Formats featuring children are popular in family-oriented prime-time slots.
Shows demonstrating the comedic wisdom of children—from variety series to sitcoms to home-video compilations—have been ratings winners for decades. As of late, a new subset of formats has emerged with kids placed front and center—dancing, singing, cooking and endearing themselves to prime-time viewers across the globe.
“Viewers like the honest, upfront reactions that you get from kids,” says Harry Gamsu, the VP of non-scripted at Red Arrow Studios International. “In shows like Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, kids are incredibly loving, caring and also really funny. It’s difficult to get honest reactions on television and children do that.”
Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds is a social experiment that first aired on Channel 4 in the U.K. The show, which recently won an Edinburgh TV Award in the category of best popular factual series, sends youngsters into care homes for senior citizens. “There are loads of positive effects on the older people, who become more mobile, sociable and their happiness levels increase,” says Gamsu.
Other prime-time formats in the Red Arrow catalog involving kids include Don’t Stop the Music, which addresses the diminishing presence of music education in schools, and A Star Is Born, spotlighting talented youngsters.
“There is always an interest in formats featuring kids for prime-time slots,” says Nick Tanner, the director of sales and co-productions at Passion Distribution, which launched The Class Next Door (also known as Class of Mum and Dad) during MIPCOM 2017 and will be introducing Postcode Playdates this year.
The Class Next Door looks on as a group of parents are sent back to school, with their children in the classroom adjacent to them. Postcode Playdates sees neighbors from different social statuses invite each other’s children into their homes. Both hail from Firecracker for Channel 4 in the U.K.
“These shows take the format out of the studios and into real life,” Tanner says. “They provide entertaining, thoughtful and at times moving viewing for the family. With humor as well as relatable scenarios, they appeal to audiences of all ages.”
Twofour Rights distributes What Would Your Kid Do?, an entertainment format in which parents attempt to predict how their little ones will respond to a range of psychological tests. What Would Your Kid Do? originated on ITV earlier this year and is being adapted in Turkey and Hungary, with a second installment in the works for the U.K. It also has a significant digital presence via the What Would Your Kid Do? YouTube channel.
“Children make formats all-inclusive for viewers,” says Holly Hodges, the head of sales operations and a VP of sales at Twofour Rights. “Family-based shows with children at the core deliver value and ratings for broadcasters globally.”
Indeed, in a television landscape that’s overpopulated with dark dramas and nonstop disheartening news coverage, it’s refreshing for families to still be able to sit down together to watch feel-good programming. Even competition formats featuring children are much more lighthearted than their harsher adult counterparts.
LET THERE BE LIGHT
“The days of very negative shows, especially around talent and judging people, are numbered,” says Red Arrow’s Gamsu. “We’ve seen the growth of much more positive shows.”
The musical talent contest Master Class, which is part of Keshet International’s catalog, boasts the tagline: “A show full of heart, and no heartbreak!” Keren Shahar, the company’s COO and president of distribution, notes, “There is no ruthlessness, desperation or despair, only the excitement and delight of seeing brilliant, fresh, young talent offering new interpretations of songs that are a heritage of that country.”
Originating in Israel, Master Class has been licensed for local versions in China, Hungary, Greece, Slovenia and Uruguay, among other countries. The show not only resonates around the world, it can also be enjoyed by viewers of all ages, according to Shahar. “It crosses generations—kids love it, their parents love it and their grandparents love it. Even teenagers and young adults who don’t have kids love this show.”
However, in order for the same concept to work well in various territories, there are many factors to take into consideration.
For Master Class, “all local adaptations remain true to the essence of the format,” says Shahar. “The whole set-up of the format is designed to allow a positive experience for the kids. We will not see a child crying on this show unless it’s from excitement—never from rejection. There are only positive scores, from good to excellent. And there are no eliminations. The drama comes from the performances themselves and the experiences the children go through.”
But adaptations don’t have to keep every detail exactly the same. “There are adjustments in order to adapt the format to the local culture or to diversify in advanced seasons,” adds Shahar. “In China, for example, Beijing Satellite TV wanted [Master Class] to be a class competition rather than one featuring individuals, and in Uruguay, Teledoce opted for families.”
The amount of leeway for changes depends on the type of show that is being remade. “Easier formats can be adapted to fit the local market while still staying true to their core structure,” says Red Arrow’s Gamsu. “Old People’s Home is a social experiment, so most of those versions will have the same starting point. But as with all social experiments, we don’t really know where it’s going to go; what makes it so engaging is that the results will vary country by country.”
Gamsu continues: “On the other hand, the more formatted studio talent shows like A Star Is Born are a little bit more rigid in how they’re structured. What we’re selling there is essentially the know-how to produce it and the track record of producing these kinds of shows, which is important not just to ensure a really great show, but also, with kids involved, to ensure their care and safety.”
Other important factors for successful adaptations of formats featuring kids are easy-to-explain concepts that don’t cost an exorbitant amount of money for local producers to execute. “It’s the simple, universal ideas that travel,” says Twofour’s Hodges. She notes that broadcasters come to her company for mid-priced entertainment and that What Would Your Kid Do? “has the value of being much more affordable” when compared to bigger-budget prime-time entertainment formats.
So how do kids affect the filming process? “When it comes to children, you always have to be extra cautious and expect the unexpected,” says Shahar. “A lot of thought went into developing [Master Class] by the team at Tedy Productions as well as Keshet in order to make sure the kids featured in it are nurtured and protected throughout production and beyond. This took time, and only when everyone agreed that this goal had been achieved was the show actually greenlit.”
“Local production practices vary territory by territory, so you’ve got to be aware of that,” notes Gamsu. “You have to give a certain amount of leeway to local producers, who know the rules best in their territories.”
While kids may make production slightly more complicated, it’s usually worth the reward. “Children are special to film with,” says Hodges. “How can you not be laughing at some of the things they say, their inquisitive minds and their understanding of right and wrong?”
Pictured: Twofour Rights’ What Would Your Kid Do?