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Children's Television by Alistair McGown
Introduction Scheduling Puppets Merchandising Long-running Presenters
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Imports (and Exports)
Still from Sesame Street

Sesame Street
(US, 1969-)

Programmes imported from other countries, particularly America, have been popular on British screens since the 1950s, but many critics, television professionals and viewers have also declared them a sign of falling standards in British television. Such criticism has been particularly strong in the area of children's television.

In the 1950s the first head of BBC Children's television, Freda Lingstrom, vowed never to show American programmes. But when ratings fell in the mid-50s, she was forced to screen popular Westerns like Champion the Wonder Horse.

ITV had no such problems with 'cultural imperialism', showing series like Flipper and Tarzan in the '60s. The BBC, short of money, bought in series from Europe like The Singing Ringing Tree (from Germany) and Belle and Sebastian (from France) and overdubbed them with English dialogue.

Parents have complained that cartoons in particular are cheap, noisy and usually act as 'advertising' for toys. Certainly packages of imported cartoons are much cheaper to import than animations made in Britain. Japan's Marine Boy was a cartoon hit of the '60s, while the 70s and 80s were dominated by America's Hanna-Barbera studios which produced Wacky Races, Scooby Doo, Where Are You? and a dozen more. Japan's Pokemon is perhaps the most successful cartoon import today.

Educational programmes attract strong protest too - the award-winning Sesame Street (which first brought the Muppets to American TV in 1969) was rejected by the BBC for using American slang words like 'trashcan', being set in an unfamiliar American urban environment and for putting too much emphasis on numbers and letters in preference to the exploration and inquiry typical of British educational TV. ITV cautiously purchased the series, running a ten-week trial in Wales and the West in 1971 - it was soon being shown across the UK.

Some suggest that a constant stream of imported children's programmes erode cultural values, leaving British children with a reduced idea of national identity. The same lobby believes that an emphasis on making programmes for worldwide sales is also reducing the British character in our exported series.

Britain today is part of the 'global village', with an increasingly Americanised culture of shopping malls, McDonalds and Coca-Cola and, on the more positive side, The Simpsons. Multi-channel television stations like Nickelodeon, Disney and Trouble are American-owned and show almost exclusively American content like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, without the imposed quota controls which still apply to BBC and ITV children's programmes.

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