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Children's television series are television programs designed for, and marketed to children, normally scheduled for broadcast during the morning and afternoon when children are awake. They can sometimes run in the early evening, allowing children to watch them after school. The purpose of the shows is mainly to entertain and sometimes to educate.
Children's television is nearly as old as television itself, with early examples including shows such as Play School, Captain Tugg, The Magic Roundabout, Howdy Doody, Ivor the Engine, Clangers, Noggin the Nog, Bill and Ben', Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. In the United States, early children's television was often a marketing branch of a larger corporate product, such as Disney, and it rarely contained any educational elements (for instance, The Magic Clown, a popular early children's program, was primarily an advertisement for Bonomo's Turkish taffy product). This practice continued, albeit in a much toned-down manner, through the 1980s in the United States, when the Federal Communications Commission prohibited tie-in advertising on broadcast television (it does not apply to cable, which is out of the reach of the FCC's content regulations). Though there is some debate on the intended audience, later non-educational children's television programs included the science fiction programmes of Irwin Allen (most notably Lost in Space), the fantasy series of Sid and Marty Krofft, and the extensive cartoon empire of Hanna-Barbera.
In the United States, from the 1960s through approximately the 1990s, children's programming was primarily concentrated on the Saturday morning cartoon block. All three of the major television networks carried Saturday morning cartoons and various other children's programs during this time. While most shows had short, 13-week runs, others could last for decades (an example is Scooby-Doo, which ran on a near-continuous basis in numerous incarnations from 1969 until 1991). A combination of factors led to the collapse of Saturday morning cartoons; some include the near concurrent entries of Cartoon Network, Fox Kids and Nickelodeon (with its Nicktoons) into the animated market in 1992 with cartoons in non-traditional time slots, the implementation of the Children's Television Act educational television mandate in 1996, and a general erosion of sponsorship base and viewership for broadcast programs. These factors, however, were a boon to animation studios in Canada, where subsidies for Canadian content were aids to the continued production of animated series there (particularly the newly in-demand educational series).
Many children's programs also have a substantial adult following, sometimes due to perceived quality and educational value, and sometimes among adults who watched the shows as children or with their own children and now have a nostalgic emotional connection (an example is the continuing popularity of programming from Nickelodeon, which prompted the network to launch The '90s Are All That, a late-night block featuring reruns of 1990s Nickelodeon shows on its TeenNick channel). The relatively low-cost nature of much early children's programming has given it a campy reputation, which is a second source of entertainment for adults who, as children, were unaware of the medium's limitations.
Children's television series can target a wide variety of demographics. Few television networks target infants and toddlers under two years of age, in part due to widespread opposition to the practice. The preschool demographic is children from 2 to 6 years of age; shows that target this demographic are generally overtly educational and have their content crafted to educational and/or psychological standards for that demographic. They can range from cartoons to hosted live-action series, often involving colorful fictional characters such as puppets.
The general children's demographic is children from 6 to 11 years of age. Shows that target this demographic focus primarily on entertainment and can range from comedic cartoons (with an emphasis on slapstick) to action series. Most children's television series targeting this age range are animated (with a few exceptions, perhaps the best-known being the long-running Power Rangers franchise), and many often specifically target boys (especially in the case of action series), girls or sometimes both. Efforts to create educational programming for this demographic have had a mixed record of success; although such series make up the bulk of educational programming on broadcast television, they also tend to have very low viewership. PBS has had somewhat greater success with its educational programming block, PBS Kids GO!, that targets this demographic.
The teen demographic targets viewers 11 to 17 years of age. Live-action series that target this demographic are more dramatic and developed, including teen dramas and teen sitcoms. In some cases, they may contain more mature content that is usually not permissible on shows targeting younger viewers, and can include some profanity or suggestive dialogue. Animated programming is not generally targeted at this demographic; cartoons that are aimed at teenagers generally feature more crude humor than those oriented toward younger children. Educational programming targeted at this demographic is exceedingly rare, other than on NASA TV's education block. However, some programming aimed at the demographic has had some tangenital educational value in regards to social issues, such as the now-defunct T-NBC block of sitcoms, which often tackled issues such as underage drinking or drug use.
In the U.S., there are three main children's commercial television channels, with each channel operating a number of secondary services:
Under current mandates, all broadcast television stations in the United States, including digital subchannels, must show a minimum of three hours per week of educational children's programming, regardless of format (as a result, digital multicast networks whose formats should not fit children's programming, such as Live Well Network and TheCoolTV, are required to carry educational programs to fit the FCC mandates). The transition to digital television has allowed for the debut of whole digital subchannels that air children's programming 24/7; examples include PBS Kids Sprout, qubo, PBJ, and Smile of a Child TV.
Television channels in Canada that cater to children include YTV and its spin-offs Treehouse TV and Nickelodeon (YTV, due to its programming agreement with the U.S. channel and its visual style, has often been considered to be the Canadian equivalent of Nickelodeon); Teletoon and its spin-offs Teletoon Retro and Cartoon Network; Family Channel, its multiplex channel Disney Junior, and their separately-licensed sister channels Disney Junior (French) and Disney XD (Family maintains programming agreements with Disney Channel U.S., though does not license the Disney Channel brand for its own as its sister channels do), and BBC Kids.
In the United Kingdom, children's television networks there include CBBC and its spin-off CBeebies, CITV, Nickelodeon and its sister networks Nicktoons and Nick Jr., Cartoon Network and its sister network Boomerang, Cartoonito, Disney Channel and its spin-offs Disney XD and Disney Junior, POP and its spin-offs Tiny Pop and Pop Girl, and Kix.
Children's channels that exist in Japan are NHK Educational TV, Kids Station, Disney XD, Nickelodeon (now under a block on Animax, known as "Nick Time") and Cartoon Network (Cartoon Network's age demographic is getting to more older viewers with shows such as Regular Show and Adventure Time).