It was not long ago that there was wide agreement among broadcasters, scholars, educators and parents concerning the ultimate goal of children's television programming: to educate. Today, it would be difficult to find even two people to agree on such terms. Popular opinion would lead us to believe that broadcasters now seek to exploit the youngest members of their audience--turning them into life-long viewers (and consumers). Scholars and educators woefully condemn television for the "dumbing down" of America. Parents, no longer present during all television viewing hours, may not even be aware of what their children are watching. When we add an international perspective into the mix, we inevitably invite phrases such as "cultural imperialism" and "globalization" into the arguments, complicating the issues even more.
What is the role of children's television in the global marketplace, and perhaps more importantly, what will its future role be? While there may not be a definitive answer, there are voices raised in support and opposition of the medium daily and new trends emerge almost as frequently, making it a controversy impossible to ignore.
Top of Page
An International Perspective on Children's Television Programming: Examining the Phenomenon of Three Modern Programs
What's wrong with Big Bird?
One of the best-known American children's television shows is "Sesame Street." Most adolescents and young adults in the United States can trace at least some memories to the fictional street where Muppets and people somehow magically converged. "Sesame Street" is, however, a living, breathing example of globalization. Seen by more than 120 million children in 130 countries the program has garnered 58 Emmys and two Peabody Awards.1
Produced by the Children's Television Workshop and shown on the Public Broadcasting System in the United States, "Sesame Street" uses two types of formats to produce shows for its foreign audiences. The first (and most common) is "Open Sesame." In this format, the opening and closing segments of the show are made locally, but the rest of the program is compiled from material produced by the United States and leased to the foreign country.2 The second method (and the one most commonly touted by CTW ambassadors) is co-production. In this method, foreign nations play a larger role in the compilation of footage for the show: some is produced locally, some is from the United States. As of 1988, there were 15 co-productions worldwide, and that number has remained quite constant since that time.3 The U.S. version uses little, if any, foreign material.4
CTW remains a not-for-profit U.S. corporation with a 1994 operations reserve fund of $34 million and an endowment of $71 million.5. Foreign "franchisers" of "Sesame Street" are restricted by an agreement with CTW that does not permit the program to be aired with commercials. All profit comes, in turn, from toy sales...