Christoph Biemann

Childrens television

Opening Doors

"Childrens television is when children watch TV!" Quite true this sentence of
Gert K. Müntefering, the father of the "Mouse-show", the classic childrens magazine in German television. It is a fact we all know: children do not only watch programmes produced for them. There is not much we can do about that, except one thing: produce programmes that are more attractive for them, more interesting, more exciting.

What is good television for children? Animations, picture stories, films about nature and animals, drama for older children. All this certainly cannot be disputed.
But what about the non-fictional part? How do we show the world to children, and what? Many who do non-fictional films for children have the opinion, these films should show children. Surely children like to see what other children do and how they live. But I think it makes no sense to show children doing things that are very common. Some films to me look like they are made for the grandmothers to say: "Oh, how cute!" These kinds of films are not very attractive for children.

It sure makes sense to show, how children live in other circumstances. To show children, who live in the city, how life is in the country. And show childrens city life to rural children. Not so easy if your audience lives in both worlds. This means you have to think very hard about what is interesting for your child audience. What exactly is the point of interest for children?

The notion childrens television has to show children is wrong in my opinion.
In fact most of the small documentaries I produce for children do not show children. Most of all I am against "using" the children to give a "childrens television touch".

There are many other things worthwhile showing. In the EBU and ABU exchanges we have the category "How things are made". I would like to add
"how does this work?" as another category of things which are of interest for children. Things I think are worthwhile to show to children.

On the other hand I don´t think it is the task of childrens television to teach values and impose opinions. Your audience would resent that, I am sure. It is important to communicate basic things like: "Look, it is good to be curious. You get to learn exciting things and have fun, because you know something which- one minute ago-
you did not know before". This kind of learning I think is maximum fun for children.

The stories we have to look for are really the small ones for our little people.
"How far can a frog jump?". "Why do birds sing?", "why does Mr. Gupta ring a bell first thing in the morning?" (curious?) Starting out which a question which arouses curiosity is always a good way. Maybe not every topic you want to make into a story is of interest in the first place. But why not make an effort to make it interesting, if you are convinced your story is worthwhile telling?

The search for stories to tell really starts with you. Walk around with open eyes!
What about the holes in the street? Is there a story behind, that is interesting and worth telling? Signs at the shops? What is their meaning, what´s behind them?
Walk along a lively street and give yourself the assignment to find three stories you want to know more about.

Many times it happens that at the end of the day the story turns out to be too weak to be told. But in any case it was worth a try. Normally at least one of ten stories you did research will turn out to be a good one. Sometimes I feel like a digesting machine, where newspaper articels, radio programmes, internet sites, television broacasts are being filtered and examined for stories I can tell to my children audience. I am in a way the first child to search for news to me - and then to others. I have to be just as curious as I expect my audience to be.

As television professionals we can enter with our camera into places where children usually are not admitted. We can open doors and walk through, with the camera being the eye of the child, just as curious and interested as the children. We have the chance, the abililty and the possibilty to open windows into the world for the children, making them see things they would not be able to see without us.
This is a chance, a task and a responsibility!

Look for the small and simple stories. Meet people who are interesting to you and to your audience. Look for the special tools of the craftsmen, for the tricks of carpenters and cooks, the wisdom of the gardeners. You will not only get richer yourself, but also find interesting and maybe funny stories to tell.

We look forward to seeing them in the next exchange meetings.

Sabine Ennulath
Christoph Biemann