Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Idiot box: Here's what passes for 'educational' programming on local TV

Posted By on Wed, Jun 12, 2013 at 9:00 AM

Food for Thought serves childrens social/emotional needs through burgers!
  • Food for Thought serves children's "social/emotional needs" through burgers!

School is out for Kansas City kids. And, in the grand American tradition, our young'uns will soon crank the air conditioning, grab a Capri Sun and plop themselves in front of the TV for hours of entertainment. Don't worry about their brains, though. The Federal Communications Commission has them covered.

The Children's Television Act of 1990 mandates that broadcast stations air at least three hours of educational and informational shows each week. The FCC's website explains that so-called "core programming" must be "specifically designed to serve the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under, including the child's intellectual/cognitive or social/emotional needs." Each show filling those requirements has an E/I logo that appears onscreen.

But tune into any of the four Kansas City network affiliates on Saturday or Sunday morning, when many of these programs are broadcast, and it's easy to find shows carrying the E/I logo that are, uh, not so educational. Here's a sampling from local stations that, in many cases, sent typo-filled filings to the FCC explaining their E/I choices. Examples from reports filed in April, covering last quarter, are below. Typos are all theirs.

Title: Food for Thought With Claire Thomas
Airtime: KMBC Channel 9, 11:30 a.m. Saturday
Why it's educational: "Claire serves as a role model for 13- to 16-year-old viewers by showing her passion for her family, life and healthy living by sharing stories in the kitchen."
The premise: The show doesn't cast itself as a kids' program. Rather, it's a cooking show modeled after most cable cooking shows: attractive host in an immaculate kitchen making chicken potpies and vegetable pastries with curried ketchup. You know, stuff your average teenager is clamoring to make and show off to his or her home-economics class next school year. There was a hamburger recipe once, though. Kids do love hamburgers.
Dialogue sample: "I like to taste the meat, so I keep my ingredients on the spare side."
What we learned: Worcestershire sauce makes the burger!

Title: Missing
Airtime: KSHB Channel 41, 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Why it's educational: "The program emphasizes taking active responsibility for personal saftey and promotes situational awareness, presented in a calm an non-threatening manner suited for teenagers."
The premise: It's a sad infomercial for missing people. That's a noble cause, but it's not making us any smarter.
Dialogue sample: "Missing ... missing ... missing ... missing," from the show's terribly annoying and simple looped theme song. It sticks in your head for the rest of the day.
What we learned: How to be depressed on a Saturday afternoon.

Title: Awesome Adventures
Airtime: WDAF Fox 4, 10:30 a.m. Saturday
Why it's educational: "The aim of the program is to educate viewers about the different people, environments and animals around the world and highlight the differences and similarities one encounters when traveling to new places."
The premise: Learn about the world while surfing and doing other awesome stuff; advertise for totally rad vacation hotels. There are some cool hotels in this show, kids.
Dialogue sample: "I'm here at the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa, and my friend Pono here" - points to a shirtless Hawaiian guy - "has an activity for us." It's stand-up paddle-boarding. At the Sheraton!
What we learned: Sheraton > Hilton. Totes!

Title: Laura McKenzie's Traveler
Airtime: KSHB Channel 41, too thirty pee-M Sundae (OK, these typos are ours.)
Why it's educational: The real educational value of this show is spotting the spelling errors in the description sent to the FCC. "This shows in-depth, high definition travle show offers entertaining, safe, educational and informational programming appropriate for children under 16. Through the use of on-site standups, voice over monolougues, enviromental b-roll and pop up 'Travel Tips', Laura McKenzis Traveler provides an educational journey to significant destinations around the worl. Educational components of Laura McKenzie traveler are geogrophy, history, social enviroment, action and adventure, arts and entertainment, interviews with political leaders, transpotation, and more."
The premise: Host Laura McKenzie travels the globe looking for her dictionary.
Dialogue sample: "Many travelers to this region have uncovered hidden surprises that amaze and delight them just beneath the surface of their expectations. There's always a tinge of anticipation when visiting this part of the world." Seriously? Beneath the surface of their expectations? Sit tight, McKenzie, we're airmailing you our dog-eared copy of English Grammar for Dummies.
What we learned: The rest of the world speaks English, so you don't have to!

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