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Children's television series

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Sesame Street is named as one of the most well-known children's television series.

Children's television series (or children's television shows) are television programs designed specifically for children. They are typically characterised by easy-going content devoid of sensitive or adult themes and are normally broadcast during the morning and afternoon when children are awake, immediately before and after school schedules generally start in the country where they air. Educational themes are also prevalent, as well as the transmission of cautionary tales and narratives that teach problem-solving methods in some fashion or another, such as social disputes.

The purpose of these shows, aside from profit, is mainly to entertain or educate children, with each series targeting a certain age of child: some are aimed at infants and toddlers,[1] some are aimed at those aged 6 to 11 years old, and others are aimed at all children.[2]


Children's television is nearly as old as television itself.[3] In the United Kingdom, the BBC's For the Children was first broadcast in 1946, and in English-speaking circles, is generally credited with being the first TV programme specifically for children.[4]

Some authors posit television for children tended to originate from similar programs on radio. For example, the BBC's Children's Hour was launched as a radio broadcast in 1922,[5] with BBC School Radio commencing live broadcasts in 1924.

In the early 1930s, radio adventure serials such as Little Orphan Annie began to emerge in the United States and became a staple of children's afternoon radio listening.[6]

Evolution of style in the US and beyond[edit]

Early children's shows included Kukla, Fran and Ollie (1947), Howdy Doody, and Captain Kangaroo. Another show, Ding Dong School, aired from 1952 to 1965. Its creator and host, Frances Horwich, would sit in front of the camera and simulate small talk with the viewing audience at home, demonstrating basic skills for the camera.

This practice lives on in contemporary children's broadcasting as a genre in of itself, with Australia's ongoing program Play School one example.

At one time, a program called Winky Dink and You took a more interactive approach, prompting its viewers to affix a clear vinyl sheet to their television and draw pictures to match what was going on on-screen. This format did not persist, nor was it replicated, due to a number of factors unrelated to its popularity: children whose parents did not buy them the vinyl sheet would draw with crayons directly on the television screen itself, potentially causing expensive damage; there were also concerns that having children within arm's length of a television screen of the era could expose them to harmful radiation.[7]

Later and more recognisably modern shows for young children include Sesame Street, The Electric Company and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. In the 1990s, more children's television series such as Barney & Friends, Blue's Clues, SpongeBob SquarePants, Bear in the Big Blue House, and The Big Comfy Couch were created.

A voluminous range of children's television programming now exists in the 2020s.

Notable successes outside the US include shows like Play School, Noggin the Nog, Thunderbirds, Mr. Men and Thomas & Friends originating from the UK, Le Manege Enchantè from France, The Singing Ringing Tree from Germany, and Marine Boy from Japan.

Canadian studio Nelvana is a particularly prolific producer of children's programming. Much of Nelvana's product is broadcast worldwide, especially in the US, where the similarities in dialect do not require any dubbing or localization.

Role of advertising[edit]

In the United States, early children's television was often co-opted as a platform to market products 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.) In the early years of television, advertising to children posed a dilemma as most children have no disposable income of their own. As such, children's television was not a particularly high priority for the networks.[8]

This practice continued in a toned-down manner through the 1980s in the United States after the Federal Communications Commission prohibited tie-in advertising on broadcast television. These regulations did not apply to cable, which remains out of the reach of the FCC's content regulations.

Due in part to the success of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,[9] the 1980s saw a dramatic rise in television programs featuring characters of whom toy characters were being sold to retail consumers in bricks and mortar stores, underscoring the value potential of manufacturing merchandise for fans of children's programs. This practice remains firmly embedded in the broadcast sector's business case broadly in the 2020s.

Commercial-free children television was first introduced with Sesame Street on PBS in November 1969. It was produced by what is now known as Sesame Workshop (formerly Children's Television Workshop, known as CTW).

Saturday morning cartoon blocks[edit]

In the United States, Saturday mornings were generally scheduled with cartoon from the 1960s to 1980s.

