Monday, September 04, 2000

PBS books some cartoons

Public TV turns childhood classics into three-hour block aimed at kids ages 2-7

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Move over, Big Bird! Make room for the Big Dog. Clifford, the Big Red Dog and his friend Emily Elizabeth. Woof! Clifford, based on the best-selling children's books by Norman Bridwell, is one of eight animated series premiering this month on the Public Broadcasting Service.

  • Clifford
  Today: 7:30-9:30 a.m. and 2:30-4:30 p.m. on Channel 48; 7-9 a.m. on Channel 16; 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Channel 14.
  Weekdays starting Tuesday: 7:30 a.m. on Channels 48, 16; 11 a.m. on Channel 14; 3:30 p.m. on Channels 48, 54; 6:30 p.m. on Channel 14.
  • Caillou
  Today: 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 12:30-2:30 p.m. on Channel 48; 1:30 and 6 p.m. on Channel 14.
  Weekdays starting Tuesday: 8:30 a.m. on Channel 16; 1:30 p.m. on Channel 14; 2 p.m. on Channel 48; 6 p.m. on Channel 14.
        Six will debut Sept. 30, when PBS launches its first Saturday morning cartoon lineup, going head-to-head with ABC, Fox, WB, Nickelodeon, Disney and the Cartoon Network. Clifford and Caillou debut today.

        “Never before has "PBS Kids' premiered so many children's shows in one season,” says John F. Wilson, PBS senior vice president for programming.

        Unlike the Pokemon, Digimon or Rugrats on the commercial networks, the PBS cartoons are adaptations of popular children's books like Corduroy, Seven Little Monsters, Elliot Moose and Caillou.In fact, the new Saturday lineup is called the PBS Kids Bookworm Bunch.

        “This strengthens PBS' longstanding commitment to inspiring kids to read and represents an emphatic reaffirmation of our mission of education through entertainment,” Mr. Wilson says.

Grew from love

               Leading the way is lovable Clifford, which has sold 80 million books since 1963. The 40 half-hour episodes, each with two cartoons, was developed by Scholastic Inc. with the author.

        In the PBS debut, Clifford answers the question which has puzzled parents for two generations: How did that big mutant dog get to be two-stories tall?

        “The opening of the show . . . explains how Emily found Clifford as the runt of the litter,” explains Deborah Forte, Clifford executive producer.

        “(Emily) was cautioned against choosing him because they felt he would never grow and be strong . . . (but) she loved him so much, he grew bigger than her house,” she says.

        Scholastic has taught Clifford a few new tricks for TV. The playful pup has been unmuzzled, allowing him to speak in the voice of John Ritter. (Mr. Bridwell's books are told through Emily Elizabeth, the dog's owner.)

        The TV Clifford has two new canine comrades, T-Bone the bulldog (Kel Mitchell from Keenen & Kel) and Cleo the poodle (Cree Summer from A Different World, Inspector Gadget).

For younger kids

               Also joining Arthur, Barney, Big Bird, Elmo and the Sesame Street gang on PBS today is Caillou, a 4-year-old boy from Canadian children's books.

        Caillou (pronounced KYE-yoo) is a blend of cartoons, puppet segments, films and musical numbers to help preschoolers make sense of the world.

        The two weekday shows, plus the weekend PBS Kids Bookworm Bunch, are aimed at viewers ages 2-7, an audience ignored by the broadcast networks. WB and Fox Kids target kids 6-11, “which really means that you're targeting an 11-year-old,” says Toper Taylor, president of Nelvana Communications, the Bookworm Bunch producer.

        “PBS and Nelvana are making Saturday mornings safe. We're making Saturday mornings educational, and we're extending the joy of reading with our children into Saturday morning,” he says.

        The Bookworm Bunch includes:

        • Corduroy: Don Freeman's stories about a teddy bear and Lisa, his African-American friend.

        • Elliot Moose: Tales about an optimistic moose in a child's playroom, from books by Andrea Beck, and the publisher of the Franklin the Turtle series.

        • Timothy Goes to School: A bashful 5-year-old raccoon experiences the anxieties of kindergarten, like trying to make new friends, by veteran author-illustrator Rosemary Wells (Max and Ruby, Shy Charles, Noisy Nora).

        • Seven Little Monsters: The adventures of seven monsters and their mom from author Maurice Sendak (Little Bear, Where the Wild Things Are).

        • George Shrinks: Author-illustrator William Joyce's modern-day Tom Thumb, a 3-inch-tall boy named George.

        • Marvin the Tap Dancing Horse: The mother-son team of Betty and Michael Paraskevas (Monster Beach, The Tangerine Bear) created this story about a boy who can talk to carnival animals.

        “We feel that this (lineup) is filling a real void in the marketplace, and will really work,” Mr. Taylor said.

        The big red dog and other new cartoons, like that big yellow bird, helps fulfill public TV's unique mission to reach all Americans, not just a narrow demographic sought by sponsors.

        As PBS President Pat Mitchell puts it: PBS “serves (all) citizens, not aggregate consumers or eyeballs for advertisers.

        “That's a significant difference,” she says, “and it really informs everything that we do.”



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