When we make TV on Nickelodeon it’s strange because the whole network is based on guessing what kids want to see because the network is run by adults. Sure, they do research. They ask questions. They comb various data sources. There are some hard and fast rules about kids TV that I’ve had to learn.
Rule one: (the one you don’t ever forget) “Kids don’t want to see adults doing all that much.” Of course this goes against what I was interested as a kid. I loved adults doings stuff. James Bond, Spiderman, The Three Stooges, Speed Racer, The Monkeys: These were all movies and TV shows I watched as a kid and even though they appealed to kids, I was watching “adults.” (Sadly, when I grew up I discovered that adults don’t really live like James Bond or the Monkeys although I did once have a house contractor that actually seemed like one of the three stooges.) The network will tell you, if you want to do a spy show, make the spy a kid. Kids only want to see kids and they’ll turn off the TV if they see anyone over 5′ 2″. I find it hard to believe but I do believe because they are the ones who pays for the shows.
Rule two: “Kids don’t like the underdog.” They like whoever you tell them is popular. If there’s a person on the show struggling to find him or herself, maybe even being bullied. Instead of identifying with that person, because deep down we all feel a little like an outsider, our audience wants to join in the bullying. They want to hate the person the popular kids hate. This makes me really sad because it’s such a pack mentality but I guess it’s a biological imperative. Evolution has bread us to make fun of others so we survive. When we were a tribe scraping for food, it was better to stay with the pack then challenge it.
Rule three: Don’t mention Sex, God, or Politics. This makes sense. Stay away from things that will make parents have to answer questions they don’t want to answer. And since most people can’t explain sex, God, or politics, it’s best to leave it alone.
Rule four: Don’t mention that gay people exist. This is the same as rule three except that the network is very big on showing diversity. They say that kids want to see people that look like them on TV and since we have a diverse audience we should have diverse people on camera and off. This is a great policy but they stop short at sexual diversity on camera. Behind the camera there’s a ton of gay people on the shows and at the network. It’s gayer than Lady Gaga and Bette Midler singing a Judy Garland medley at a hairdresser convention on Mykonos during “everyone’s Gay week!” Which is to say, there are a few gay guys working there. Despite this, the network doesn’t want to offend anyone or give parents a reason to turn off the set so, no gays. But I think a kid who’s gay feels alone enough as it is. It sure would help to see someone on TV that was gay and doing okay.
Rule five: “Keep the jokes physical.” Witty banter is lost on today’s kids the theory goes and it makes sense. They don’t know the phrases we are playing with when we make “witty banter.” They also do not know witty banter. So make someone fall or cover them with goo or let them fall into a giant vat of fudge. If you can do all three at the same time, you’re a genius. Make things explode and fall and fly everywhere and you’re the Spielberg of 2-12s.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THESE RULES? Do you agree or disagree and why?
More rules of kids TV, next time on Vinnie’s Mantiques blog.
Cheers - Jay