TV Worth Watching

August 8, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT

CHARLES KRAUSE: Children’s television–should it be an instrument of enlightenment, or just another mode of entertainment? In 1990, Congress seemed to answer that question by passing the Children’s Television Act which ordered TV stations across the country to increase the amount of educational children’s programming. But there was little enforcement of the new law and no guidance on how many hours of programming were appropriate.

Today the Federal Communications Commission announced a new rule calling for three hours per week of regularly scheduled programming specifically designed to educate and inform children. Stations that don’t comply could have difficulty getting their licenses renewed. President Clinton announced the deal to require three hours of education programming at a high powered summit of children’s broadcasters last week.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: This proposal fulfills the promise of the Children’s Television Act–that television should serve the educational and informational needs of our young people. It gives broadcasters flexibility on how to meet those needs, and it says to America’s parents you are not alone. We are all committed to working with you, to see that education programming for your children makes the grade.

GEORGE JETSON: (Jetsons Cartoon) Morning, Janie. Oh, boy, am I starving. Would you dial my breakfast for me?

CHARLES KRAUSE: But determining just what is and what is not educational is one of the many problems the FCC hasn’t addressed. Under the 1990 law, one network claimed that the cartoon program ‘The Jetsons’ fit the bill because it depicted life in the future.

SPOKESMAN: Oh, looks delicious.

CHARLES KRAUSE: Vice President Gore has also denounced the popular action show ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’ for creating an image of violence that he says is sociopathic. The program’s creators, on the other hand, disagree, pointing to Mighty Morphin’s multi-ethnic team with strong female characters as positive role models who work for good against evil.


CHARLES KRAUSE: To help resolve the definitional problem, PBS President Irvin Duggan has suggested that television listings be accompanied by icons that would tell parents which programs were, in fact, educational.

ERVIN S. DUGGAN, President, PBS: As that good educationally valuable programming emerges, we are going to need an icon or a label to find programming with that purpose, not a label that says spinach, but one that says kid smart programming that parents can find and that children can find and that means something.


CHARLES KRAUSE: There are some good informational children’s programs already on the air. Children’s television advocates often point to ‘Beakman’s World’ on CBS as a show which attracts the attention of elementary-age children while teaching science concepts.

ACTOR: You know, snot is like sticky glue–it traps the dirt and the germs floating in the air.

CHARLES KRAUSE: But such programs are expensive to produce, and since networks often relegate children’s programming to early mornings or afternoon hours, advertisers aren’t willing to ante up the same amount of money they’d spend for commercials in prime time.

Linda Ellerbee, host of a Nickelodeon children’s news program, told the President’s conference that to produce better programming broadcasters may have to concede some profits.

LINDA ELLERBEE, Lucky Duck Productions: I know that your mission is to make money, but at some times we have to come down to how much is enough, and I think when it comes to kids of America, that the advertisers, as well as the parents and the producers and the broadcasters have an obligation to step up to the plate here.

CHARLES KRAUSE: Even if producers, broadcasters, advertisers, and parents agree that children need more educational programs, there’s still one obstacle that remains–getting children to watch them.