In 1992, teen comedies and a "Today" show weekend edition were first to displace the cartoon blocks on NBC.[10] Starting in September 2002, the networks turned to affiliated cable cartoon channels or outside programmers for their blocks.[11]

On September 27, 2014, the last traditional Saturday network morning cartoon block, Vortexx, ended and was replaced the following week by the syndicated One Magnificent Morning on The CW.[10]


Children's television series can target a wide variety of key demographics based on age and gender. Few television networks target infants and toddlers under two years of age.[12]

British animated series Hey Duggee, aimed at preschool viewers

Preschool-oriented programming is generally more overtly educational. In a number of cases, such shows are produced in consultation with educators and child psychologists in an effort to teach age-appropriate lessons (the series Sesame Street pioneered this approach when it debuted in 1969).[13] A format that has increased in popularity since the 1990s is the "pseudo-interactive" program, in which the action of the show stops and breaks the fourth wall to give a young viewer the opportunity to answer a question or dilemma put forth on the show, with the action continuing as if the viewer answered correctly.

Shows that target the demographic of persons 6 to 11 years old focus primarily on entertainment and can range from comedic cartoons to action series. Most children's television series targeting this age range are animated (with a few exceptions, perhaps the best-known being the Power Rangers franchise). Typically, programs are either 'for boys' or 'for girls'.

The teen demographic targets viewers 12 to 18 years of age. Live-action series that target this demographic are more dramatic and developed, including teen dramas and teen sitcoms. In some cases, they may contain more mature content that is usually not permissible on shows targeting younger viewers, and can include some profanity or suggestive dialogue.

Educational programming targeted at this demographic has historically been rare, other than on NASA TV's education block. However, some programming aimed at the demographic has had some tangential educational value in regard to social issues, such as the now-defunct TNBC block of sitcoms, which often tackled issues such as underage drinking or drug use.

Under-represented groups[edit]

According to at least one journalist, for years, Broadcast Standards and Practices departments of networks, Parental Guidelines, and campaigns by social conservatives limited "efforts to make kids animation more inclusive."[14]

One former executive of Disney, David Levine, said that "a lot of conservative opinion" drove what was depicted on Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, and other alike channels. Some argued that cable television, which began to pick up in the 1990s, "opened the door for more representation" even though various levels of approvals remained.[15]

Through the 2000s', advocacy group GLAAD repeatedly highlighted the lack of LGBT representation in children's programming in particular.[16][17][18][19][20] Two years later, they recorded the highest number of LGBTQ characters they ever recorded up to that point.[21]

In 2017, some said that LGBTQ+ characters in animated television were somewhat rare,[22][23] despite the fact that GLAAD praised the number of characters in broadcast and primetime television.[24][25][26]

From 2017 to 2019, Insider noted that there was a "more than 200% spike in queer and gender-minority characters in children's animated TV shows."[15] In 2018 and 2019, GLAAD stated that Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix, had increased LGBTQ representation in "daytime kids and family television."[27][28]

In their January 2021 report, GLAAD praised LGBTQ representation in episodes of DuckTales, The Owl House and Adventure Time: Distant Lands.[29] Despite this, some industry practitioners state that more than 90% of LGBTQ characters in kid's animated shows within Insider's database of characters in children's animated television shows "require either a cable, satellite, streaming, or internet subscription to view them on first airing."[30]


United States[edit]

In the United States, there are four major commercial cable networks dedicated to children's television. All three also operate secondary services with specialized scopes drawing upon their respective libraries, such as a focus on specific demographics, or a focus upon classic programming that fall within their scope and demographics; all three have also extensively franchised their brands outside the United States.

