NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Kids Don't Like "Broccoli Television"

January 9, 1998

The Federal Communications Commission came up with what it thought was a great idea in 1996. It ordered television stations to air three hours per week of programs "specifically designed" to meet the "educational and informational" needs of children up to age 16. The regulation took effect last September.

After spending what one executive describes as "an incredible amount of money" developing and airing the shows, networks have found that children won't watch them. They keep on tuning in programs like "Beast Wars," even though Washington bureaucrats think they should be watching "Popular Mechanics for Kids."

Even as educators and TV critics were applauding the "educational" shows, the CBS network this week canceled its entire educational slate in the face of dismal ratings.

  • According to Nielsen Media Research, the top-rated network series for children is Fox's "Ultimate Goosebumps" -- a show described as more likely to scare children than educate them.
  • The top-rated syndicated children's series is "Beast Wars" -- an animated cartoon based on a toy line.

Some analysts contend that commercial broadcast stations need relatively large audiences, so "educational" programs must be designed to address everyone from 2-year-olds to young teens -- an approach that often produces lowest-common-denominator shows.

Legal observers say the FCC left the definition of "educational" vague -- mainly for constitutional reasons -- thus allowing the NBC network, for example, to claim as educational a program called "NBA Inside Stuff," about the off-court lives of basketball players.

One producer calls the educational shows "broccoli television." A CBS executive says, "You can construct a silver trough and fill it with sparkling, cool water, but you can't make kids drink out of it."

"It's not all terrific," admits an activist for children's television. But she claims that "enough is happening to make this a meaningful ruling."

Source: Paul Farhi, "'Educational' Television Flunks a Test: Viewership," Washington Post, January 9, 1998.

 

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