There’s a TV executive working at Network TEN who I have only met a handful of times, but whom producers have said wonderful things about.
Her name is Cherrie Bottger and she is TEN’s Head of Children’s Television.
For the past 16 years Cherrie has championed children’s television, especially Drama productions, at TEN.
With the exception of ABC, it is TEN that has the best track record in making Children’s TV in this country. Her credits include H20: Just Add Water, Rock It!, Ocean Star, The Elephant Princess, Pearlie, Me & My Monsters, Sam Fox: Extreme Adventures, Scope, Mako: Island of Secrets, Get Ace, Toasted TV, Random & Whacky and of course, Brissy’s very own Totally Wild. I shudder to think how hard that’s been at a cash-strapped network with a revolving door of CEOs.
Tomorrow Totally Wild will celebrate 25 years on air.
Ironically, yesterday TEN CEO Paul Anderson, together with Nine’s Hugh Marks and Seven’s Tim Worner all fronted at a parliamentary hearing in a unified front to recommend their networks no longer be required to meet a quota for children’s television.
What a shame someone like Cherrie wasn’t there instead to share her memories of how monsters and mermaids, teen spies and princesses, fairies and turtles had lit up the imaginations of the thousands of kids who watched them.
According to the big 3 execs, the kids of Australia aren’t watching kid’s telly any more. Or if they do, it’s on dear old ABC. If nobody is watching it why should they have to make it, they argued?
But networks have quietly shuffled children’s TV off to the multichannels (indeed TEN was one of the first) and replaced afternoon viewing with lashings of news, US soaps and game shows. But mostly news.
That makes destinations much harder to find especially given there isn’t even unity on the best timezones. While 9GO! has Kids WB, 7flix (which isn’t even available to rural kids) has Jessie but ELEVEN has Everybody Loves Raymond.
Networks may have met their recent obligations with quotas but the programming, which is the other part of the equation, has failed to nurture it. Parents well remember sitting down to Wonder World, Round the Twist, Shirl’s Neighbourhood, The Henderson Kids, Spellbinder,The Sleepover Club, Ocean Girl and Here’s Humphrey.
These days you’re lucky to spot Humphrey in the closing credits of Carols by Candlelight. Saturday Disney gets the chop after 26 years.
The new-look Hi-5, a brand Hugh Marks’ former company owned, is averaging just 10,000 viewers. Of course it doesn’t make economic sense to maintain it. But networks have shuffled the content around their platforms while ABC has built destinations (witness the outrage at the very thought of flipping Sesame Street and Play School timeslots).
According to network bosses kids are watching My Kitchen Rules, The Block and Masterchef. Yes they are. Because networks have programmed accordingly. The success of Australian Ninja Warrior, hugely popular with kids, shows the power of family viewing. Networks want to make more of those and less of children’s TV, scripted or otherwise.
But while Ninja Warrior may encourage us to sign up to the local gym, it does little for our imagination in the way that H20: Just Add Water does. The Bachelor offers little in Australian storytelling that Esben Storm did in Round the Twist. And House Rules has none of the Australian voice you will find in Lockie Leonard.
Australian Children’s TV has a reputation of being amongst the best in the world. A show like Beat Bugs, which screens on 7TWO, is winning rave reviews overseas. The global following for Dance Academy is extraordinary. These things are still possible in 2017 with a more comprehensive approach.
It is disappointing networks are advocating to shirk their responsibilities to generations of Australian children, at a time when they have $127m licence relief. As the custodians of public spectrum, this is unacceptable.
If the ground rules have to change to bring about a more level playing field to support the economic model, then this is the argument to make.
Nearly all of our TV execs are storytellers at heart, many of whom grew up watching some of the shows I have mentioned here.
Some like Cherrie Bottger, along with a band of producers and writers, still see merit in our children seeing themselves upon the screen.
This week she said, “We believe Totally Wild delivers a unique experience to young Australian audiences. Without the incredibly talented team who have appeared on camera, and those that have worked behind the scenes over the past 25 years, this would never have happened.”
Children’s TV -and in particular children’s drama- is crucial to identity and to our imagination. And that’s just irreplaceable.