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ATAS eyes kids & programming at conference

'Jerry' wins kids poll; diversity, interactive media hot topics

Jerry rules.

The raucous “Jerry Springer Show” was the poll winner among a dozen local schoolkids who took part in a daylong conference on children’s programming, “Through the Eyes of Children,” sponsored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

The kids, mostly fifth- and sixth-graders, cited Fox’s “The Simpsons,” UPN’s “Moesha” and the WB’s “Sister, Sister” as some of their favorite shows during a freewheeling Q&A sesh moderated by LeVar Burton. But all hands shot up when an audience member asked the kids whether they watch “Springer.”

“It’s so fake, you just know it. It’s fun to watch,” said Darya Decker of Pacoima Middle School. Decker and other kid participants assured the crowd of industry execs and academics that they don’t take the fighting on “Springer” any more seriously than they do the combat of pro wrestling.

But the kids agreed that TV producers should do a better job of portraying the complexities of teen angst, and should be more careful to avoid the stigma of racial stereotyping.

That sentiment echoed the confab’s opening address from Federal Communications Commission topper William Kennard, who urged producers to “develop shows that are both entertaining and responsible,” as well as those that “reflect the rich diversity of our entire nation.”

Bill Cosby was on hand later in the day to unveil the TV academy’s first kidvid “honor roll” for regular series offering a “pro-social” message. The selections were made by a six-member committee of producers and academics, headed by former Fox Kids exec Karen Barnes.

Primetime series among the 23 shows that made the honor roll were CBS’ “Touched By an Angel,” “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and “Cosby”; the WB Network’s “7th Heaven” and “Sister, Sister”; UPN’s “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Moesha.”

In an afternoon panel devoted to a look into the future of kids television, panelists pointed out that a sizable proportion of children in the U.S. and elsewhere will have the opportunity to be creators of their own Web pages and other interactive communications within the next five years or so. University of Texas professor Ella Wartella said that such opportunities for kids will open up “whole new sources of creativity for the media industry.”

Another panelist, futurist author and lecturer Joe Coates, opined that the upcoming convergence of TV, the Internet and the computer will make the current bickering and turf wars among networks, cable, telcos and regulators seem petty and irrelevant. Coates said that the media industry needs to redefine and coherently articulate its vision if it hopes to lift the level of television in the next century.

The panel was moderated by Variety managing editor Elizabeth Guider.

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