The cream of kids TV programmes will be rewarded this week at the Children's Baftas. James Curtis looks at the shows that are setting the standards, addressing serious issues and giving children their own voice.
The Children's Baftas have come a long way since the year they were held at Thorpe Park, where, thrilling though the Ribena Rumba Rapids are, the venue hardly endowed the event with gravitas. However, now in their eighth year, the awards are a much more serious business.With nominations ranging from Hollywood blockbusters such as Lord of the Rings to low-budget pre-school shows such as Ripley and Scuff, the kids Baftas are extremely wide-ranging. However, in honouring the best of children's television, they reflect that kids' viewing is a mixture of mainstream entertainment and sometimes very specialist education, and Bafta aims to reward each end of the scale with equal merit.As Bob Howes, managing director of The Children's Company, which makes Ripley and Scuff for CITV, says: "Bafta has done a great job in highlighting the world of kids TV and giving it due weight. It recognises that children's TV, especially pre-school, does a very important job in helping kids grow up."This year's nominations, which will contest the final awards on Sunday (30 November) at the London Hilton, are a typically eclectic bunch. The BBC has once again swept the board, picking up 27 nominations, including the domestic violence drama Behind Closed Doors and, in the factual category, The Really Wild Show. Its nearest rival, CITV, has 14 nominations, including the highly rated Granada Kids drama My Parents are Aliens and Ragdoll's Teletubbies follow-up, Boobah. Last year, the BBC won eight awards and CITV picked up three.It's going to be an important night for Steven Andrew, who took over as controller of children's and youth programming at ITV in March (he's also a member of the Bafta children's committee). Briefed to revive CITV's flagging fortunes against the BBC's expansive slate of children's programmes, Andrew is pleased at this year's showing: "I think we're steaming ahead.Of course, the BBC is going to get more (nominations than ITV). With two cable and satellite channels, it'd be doing something wrong if it didn't."Unfortunately for ITV, SM:TV Live and CD:UK didn't make it into the entertainment nominations this year, having featured in previous years (SM:TV won in 2002). However, many observers of the competition are pleased at their absence as it means the entertainment category nominations are all new shows. Foundation TV, which will make the replacement for SM:TV Live, has bagged two of the nominations, with its zany gameshow Globo Loco and You Can Do Magic - both for CITV. CBBC Scotland has the other two nominees - Rule the School and The Raven.Lamenting, (greedily, she admits), that Foundation's Basil Brush Show did not make it a hat-trick of nominations, joint managing director Vanessa Hill is pleased that Bafta has given so many new shows a chance to shine."It's indicative of the health of children's TV that four new programmes have made it to the shortlist. It shows that the stuff bursting through hasn't just got energy, but real quality too."Linda James, managing director of Alibi Films, and deputy chairman of the Children's Baftas, praises the "bold and innovative formats" seen in the entertainment category.Factual is another notable category, which reveals an interesting new trend in kids TV: the readiness to tackle serious issues and speak to children as if they were grown-ups. Sunset + Vine's skateboarding and BMX-ing roadshow RAD and the Grommets Tour (for Five), is pitted against Blue Peter's Launch of the Tanzania Water Appeal, The Really Wild Show (both BBC) and Nickelodeon UK's Get the Skinny, from WisedUp Productions.Emma Wakefield, director of Lambent Productions and a member of the factual judging panel, believes that RAD and the Grommets Tour is as good as anything for adults, which is an important criterion for success."You can't split kids TV off as if it were less important. It's disrespectful. The great thing about this programme is that it could easily be for adults." The programme's presenter, Christian Stevenson, is up for a Bafta in the presenter category.However, the Blue Peter Launch of the Tanzania Water Appeal and The Really Wild Show, which was also nominated last year, are strong contenders to win the factual kids Bafta. Foundation TV's Vanessa Hill says: "Blue Peter specials are always hard to beat. It's great to see children's programmes tackling important stories like this and that deserves a lot of merit." Blue Peter is also nominated in the presenter category, where Matt Baker will be hoping to scoop the Bafta for the second year running.WisedUp is another company making an effort not to patronise kids and to cover serious issues. Nick Robertson, managing director of WisedUp, is known for allowing kids to make and front their own programmes and his previous series for Nickelodeon UK, Nick News, won Baftas for the channel in 1999 and 2001. Get the Skinny is a series of three-minute factual guides about kids issues. The one nominated is about truancy and is presented by a 13-year-old boy. Robertson says the boy's "cheeky and delightful" presentation "couldn't have been done by an adult".The nomination is a coup for the channel and shows that, even though Nick News has been discontinued, Nickelodeon still has room for UK-produced factual content. Nickelodeon UK head of original production Joe Godwin says: "It's fantastic that Get the Skinny is nominated. Not only does it show that multichannel can mix it with the big boys on terrestrial, but also that Nickelodeon is creating strong original production for the UK."In the drama category, the BBC has bagged three of the four nominations.Echoing the trend in the factual category, it is pertinent issues that form the basis of these shows. Behind Closed Doors is a one-off drama about domestic violence, Bootleg is a political satire about the government banning chocolate and The Story of Tracy Beaker is an adaptation of the Jacqueline Wilson book (also nominated last year) which looks at life in a children's home. CITV's acclaimed My Parents are Aliens is also shortlisted.The BBC head of children's drama, Elaine Sperber, says: "No matter who wins, I'm really pleased at the diversity of drama represented by our three nominations. Aliens is also a wonderful show and is certainly a strong contender."