  • Nickelodeon, the first children's television channel, launched in 1979 (though its history traces back to the 1977 launch of QUBE's C-3 channel);[31] it consists largely of original series aimed at children, preteens and young teenagers, including animated series, to live-action comedy and action series, as well as series aimed at preschoolers, and appeals to adult and adolescent audiences with a lineup of mainly live-action sitcom reruns and a limited amount of original programming on Nick at Nite.
    • Nickelodeon operates four digital cable and satellite channels separate from the main service: Nick Jr. Channel, a channel devoted to preschool programming; Nicktoons, which primarily (although not exclusively) runs animated programming; NickMusic, a pop music video service branded as "MTV Hits" prior to 2016; and TeenNick, a channel devoted to live-action programming. This is in addition to a flexible number of free digital channels under the Nickelodeon brand on parent company Paramount Global's over-the-top service Pluto TV. Subscription video on demand service Paramount+ includes much of the Nickelodeon archives.
  • Cartoon Network, launched in 1992, is devoted primarily to animated programming. It primarily targets children 6–12, while its early morning Cartoonito is aimed at preschoolers and kindergarteners aged 2–6, and its overnight daypart block Adult Swim targets older teenagers and young adults, 18–34.
    • Cartoon Network operates one digital cable channel: Boomerang, a channel that specializes in programs centered around classic brands that parent company Warner Bros. Discovery owns (particularly Hanna-Barbera, MGM and Warner Bros. Animation), along with some imported programs, reruns of Cartoon Network original programs, and burn-off properties. Warner Bros. Discovery also operates Discovery Family (along with its Spanish-language counterpart Discovery Familia), a joint venture with Hasbro that Warner Bros. acquired a majority stake in along with its merger with Discovery Channel and carries animated programming in daytime along with family-oriented factual programming (including Discovery library programs) at nighttime; HBO Family, a channel in the company's premium cable suite HBO that includes a block of children's programs (Play Off) in the morning and family-friendly films the rest of the day; and beginning in June 2024, MeTV Toons, a joint venture with Weigel Broadcasting that operates on the digital subchannels of Weigel-owned stations and other affiliates of its parent network MeTV and carries much of the same program library as Boomerang.
  • Disney Channel launched in 1983 as a premium channel; it consists of original first-run television series, theatrically released and original made-for-cable movies, and select other third-party programming. Disney Channel – which formerly operated as a pay-TV service – originally marketed its programs towards families during the 1980s, and later at younger children by the 1990s, and primarily at teenybopper females aged 13–16 between 2006 and 2017, before returning to families.
    • Disney Channel operates two digital channels separate from the main service: Disney Junior, which launched in 2011 and primarily broadcasts animated series catered towards a preschool audience, and Disney XD, which caters primarily to an older youth audience with an action-oriented focus. Disney does not have a traditional television outlet for its archival programming, which it has historically kept in a proverbial vault with limited access; much of its programming is available through Disney+, a subscription video on demand service. Disney also operates Freeform, a channel primarily carrying live-action programming catered towards a teenage/young adult audience. Although its previous incarnations under other owners had family-oriented formats and children's programming, they have since been phased out in favor of series such as teen dramas, some coming from Disney Channel.

Under current mandates, all broadcast television stations in the United States must show a minimum of three hours per week of educational children's programming, regardless of format. Until 2019, this rule also applied to digital subchannels; as a result, digital multicast networks whose formats should not fit children's programming, such as Live Well Network and TheCoolTV, were required to carry educational programs to fit the FCC mandates. (The rule for digital subchannels was repealed in July 2019;[32][33] in practice, most still carry educational programs anyway.) In 2017, there was a programming block that aired on syndication called KidsClick; it was notable as a concerted effort to program children's shows on television without regard to their educational content, one of the first such efforts since the E/I rule took effect. The transition to digital television has allowed for the debut of whole subchannels that air children's programming 24/7; examples include BabyFirst, PBS Kids, Smile, and Universal Kids. The country's only directly nationally operated TV service for public consumption, NASA TV, also includes educational programs in its schedule for use in schools.


English-language children's specialty channels in Canada are primarily owned by Corus Entertainment and WildBrain. Corus operates YTV and Treehouse, as well as localized versions of the Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, and Nickelodeon brands. WildBrain operates Family Channel, as well as the spin-off services WildBrainTV and Family Jr. it has been majority owned and operated by British Columbia's public broadcaster Knowledge Network.

In French, Corus operates Télétoon and La chaîne Disney, WildBrain operates Télémagino (a French version of Family Jr.), TVA Group operates the preschool-oriented Yoopa, and Bell Media runs the teen-oriented Vrak. Via its majority-owned subsidiary Telelatino, Corus also operates two children and family-oriented networks in Spanish and Italian, TeleNiños and Telebimbi respectively.

On broadcast television and satellite to cable undertakings, children's television content is relegated to the country's public and designated provincial educational broadcasters, including CBC Television and Ici Radio-Canada Télé, as well as City Saskatchewan, CTV Two Alberta (formerly Access), Knowledge Network, Télé-Québec, TFO, and TVOntario (TVOKids).

Aided by the cultural similarities between Canada and the US, along with film credits and subsidies available from the Canadian government, a large number of animated children's series have been made in Canada with the intention of exporting them to the United States. Such programs carry a prominent Government of Canada wordmark in their closing credits.

