The TCA Press Tour is once again in full swing. This is the network dog and pony show where the TV execs present their upcoming programming to approximately 200 TV critics from around the U.S. and Canada (and a few other countries), including yours truly.
Saturday (July 21) was the first day and our first presenting network is PBS. While I’m excited about a lot of what’s coming up on the network’s member stations, PBS CEO Paula Kerger made a couple points yesterday in her opening remarks that got me a little concerned – and that’s about what our little girls see on TV.
The first comment that got me was Kerger’s statement on how important those first five years of a child’s life are.
“Research shows that the most critical period in a child’s life are the years before the age of five. That’s the time when children learn how to learn and when their educational, emotional, and social skills begin to take shape,” Kerger said.
But then, later in her remarks, she talked about a new initiative for the network, Women and Girls Lead – a multi-year project looking at the status of women around the world and in our own country. Which is when I looked at the PBS Kids pre-school block line-up of programs and noted that only one of the shows features a female lead character – the dog Martha on Martha Speaks. The other girl lead -Word Girl – is from the early elementary block Kids Go.
Kerger’s response? Well, it was rather long and drawn out, but the upshot is that the folks at the network are thinking about it and there is a show coming up in the next year. Okay. One show.
I also asked Angela Santomero, who is one of the creators of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, a show based on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (and in tribute to the work of the late Fred Rogers on that show), whether there was any consideration given to making Daniel a Danielle, and she said that the character was based on Rogers’ first puppet Daniel Striped Tiger.
“It was about Fred’s legacy,” she said.
Okay, I get that, but if things weren’t already so unbalanced, I’d have an easier time with that response.
Fortunately, I also talked to Lesli Rotenberg, senior Vice President, Children’s Media, she agreed that the question has to be asked.
“We have a number of programs in development,” she said, pointing out that it can take years to get a children’s show on the air.
But Rotenberg also pointed out that it isn’t just about having a girl lead in a show. If the character is the only girl in the show, it’s not that much better than having a male lead – a point that she credited actor and activist Geena Davis with making. Davis has been very active in gender role issues in the media. There needs to be an even number of boys and girls in a show so that we can show a greater breadth of what it is to be female and male.
And keep in mind, this imbalance is just as hard on our boys as it is on our girls. Boys need how to work and play side by side with girls and need to see them in a leadership role as often as they see themselves. Otherwise, they are going to find themselves up hard against it in the real world.
So I think Rotenberg’s comment that the question needs to be asked is dead on. We need to keep asking it and asking it, not only of PBS, which clearly has more of our kids’ best interests at heart than more commercial concerns, but also of Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. The more noise we make, the more likely we will be heard and will get our kids the kind of fair and just programming that they deserve.