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A Comparison in the Ways in Which sesame Street and teletubbies address and Construct the Child Viewer

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A Comparison in the ways in which Sesame Street and Teletubbies address and construct the child viewer.

Introduction

Children’s television is a specific genre of television primarily designed and marketed towards children and is mainly broadcasted during the morning and afternoon. They might be shown during early evening so as to allow young children opportunity to watch them after kindergarten or school. The genre of children’s television can be said to be as old as the invention of television itself. It was estimated that children watch an average 2 hours of television each day (Rideout and Hammel 7). Although, the main purpose of the shows is to entertain children, sometimes they are seen as form of educating them by teaching them social and academic skills. The audience for children’s television is divided into three main demographics: Pre-school demographic (2-6 year olds), general children’s demographic (6-11 year olds) and teen demographic (11 – 17 year olds). This essay will primarily be focused on the pre-school demographic for which the content of the TV shows is primarily educational with content geared towards the psychological and educational standards of the audience. The shows can be wide variety from live-action series to cartoons. Hence, the aim of this review is to look at how Sesame Street and Teletubbies, examples of children’s educational TV, address and construct the child viewer by a direct comparison of both TV shows with examples from screened episodes of each.

Sesame Street

Sesame Street is an American children’s television series created by Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisset and was first premiered on 10th November 1969. The series is primarily known for its focus on children’s education with the content communicated to the audience by a mixture of live action puppets, animations and short films. The series has, as of 2016, currently broadcasted 46 seasons in the United States of America and also been shown in 140 other countries. Sesame Street was seen in America by 95% of children by the time they were 3 year olds (Singer 475-478). The creation of Sesame Street was the first time a children’s television show was developed by allowing the educational curriculum and policies to influence the shaping of its content. The producers of Sesame Street developed the CTW model through years of research to help in planning the content for the show. The CTW model is a combination of four parts: the making and implementing an age-appropriate curriculum, coordination between the producers and child experts, independent surveys to measure the learning levels of the audience and in-depth research to create the content (Cole and Lee 9-39). This helps in achieving the main goal of the show which is to be source of pre-school knowledge for children from less fortunate backgrounds and to help them prepare for school. According to Gettas, the global popularity of the series allowed researchers to investigate the impact of children’s education on a mass population through the medium of television by analysing the wide-ranging effects of Sesame Street (113-119).

Teletubbies

Teletubbies is a British children’s television series created by Anne Wood and Andrew Davenport for Ragdoll Productions and it was premiered on British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on 31st March 1997. The series is known for providing educational content through four bright coloured toddlers or “Teletubbies” who convey their messages through their behaviour, language and short clips shown on the televisions embedded in their stomachs. According to Bignell, the show was designed by considering the attention span of the target audience, delivery pace of the content and the manner the content was delivered (373-387). This was successfully achieved by the use of bright colours and repetition of keywords in the series.

Comparison of Teletubbies and Sesame Street

Target Audiences

The target audiences of both shows, even though they are in the pre-school demographic of (2-6 year olds), are different because Sesame Street focuses on the children who are about to join kindergarten while Teletubbies is targeted for children under the age of 3. Even though their audience is different the main aim of each show is to educate and help the cognitive development of children. The goal of Sesame Street is to prepare children for kindergarten by subconsciously introducing them to concepts such as numeracy, literacy and spatial skills (Reiser, Williamson and Suzuki 15-21). This can be seen in the Sesame Street Episode 1 in segments like Word of the Day, Letter of the day, Number of the day as well as clip showing the concept of over, under and through by way of playing children. This is in contrast to Teletubbies whose aim is to develop and enhance cognitive abilities like recognizing images of objects and relating them to their names as well as basic sensory development. An example of this in the screened episode of the Teletubbies would be the clip of Dipsy and Lala drawing a triangle in sand where the two Teletubbies show how a triangle is drawn and create a relation in the minds of children between the shape and its name. Even though both shows make use of puppets to grab the attention to deliver content, their intentions are different as in Teletubbies use it to get children to be physically motivated to do an activity whereas in Sesame Street as reasoned by Coates, Pusser and Goodman they are just a tool to get young children’s attention to impart educational lessons (138).

Narrative Structure

The narrative structure we generally associate with a television show is not really applicable to television shows meant for young children because of the short attention span of children and the fact that they are too young to comprehend a story line with a beginning, middle and end. This can be seen in the Teletubbies in how the show is presented as it focuses on simple messages, concepts and physical routines. For instance, as seen in the screened episode of the Teletubbies, when the four gather together to eat tubby custard and they wait in an orderly line to get the custard. This sketch does not have a storyline as such but it portrays its simple social message on the importance of waiting in a queue patiently to young children who are known to be extremely impatient. The Teletubbies use this narrative because it was developed by how young children play and how they interpret information they are shown. Hence, there are two ways in which information is delivered to the viewers. The first is the unique language of the Teletubbies, a mixture of baby talk and play language, which allows to reinforce positive values while allowing toddlers and children at the age of 3 to understand things easily. This allows them to imitate the words spoken and construct simple sentences which improve their language skills (Buckingham 38-60). The second way is through repetitive actions and words as it allows children to grasp it easily due to the recurrence of familiar sounds and actions. The actions, usually to a song, by the Teletubbies like the numbers sketch with the Teletubbies shown in the episode are meant to be imitated by children so as not just sitting in front of the television and this also allows them to grasp the ideas easily (Bignell 373-387).

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