OK, I know, for those very few of my regular readers, this topic is perhaps the last one might ever expect to find on my blog. But with a very young daughter (currently 18 months), I am often reduced to watching hour after hour of - gasp - children's TV.
Actually, children's television is light years beyond what was shown on TV when I was a kid in the 60s. Some of this stuff is actually - wait for it - interesting! Three things have stood out while watching TV with my daughter:
1) Children's programming isn't an American monopoly. While there are many American productions on TV, other countries around the world are well represented. In fact, the only regions of the world I haven't seen childrens' programming from is Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, and that is more due to a lack of English-language translations than from the actual production of the programs themselves. Unsurprisingly, Canada and Europe produce much of childrens' programming; for example, Canada (Igloo-gloo (one of A'ishah's favorites) and The Backyardigans), Britain (to be honest, there are too many programs to list here; Singapore broadcasts the BBC channel CBeebies, which plays, among other programs, two of A'ishah's favorites, Teletubbies and In the Night Garden...), France (Gazoon), Germany (Wildlife), Italy (MioMao), and Spain (Pocoyo). What's impressive, though, are the increasing number of Asian programs being broadcast, including: Malaysia (Upin & Ipin), South Korea (Pucca), and Taiwan (MumuHug). (I've also wondered if Little Fables is an Israeli production.) Two of these programs, Upin & Ipin and Pucca, have been picked up by Disney, which, insha'allah, will lead to greater coverage worldwide.
2) Some decent actors are involved with children's programming. Producers for childrens' programs have been using a lot of big-name narrators. The English-language version of Pocoyo is narrated by British actor and comedian Stephen Fry, while In the Night Garden... uses Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi. Fred Savage ("Kevin Arnold," The Wonder Years) does voiceover work for a number of different programs; the one A'ishah and I watch is Oswald. (Actually, Oswald uses quite a few actors who should be familiar to people 40 and over, including comedienne Laraine Newman (Saturday Night Live), David Lander ("Squiggy" from Laverne & Shirley), and actress Kathy Najimy (the two Sister Act movies). Also, singer Tony Orlando of the 70s pop group Tony Orlando & Dawn has also worked on Oswald.) Another singer who worked as a narrator is the Beatles' Ringo Starr, who was the original narrator on Thomas & Friends back in the mid 80s. (This is another series that has used a number of "name" voices, including the late comedian George Carlin, and actors Alec Baldwin and Pierce Brosnan.)
3) The visual quality of some programming is excellent. While CGI is used by virtually everyone who doesn't do stop-motion claymation series, a few series have very creative visual styles that make for beautiful artwork. Series that I like the look of include Little Fables (which makes cartoons in the form of shadow theater, using various tones of black, white and grey, with one bright color (such as red, yellow, green, etc.)), Bonny, Banana & Mo (for its vibrant color scheme), and MioMao (a claymation series that's very creative in how the characters move).