their content crafted to educational and/or psychological standards for that demographic. They can range from cartoons to hosted live-action series, often involving colorful fictional characters such as puppets.
The general children's demographic is children from six to eleven years of age. Shows that target this demographic focus primarily on entertainment and can range from comedy cartoons (with an emphasis on slapstick) to action series. Most children's television series targeting this block are animated (with a few exceptions, perhaps the best-known being the long-running Power Rangers franchise), and many often specifically target boys (especially in the case of action series) or girls. Efforts to create educational programming for this demographic have had a mixed record of success; although such series make up the bulk of educational programming on broadcast TV, they also tend to have very low viewership. PBS has had somewhat greater success with its educational programming block, PBS Kids GO!, that targets this demographic.
The teen demographic targets viewers twelve to seventeen years of age. Live-action series that target this demographic are more dramatic and developed, including teen dramas and teen sitcoms. Animated programming is not generally targeted at this demographic; cartoons that are aimed at teenagers generally feature more crude humor than those oriented toward younger children. Educational programming targeted at this demographic is exceedingly rare, other than on NASA TV's education block.
In the US there are three main children's commercial television channels, with each channel operating a number of secondary services:
- Nickelodeon, the first children's television channel, launched in 1979; it slowly gained in popularity over the course of the 1980s and early 1990s. Its target audience ranges from preschoolers to adults. It has aired a large variety of different programming ranging from educational programming, original animated programming (Nicktoons), live-action sitcoms, game shows, talk shows, dramas and sketch comedies and a late night classic programming block aimed for family, teens and adults (Nick at Nite).
- Nickelodeon operates three digital channels separate from the main feed: Nick Jr., a channel devoted to preschool programming (with late-night programming aimed at mothers); TeenNick, aimed at teenagers with mostly live-action programs (which includes a two hour 1990s block in late night); and Nicktoons, which primarily (although not exclusively) runs animated programming.
- Cartoon Network, founded 1992, was perhaps the fastest growing network aimed primarily at children; thanks to extensive support from sister networks TBS and TNT, it was widely popular within five years of its launch. originally only airing classic animation from the archives of Time Warner (which includes productions of Turner Broadcasting, Warner Bros., MGM and Hanna-Barbera). Shortly thereafter, it began airing its own original animated programming (Cartoon Cartoons) similar to Nickelodeon's. Like Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network has a wide range of demographics ranging from preschool to adults. It is credited with a major role in the American Animation Renaissance in the 1990s, bringing animation back into popularity and bringing in many different styles of animation as possible. It also brought anime into prominence in late 1990s with its Toonami action block and aired late night programming such as the Midnight Run, ToonHeads and Space Ghost Coast to Coast; the last of these was directed squarely at, and proved to be popular with, older audiences and lead way for the creation of its young adult late night block Adult Swim in 2001.
- Cartoon Network has only one digital channel, Boomerang, which focuses on Time Warner's archival animated programming and some other classic cartoons.
- The Disney Channel launched in 1983 as a premium television service; it did not achieve widespread popularity until it dropped to basic cable in 1997. It aired programming ranging from classic Disney films and animated shorts and original programming aimed at family. In 1997 it switched to cable and changed its style with airing preschool educational programming in the morning, children's entertainment in the afternoon and airing teen sitcoms, dramas, original movies and music videos during evening and classic Disney films and shorts at late night. In 2002, its revamped again dropping its classic Disney library. Its content has primarily drifted to live-action sitcoms aimed at younger girls.
- Disney Channel has two digital channels: Disney Junior, which launched in 2012 and features preschool programming, and Disney XD, which caters primarily to boys. ABC Family, which predated the other channels, is operated somewhat separately from the Disney Channel, but its programming (which targets teenagers with more dramatic programming) is often seen as a continuation of the Disney synergy. Unlike the other channels, Disney Channel does not have an outlet for its archive programming (Toon Disney was shut down in 2009 to create Disney XD).
- The Hub is the newest children's television channel, founded in 2010. The channel, which was created after the dissolution of Discovery Kids, features extensive programming tie-ins to Hasbro products (Hasbro holds a partial stake in the network), similar to the programming model of 1980s Saturday morning cartoons. Its programming is a mix of original (mostly animated) series, reruns of mostly action-oriented cartoons, movies, family oriented game shows, and a block of family-friendly sitcoms in the evenings. The Hub does not have the extensive cable reach or cultural impact as the other three channels but, thanks to the acquisition of popular animated series from the 1990s and some critically acclaimed original shows, has seen its popularity slowly rise. Being a digital channel itself (specifically of Discovery Channel), The Hub has no digital channels under it.
Under current mandates, all broadcast stations in the United States, including digital subchannels, must show a minimum of three hours per week of educational children's programming, regardless of the station's format. The transition to digital television has allowed for the debut of whole digital subchannels that air children's programming 24/7; examples include PBS Kids Sprout, qubo, PBJ, and Smile of a Child TV.
In Japan there is NHK Educational TV, Kids Station, Disney XD, Nickelodeon (Now under a block on Animax known as "Nick Time") and Cartoon Network. Cartoon Network's age demographic is getting to more older viewers with shows like Regular Show, Adventure Time, and others.
See also 
- Nick Jr.
- PBS Kids
- List of local children's television series (United States)
- Saturday morning cartoon for an in-depth history of children's television in the United States
- Advertising to children
- Children's Television, online exhibition from screenonline, a website of the British Film Institute
- The 1950s–2000s Week-By-Week - includes listings and factoids for local/national children's shows.
- The future of children's digital television - an interview with Gloria Tristani