United Kingdom[edit]

The BBC and ITV plc both operate children's oriented television networks on digital terrestrial television: the BBC runs CBBC as well as the preschool-oriented CBeebies, while ITV runs CITV as well as the preschool-oriented LittleBe, as a programming block on ITVBe. Both channels were spun off from children's television strands on their respective flagship channels (BBC One, BBC Two, and ITV). The BBC and ITV have largely phased out children's programming from their main channels to focus on the dedicated services; in 2012, as part of the "Delivering Quality First" initiative, the BBC announced that it would end the broadcast of CBBC programmes on BBC One following the completion of the transition to digital terrestrial television, citing low viewership in comparison to broadcasts of the programmes on the CBBC channel.[34] Channel 5 also broadcasts a preschool-oriented block known as Milkshake!, while its owner, Paramount Networks International, also runs versions of Nickelodeon and its sister networks Nicktoons and Nick Jr.

Narrative Capital operate a number of children's channels under the Pop and Tiny Pop brands. British versions of Cartoon Network and its sister channels Boomerang and Cartoonito also operate in the country, some 25 years after the initial launch.


Ireland has one dedicated children's TV service RTÉjr. Since 1998 RTÉ2 has provided children's programming from 07:00 to 17:30 each weekday, originally titled The Den, the service was renamed TRTÉ and RTÉjr in 2010. Irish-language service TG4 provide two strands of children's programming Cúla 4 Na nÓg and Cúla 4 during the day. Commercial broadcaster TV3 broadcast a children's strand called Gimme 3 from 1998 to 1999. And then broadcast a new strand called 3Kids.


Children's channels that exist in Australia are ABC Me, ABC Kids, and its spin-off CBeebies, Nickelodeon and its spin-off Nick Jr., and Cartoon Network and its spin-off Boomerang.


Children's channels that exist in Japan are NHK Educational TV, Kids Station, Disney Channel, Disney XD, Nickelodeon (also under a block on Animax, known as "Nick Time") and Cartoon Network (Cartoon Network's age demographic is moving towards older viewers with shows such as Hello Kitty, Regular Show and Adventure Time)


One of the most well-known children's TV programmes comes from Iceland, LazyTown, was created by Magnus Scheving, European Gymnastics Champion and CEO of Lazytown Entertainment. The show has aired in over 180 countries, been dubbed into more than 32 languages and is the most expensive children's show of all time.


In 1995, Cartoon Network became the first children's channel to be launched in India. Subsequently, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon arrived. Hungama TV (2004) was the first children's channel that had local content. Pogo and BabyTV came later in 2006. By 2018, 23 channels have aired in India.


Nickelodeon was the first children's channel in Romania, launched in December 1998. Afterwards, Minimax became the first Romanian children's channel to air locally produced content, launched on Children's Day in 2001.[35] Since then, channels like BabyTV and Disney Channel have arrived.


