The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on May 21, 2000 · Page 105
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The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia · Page 105

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 21, 2000
Page 105
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felliiimiiijj1 being diminished". According to Main, Sesame Street has a budget 1 5 times that of Here's Humphrey and 30 times that of some other programs made in-house by the networks in this country. He warned that if the regulations insisting on Australian P-rated programs were removed, they would quickly be replaced by "a whole swag of overseas toy-related programs". The prominent media researcher Lee Burton thinks most pre-school television is "a bit precious". Over the last 10 years, Burton has interviewed close to 500 children under eight as part of her work consulting production companies on what kids want. Very young children can't explain why they like TV programs but older children were quite explicit about their preferences -and they fly in the face of the guidelines established to protect them. According to Burton, children love disasters, especially adults involved in slapstick and behaving childishly. They are also fascinated by conflicts, such as jealousy, playground fighting and arguments with parents, and even death. Several early childhood studies confirm Burton's unsurprising finding that young children love cartoons more than any other kind of programming. Research throughout the 1970s, '80s and '90s has found that children under five know a cartoon is different to filmed material and that they prefer cartoons because they don't look real. Possibly, the two-dimensional look of cartoons is reassuring to very young television viewers, who see the similarities between the flat picture on the screen and the flat pictures in their storybooks. In a study of what small children really see on TV, Stanford psychologist John Flavell reported that children under three assume that what they see on the TV is something real inside the set. After three, they begin to understand that the image on the screen represents something that is not real. Back on the Hi-5 set, the studio audience for the song of the week is full of children in Hi-5 clobber: T-shirts, trousers, brightly striped pinafore dresses, all marked with the cartoon hand logo. There are also children in Wiggles hats, others carrying Bananas backpacks and Thomas the Tank Engine schoolbags, a couple of Teletubbies stickers and one chic child in head-to-toe Kenzo Junior. All the television-themed merchandise in the room comes from programs that do not advertise their own products in the show. Indeed, the ABA expressly prohibits any kind of in-house promotion. But parents soon discover that every time they go to the department store, the supermarket and the shopping mall, the children will see Bananas in Pyjamas toothbrushes, Wiggles underpants, Thomas Band-aids and Hi-5 stationery. Because the little ones love the show, they are ready to love the product that belongs to the show. Or their parents are. "I was the one that wanted to buy something at first," says Maureen McCunnie, mother of two-year-old Jared. "I took him to the merchandising booth at the back of the Wiggles concert and he wasn't interested in a T-shirt. I wanted to buy it." But they soon catch on, says Mary Iliadis. Her two-year-old daughter, Victoria, always asks for the Teletubbies and Wiggles merchandise she sees at the supermarket. "She only chooses toys from TV shows" says Mary. Patricia Edgar says the drive for marketable product is now affecting the kinds of television shows that get made. It also explains all those Things In Costumes that crop up everywhere: the Teletubbies, Humphrey, Dorothy the Dinosaur. The thing in the suit becomes the show's template for all the spinoffs. "When we were making Lift-Off, we were told we had too many characters and couldn't create a focus for the merchandise," says Edgar. "We were told to focus on just a few puppets or characters." The merchandisers also hated Liftoffs key non-human character, a deliberately plain, featureless rag doll known as EC - "every child". "We wanted something that could be whatever children wanted it to be, that they could use their own imagination," says Edgar. "They told us it looked like a leukaemia victim and that it wasn't a strong-enough brand." Licensing Hi-5 products is practically another full-time job for Graeme-Evans right now. "You've got to get it right," she says. "We want a slow build so Hi-5 can have longevity." Hi-5's current range comprises videos, CDs, clothes, a monthly magazine, stationery, toys and musical instruments, and makes up a quarter of the show's gross revenue, soon to exceed $7 million. Manufacturers are very keen to come on board. "You see these toys that used to be Sesame Street and used to be Thomas" says Harris. "They want to take those stickers off and put new stickers on that say Hi-5." These bids are unsuccessful. Harris and Graeme-Evans were the kind of mothers that didn't let their daughters have Barbies (well, Harris relented eventually) so they were quite anxious that the forthcoming Hi-5 dolls did not have Barbie bodies. "We wanted reasonable waists," says Graeme-Evans. "We wanted thighs. Funtastic (the toy manufacturer) searched the world for realistic body moulds and couldn't find them so they've made them themselves. The dolls are high-fashion but they're anatomically possible." mm,. JBS(t 3 - a. ,..v N sirjiiai taw a ft ir fie ,M 13111 O w m Bit ' m o o "0 sir

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