Building upon a recent trend in the entertainment and advertising industries, Viacom unveiled plans for its new Children Television Network, which it hopes to have on the air by next fall. The network, Viacom spokesman Wesley Van Pelt told reporters yesterday, will not necessarily cater TO children, but rather all on-air personalities, be they news anchors or sit-com cast members, will BE children.
"The commercial appeal of cute, precocious children has been known to Hollywood since the days of Shirly Temple, so this phenomenon is nothing new," Van Pelt said in his press conference. "But recent entertainment ventures, from small-market commercials to big-budget films, have yielded remarkable success with younger and younger actors." Van Pelt pointed to the success of Hallie Kate Eisenberg’s famous Pepsi commercials, Jonathan Lipnicki’s show-stealing performance in "Jerry Maguire," and numerous smaller-budget commercials of which he showed clips.
"This one is my favorite," Van Pelt cooed as the television monitor showed an adorable four-year-old girl explaining the intricacies of health care plans in a local hospital’s advertisement. "She’s just so cute, isn’t she," Van Pelt cooed, as the youngster struggled adorably to pronounce "endometriosis".
Van Pelt then presented a brief history of the new network’s development. "Viacom originally was looking into an all-primate network, after the recent success of short films and MTV bits involving apes reenacting popular movies," he explained. Many members of the media smiled and nodded knowingly, each remembering their own favorite amusing ape antics. "We had about half our line-up of shows established and had even started recorded simian versions of "Cheers" and "Mash", but the apes proved too difficult to work with," Van Pelt explained. "It just wasn’t economical."
"A meeting was held, and after a short discussion we realized the Simian Television Network just wasn’t going to be," Van Pelt continued. "We considered scrapping the project completely, but no one really wanted to do that. Finally (Viacom Vice President of New Production) Nancy (Hofmann) suggested that we continue the project, but use children rather than apes." Smiling, Van Pelt said, "After all, what’s cuter than monkeys and even more trainable? Kids!" Then he added, "and they don’t throw feces all over the set...not usually anyway."
Asked about the possible negative effects of television life on children, Van Pelt answered, "We will have psychologists and experts on hands at all times, and all of our work practices will be in accord with current child labor laws." He acknowledged that many high-profile child actors have gone on to troubled adulthoods, but pointed to Shirly Temple and Rick(y) Shroeder as examples to the contrary. "It doesn’t have to have a damaging impact on our little stars, and we’re committed to making sure it won’t," he said, before adding, "plus, there are a wide range of effective medications on the market now to deal with various problems children might suffer."
Sponsors apparently like the idea, too. Coke, Pepsi, Huggies, Pedialyte, and Budweiser have all reportedly climbed aboard the project, each signing advertising deals. The US Army is also said to be working on several spots specifically designed for the network. In a creative take on their slogan, "An Army of One," they’re reportedly designing a new set of ads showcasing "An Army of One-year-olds", where toddlers in fatigues will march adorably around the screen.
Dr. Curtis Lillard Jr., a Psychology professor at the University of California at Berkeley, remains skeptical, however. "I’m more than a little concerned by this developing trend in entertainment. I don’t like the idea of forging children into miniature adults and then parading them around for our amusement." Dr. Lillard recalled video footage of a little Jon-Benet Ramsey strutting around in pageants and called it "disturbing". He then added, "Can you imagine the trauma these prepubescent news anchors are going to suffer reporting on incidents like the Oklahoma Bombings or wars and famine?"
When told that the network plans to air child-centered versions of soap operas and game shows, too, Dr. Lillard seemed to change his tune. "Well, I may have to watch those...that sounds entertaining," he said. Realizing his apparent hypocrisy, he quickly added, "I AM human, and I DO have a sense of humor."