Children's channels that exist in Turkey are Cartoon Network, TRT Çocuk, MinikaÇOCUK, Minika GO and Zarok TV.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Here Are 25 Shows You Can Feel Good About Your 2-Year-Old Watching". Romper. Retrieved 2021-12-08.
  2. ^ "Working & Filming with Under 18's Guidelines | Channel 4". www.channel4.com. Retrieved 2021-12-08.
  3. ^ Holz, Jo (2017). Kids' TV Grows Up: The Path from Howdy Doody to SpongeBob. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. pp. 13–72. ISBN 978-1-4766-6874-1.
  4. ^ "For the Children, the first children's television programme - History of the BBC". Retrieved 17 April 2024.
  5. ^ "Children & the BBC: from Muffin the Mule to Tinky Winky". BBC. Archived from the original on 2 June 2018. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  6. ^ "Little Orphan Annie | radio program". Britannica. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  7. ^ Bob Greene (March 31, 2013). "Winky Dink and ... Bill Gates?". CNN. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  8. ^ Rice, Lynette (June 8, 2007). "Bob Barker on saying goodbye to The Price Is Right". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved April 30, 2016.
  9. ^ Erickson, Hal (2005). Television Cartoon Shows: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, 1949 Through 2003 (2nd ed.). McFarland & Co. pp. 404–405. ISBN 978-1476665993.
  10. ^ a b Sullivan, Gail (September 30, 2014). "Saturday morning cartoons are no more". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 2, 2014.
  11. ^ Bernstein, Paula (September 29, 2002). "Kid skeds tread on joint strategy". Variety. Retrieved October 2, 2014.
  12. ^ "Nickelodeon Retakes Kids' Ratings Crown With 'Paw Patrol'". Bloomberg.com. 18 December 2013 – via Bloomberg.
  13. ^ Fisch, Shalom M.; Truglio, Rosemarie T. (2001). "Why Children Learn from Sesame Street". In Fisch, Shalom M.; Truglio, Rosemarie T. (eds.). "G" is for Growing: Thirty Years of Research on Children and Sesame Street. Mahweh, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers. p. 234. ISBN 0-8058-3395-1.
  14. ^ White, Abbey (June 15, 2021). "TV animators were forced to scrap LGBTQ-inclusive storylines due to a culture of fear. Experts say fans are changing that". Insider. Archived from the original on June 16, 2021. Retrieved June 16, 2021.
  15. ^ a b Snyder, Chris; Desiderio, Kyle (June 29, 2021). "The evolution of queer characters in children's animation". Insider. Archived from the original on July 1, 2021. Retrieved July 1, 2021.
  16. ^ Cook 2018, p. 6, 11–12.
  17. ^ Where We Are on TV Report: 2009–2010 (PDF) (Report). GLAAD. 2009. pp. 2–3, 11, 14. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-03-26. Retrieved March 11, 2020.
  18. ^ Where We Are on TV Report: 2008–2009 (PDF) (Report). GLAAD. 2008. p. 18. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-03-25. Retrieved April 4, 2020.
  19. ^ Where We Are on TV Report: 2006–2007 (PDF) (Report). GLAAD. August 21, 2006. p. 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-05-13. Retrieved April 4, 2020.
  20. ^ Where We Are on TV Report: 2014-2015 (PDF) (Report). GLAAD. 2014. p. 23. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-03-28. Retrieved April 11, 2020.
  21. ^ Glass, Joe (November 3, 2016). "LGBT characters on TV will make up larger percentage than ever, study finds". The Guardian. Archived from the original on August 3, 2019. Retrieved April 19, 2020.
  22. ^ Segal, Cynthia (June 30, 2017). "7 American Kids' Cartoons That Treat Their LGBTQ Characters With Respect". The Dot and Line. Archived from the original on March 27, 2020. Retrieved April 19, 2020.
  23. ^ Sizer, Artistaeus (June 30, 2017). "We Need To Talk About LGBT Representation, Apparently". HuffPost. Archived from the original on April 19, 2020. Retrieved April 19, 2020.
  24. ^ Mak, Philip (June 21, 2017). "In a Heartbeat: Why we need more LGBTQ animation". Toon Boom. Archived from the original on April 5, 2020. Retrieved April 19, 2020.
  25. ^ Jusino, Teresa (June 2, 2017). "Why I'll Be Holding onto These Five Nuanced and Inspiring Bisexual Characters for Dear Life This Pride". The Mary Sue. Archived from the original on March 29, 2019. Retrieved April 19, 2020.
  26. ^ Cook 2018, p. 7.
  27. ^ Where We Are on TV Report: 2018-2019 (PDF) (Report). GLAAD. 2018. p. 5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-04-10. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
  28. ^ Where We Are on TV Report: 2019-2020 (PDF) (Report). GLAAD. 2019. pp. 5, 6, 12. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-04-08. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
  29. ^ Where We Are on TV: 2020–2021 (PDF) (Report). GLAAD. January 2021. p. 40. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 15, 2021. Retrieved January 20, 2021.
  30. ^ White, Abbey (June 21, 2021). "Kids' cartoons have more LGBTQ representation than ever before — but only if you pay for it". Insider. Archived from the original on June 23, 2021.
  31. ^ "Viacom". www.viacom.com. Archived from the original on 17 January 2008. Retrieved 22 May 2022.
  32. ^ Hayes, Dade (July 10, 2019). "FCC's Vote To Ease "Kid Vid" Rules Draws Pushback And Democrats' Dissent". Deadline. Retrieved 2019-07-10.
  33. ^ Eggerton, John (July 10, 2019). "FCC Gives Broadcasters More KidVid Flexibility". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved 2019-07-10.
  34. ^ "Children's shows to leave BBC One". BBC News. 16 May 2012. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  35. ^ "minimaxtv.ro – totul despre copii pentru copii". Archived from the original on 17 February 2005.


  • Cook, Carson (May 2018). "A History of LGBT Representation on TV". A content analysis of LGBT representation on broadcast and streaming television streaming television (Honors). University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Retrieved July 14, 2021.

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