On Monday, I attended the launch of RTÉjr, Ireland’s new dedicated children’s channel. Broadcasting twelve hours a day, the channel brings content directly to Irish children, expanding what was once a block on RTÉ2 into a full channel sitting along with all the other children’s channels on Sky, UPC and Saorview. Now I should point out that I have five shows currently airing on the channel so it’s likely I would say some pleasant things about it – I have been referring to the channel as my ‘showreel’, after all. But there is more to RTÉjr than just being a place to catch some of my shows.
RTÉjr is a big positive step for all Irish children. An important step. Here is why –
It is a dedicated children’s channel focusing on children aged seven and under. I have previously expressed my appreciation for dedicated children’s channels on this site. I feel they give parents more control, lessen the risk of inappropriate content and they simply make it easier to pick and choose what our children watch.
It is a channel focusing on delivering specifically to Irish children. Local content is so important to children. Each country has its own culture, its own ways of looking at the world. That unique point of view should be represented in the shows kids watch. Anyone in children’s content will know just how difficult that is to achieve ‘ most shows need to be sold all over the world to stand a chance of breaking even so how can they be culturally specific? Well, that’s why local content in any country needs support.
RTÉjr has, yes, content bought in from abroad but it also currently carries a large amount of content created here in Ireland for Irish children. For example, one of my own shows now airing on the channel, Ballybraddan, is about Irish children playing hurling, an Irish sport. That show just couldn’t be made anywhere else. And it is wonderful now to see it sitting in the schedule, seeing it among the NickJrs, the Disney Juniors and all the other juniors. And RTÉ’s own produced content (of which I am not involved with) has jumped in quality recently and the level of talent has risen. So it is not just content tailored for Irish children, it is better content for Irish children.
The biggest part of this whole channel for me as a parent?
RTÉjr carries no advertising. None.
It was so encouraging to hear RTÉ’s Director General, Noel Curran, focus on that point at the channel’s launch on Monday, calling the lack of advertising a strong statement and positive for parents, while expressing his and RTÉ’s commitment to children and the new channel.
So what we have now with RTÉjr is an ad-free channel, focused on children aged seven and under, delivering some uniquely Irish content that children just can’t get anywhere else.
As a creator, a producer of content, RTÉjr offers a home for existing content and makes it much more accessible for our audience. With the channel sitting in the Kids section, it is now far more likely that children and parents will see our shows, take a chance on them over some of the more international content. It also creates a need for new content. The challenge laid down by the channel and the commitment is to keep it relevant, keep it current. Oh there will be budgetary constraints (there always are), but this channel will need content as it evolves. And with such a strong start, I am looking forward to seeing the channel grow.
The launch event was tons of fun. I got to meet Reuben and Bó Donie (who, as a children’s presenter, I was very impressed with ‘ this guy could be the Irish Justin Fletcher) and almost got to pet a hedgehog before his minder told me he gets a bit bitey. And my girls have been testing out the channel for the last couple of days and have been enjoying it immensely. So congratulations to Sheila DeCourcy, RTÉ’s Cross-Divisional Head of Children’s Content, and all her team on a great launch, a strong schedule, and for giving something really positive to Irish children.
If you’re in Ireland, you can find RTÉjr on Saorview (Channel 7), UPC (Channel 600) and Sky (Channel 624). For my own shows, you’ll find Fluffy Gardens at 1.15pm and 4.55pm, Planet Cosmo at 9.05am and 1.40pm, Roobarb & Custard Too at 11.05am, Punky at 8.40am and Ballybraddan at 6.15pm. But be sure to check out some of the other excellent Irish content on there too ‘ Beo Show, Garth and Bev, Why Guy and more.
As many of you will have seen, it was announced last week that Monster Animation & Design has changed its name to Geronimo Productions. Monster Animation, started by owner and producer Gerard O’Rourke, has been going for 17 years and I joined very early in its history, taking the position of Creative Director of the company more than ten years ago. From there, we took Monster Animation from advertising into broadcast television, starting with us producing Roobarb & Custard Too and then creating Fluffy Gardens and moving us through Ballybraddan, Punky and now our new show and my latest creation, Planet Cosmo. All the while, I have been overseeing the creative vision of the company, building the studio methods and systems and creating, moulding, nurturing and producing shows.
We have come a long way together.
The name change is something Gerard and I have discussed for many years (mostly because of international confusion with another Irish Monster) and, with a brand new show launching, the time finally seemed right to make the switch. So this week, we’re working hard as Geronimo Productions to finish Planet Cosmo and you’ll be hearing a lot about that very soon. The studio at Geronimo is gearing up for more Punky (I’m serving as script editor at the moment with Andrew Brenner writing) and everything is moving forward with a new name and a new identity.
Will it bring exciting things? I think it will. It’s going to be a big and rather interesting year for all of us.
There are certain realities of animation production that change depending on the size and nature of the production. Often at a certain point, the creativity has to end to make way for the act of simply getting the thing done.
I have never been a big fan of ‘realities’. Sure, there are genuine limits. But more often than not, ‘realities’ is a term used so we can do less work and be okay with that. Other times, somewhat more poisonous, it is thrown at you by others so you’ll do less work which, in turn, will make those people feel a little better about not putting in similar effort themselves. In either case, it shifts responsibility from the individual and assigns it to the rest of the world.
Accepting the responsibility as ours (as creators, directors, writers, producers – any part of the process), I was all too far into my career when I figured out what I believe to be an important truth: if it can be made better, it should be.
No, that doesn’t mean aiming for perfect (doesn’t exist) and it doesn’t mean missing deadlines, blowing the budget and scuppering the project, hence the all-important ‘if’. It just means aiming for excellence and deciding that, at any stage of the process, improvements can be made.
For example, we dropped the very first episode of Fluffy Gardens series 2 that we animated. When put together, it simply wasn’t as strong as the others and we knew we could get another better episode written and produced within our time. So we did. Just because we made it and put the work in didn’t mean we had to use it. Not when there was a better episode out there. So instead of ending up with 39 episodes we were happy with and 1 we weren’t, we now have 40 episodes we love.
In Ballybraddan, which was one continuing storyline, it became clear late in production that the series was even stronger than the first episode made out. The show deserved a better setup. So we rewrote, rerecorded and reanimated half of the first episode right at the end of production and we made it a far stronger series as a result. The changes to that one episode made all the subsequent episodes better and we were able to do it on time and within budget.
In the production of every show, even after years of development, potential improvements become apparent at various stages. It’s often only in the doing, doing it for real, that they show themselves. Sure, in both cases we could have left things as they were and maybe few would have noticed that they weren’t quite up to par.
But if it can be made better, it should be.
Last week, we got a working cut of the very first Cosmo episode together. It’s good. Actually, it’s pretty great. We have always aimed high on this one and I want it to be as great as it can be all across the show. The animation in particular is superb – I can’t wait to show some of it here on the site. In many ways, the show is even better than I hoped and that’s a pretty fantastic thing to be able to write. It also sets the benchmark that much higher, a benchmark that now every element of the show must reach. And so I spent much the weekend working on completely new design possibilites for some of those elements even in the thick of production.
It’s already really good. That’s a beautiful start when aiming for excellence. All we have to do is remember, if it can be made better…