With so much talk of what TV can do, both positively and negatively, for children and the amount of work put into messages and making sure that TV content is good for children, you could be forgiven for thinking that I sometimes miss the most important ingredient – engaging children.
Nor should you.
There are a couple of reasons why I don’t talk about engaging children as much as it might seem I should:
a) I take it as a fundamental. If your show doesn’t engage children, you’ve failed. Entertainment, story and great characters are the foundations of any show for me so they’re not optional. They’re a given.
b) Most people in children’s TV are already really good at this. There are shows I love over others and some I’ll criticise but most are very good at engaging children. So, for me, a show may be engaging but that doesn’t make it special on its own – there are a thousand other shows that are also doing that.
And yet engaging our audience is still of utmost importance.
There are many ways to engage children, many ways to draw them to your show and many ways to entertain. For me, some methods are fantastic, others feel a little cheap (the ‘OH MY GOD THERE’S DANGER!’ thing mostly, which works but…) and so it’s not just whether you engage or don’t engage children. The how, why and what they get from it is key.
For me, I love fun.
I like to make children smile. Make them laugh. With FLUFFY GARDENS, it was gentle, relaxed humour. One of my favourite moments comes from the Christmas Special. The penguins go missing. Paolo the Cat discusses this with Wee Reg the Puppy over a cup of tea at Paolo’s house. Very concerned, Paolo says that they should go searching for the penguins. Wee Reg turns to him, enthusiastic, and says, “I’ll look in my house and you look here!” Paolo, in his very matter of fact way, says, “I don’t think that will do it.”
Maybe you had to be there…
Generally, the show gets its fun from exploring the naivity of the little animal characters, along with some silly misunderstandings, pink lederhosen, sending shephard’s pie through the post and plenty of parties.
When we were starting ROOBARB, the very first thing I did was ask creator Grange Calveley what comedy he likes. So we began ROOBARB by watching plenty of Morcombe and Wise. Our laughter while making the show would, in turn, add to the fun of the show for the young audience.
And we did fill that show with fun.
With my new show, COSMO, I’m hoping it’s one they’ll sing along with, jump off the couch and dance around. This is a whole different show to FLUFFY GARDENS. In ways, I consider it my first cartoon.
Fun is something that comes naturally to children. We don’t have to teach it to them. Young children have a natural sense of play and they can use their imagination all by themselves. They could have fun anywhere, even in a tax office – imagine that!
So, in a way, if we make our shows fun for children, we’re sort of giving back what they put out there. Like a flat screen hi-def mirror of smiles. That makes it sound all very fancy but I guess what I mean is my favourite fun for children is fun that engages children on their level. Whimsical, imaginative, but coming from the world around them. Fun they can recognise. Fun they can see in themselves. Fun that comes from the deeply buried children inside us (metaphorical, not a weird surgical oddity).
That’s the fun I love.
And just having fun is my favourite way to engage children.