Kids Get Real
By Joanna Padovano Tong
From wildlife to game shows, there are numerous live-action factual series available for young audiences.
With reality series, game shows and documentaries aplenty, there is no shortage of options for adults wanting to tune in to live-action factual fare. But grown-ups aren’t the only television consumers looking for this type of programming; kids, too, crave unscripted series—led by real-life talent—that can both entertain and educate them. Of course, don’t tell them that they might learn something from the content in their media diets. Much like proactive parents sneaking peas into their little one’s mac-and-cheese, producers of children’s programming are given the stealth task of discreetly incorporating educational elements into their live-action factual productions.
“That’s the magic combination,” says Genevieve Dexter, the founder and CEO of Serious Lunch, which sells the live-action factual-entertainment series Operation Ouch! and Art Ninja. “Hopefully you’re entertaining them and they barely notice that you are giving them information in the process. As soon as it looks like you’re trying to tell them something [educational], they’ll be like, Well, I can read a book for that—I don’t need you doing that on TV!”
In Germany, Maus’s combination of “short documentaries and funny animated clips is the perfect means to balance out education and entertainment,” reports Stefanie Fischer, the head of content at WDR mediagroup (WDRmg). “The documentary parts address topics that are relevant to kids—for example, Why is the sky blue? or, How do the stripes get into toothpaste? If these educational components deliver answers to kids’ most urgent questions, they automatically become entertaining for them as well.”
“The goal is always to stress the entertainment aspects first, and then put in the educational components secondarily,” adds Joy Rosen, co-founder and CEO of Portfolio Entertainment, which boasts the live-action factual show Do You Know? in its slate. “Kids really get the difference between entertainment and school, so that’s why we always try to stress the entertainment—great characters, interesting hosts, a lot of humor, a little bit of irreverence; everything that separates it from what they construe as being strictly educational.”
Live-action factual series with educational elements are the ones that resonate most with young viewers, reports Munia Kanna-Konsek, the head of sales at Beyond Distribution, which represents such titles as Backyard Science, Kid Detectives, History Hunters, The Dengineers and Absolute Genius with Dick and Dom. “Backyard Science, Kid Detectives and History Hunters all have kids demonstrating easy, practical, cool, educational and scientific things to do in your home and backyard,” she says. Even the game shows in Beyond’s catalog, including Lab Rats Challenge and Steam Punks, are science-based and therefore provide an opportunity for children to expand their minds.
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