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A Brief History of Children's Television

The state of children's television in the 1970s was a direct result of the previous stages of children's programming.

In the 1960s, with Senator Thomas Dodd as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, national attention focused on the prevalence of television violence and its supposed links to juvenile delinquency. Granted, the fodder for these concerns mostly came out of the popular action-and-adventure programs airing - such as Andy Gang's, Fury, and The Lone Ranger. Senator Dodd's report was never publicly released though, and eventually attention subsided as the debate over whether television actively shaped or merely reflected violence began to take hold (Turow 1981, 51).

From 1965 through the 1970s, the National Association for Better Radio and Television still continued to push for better children's programming, creating an annual "family viewing guide" that asserted the "need for 'programs which provide wholesome humor, creative entertainment, social values, and use of the imagination'" (Turow 1981, 52). In 1969, Action for Children's Television (ACT) joined their advocacy efforts - though from a different angle, as they claimed "commercialism, not violence, was the greatest evil in children's television" (Turow 1981, 53). After all, the lines between commercials and television programs were becoming almost invisible (Ad Age 2003).

Violent events of the later 1960s pressed network officials to adjust their schedules, because although they had largely been already set for 1969, the networks realized the need for some new filler programs in place of "the violent cartoons still crowding Saturday morning schedules" (Turow 1981, 53). In these seemingly turbulent years, even children's superhero and science fiction programs "emphasized the maintenance of law and order" (Turow 1981, 66).

At the same time as reconciling with the demands of societal pressures, networks were also coerced into grappling with the advocacy efforts of ACT. Armed with a petition for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1970, they demanded that no commercials or sponsorships be aired during children's programs, that hosts and other performers not be allowed to sell or use products during program, and that each station offered at least 14 hours of children's programming every week (Turow 1981, 85). After a number of political and legal maneuvers, networks agreed to reduce commercials during children's weekend programming and requiring that advertisers more realistically portray their products (Ad Age 2003). In turn, the FCC agreed to not strictly regulate their commercials (Turow 1981, 85). Understandably, these conflicts fostered a general mistrust of advertisers by the general public - and tellingly 44% of people in 1976 rated advertising practitioners in the low or very low category of "honesty and ethical standards" - above only car salespeople (Gallup Poll 1976).

Throughout the decade, networks learned how to better maximize their own profits through strategically attracting advertisers and convincing companies to share sponsorships (Turow 1981, 53). They attempted to perfect the right balance between providing high-quality, educational programming for children - while also maintaining the profitability already established in the industry of children's programming specifically. In 1981, FCC regulations loosened up again with the Reagan administration - whose chairman of the FCC, Mark Fowler, did not care about the concerns of groups like ACT. His new policies would instead embody a "let the marketplace decide" philosophy (Schneider 1989, 176).

In many cases, this resulted in corporate-funded ventures that would allow networks to make profits - but with clear consciences in knowing that they were providing some "quality" programming.

Main Subjects of Children's Series 1970s.pdf

From 1970-1978, the diversity of subjects covered by children's programs increased in the middle of the decade but decreased significantly by the end. The percentage of adventure series was cut in half between 1972 and 1978.

Main Subjects of Children's Series, 1970-1978. Taken from Joseph Turow's Entertainment, Education, and the Hard Sell (1981).

A Brief History of Children's Television