‘Baby’ conducts acclaim and controversy

Emmy nominee under fire from child development experts

HBO original programming, best known for its randy New Yorkers and foul-mouthed frontiersmen, has had its share of controversial projects. But who could’ve predicted that an animated special featuring a cuddly baby conducting an orchestra of zoo animals would join those ranks?

“Classical Baby,” which premiered on HBO in May, finds itself Emmy-nominated in the children’s programming category — and under fire from child development experts, who believe TV for children under 2 is a bad idea.

“We’re a society in love with technology and media, and we assume it’s fine (to let babies watch television),” says Dr. Susan Linn of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which urged parents to avoid the “Classical Baby,” and deliver phone calls and emails of protest to HBO. “Watching television takes babies away from what they’ve been doing. Why would you want to encourage parents to put babies in front of a television?”

For its part, the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend any television viewing for children under the age of two.

Animated by four-time Emmy winner Maciek Albrecht, and produced and directed by Amy Schatz (a five-time Emmy winner herself), “Classical Baby” unites classical music, art and dance with old-fashioned animation to create a soothing experience for the diaper set and their parents.

Child psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Beresin, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, served as a consultant on the special, which received a positive review in the New York Times.

HBO is hardly alone in targeting the 0-2 demo. Led by Disney’s lucrative “Baby Einstein” franchise, baby-themed releases have been big sellers in the home entertainment arena.

Distributors tout the educational value of this programming, but they’ll admit the ‘rents have more to do with the purchasing decision. Parents can’t resist using television to provide a relaxing break — especially when the comes spun with a highbrow educational bent. (“Classical Baby” will get a DVD release of its own on Aug. 30 but specials will continue to air on HBO and also will be available via on-demand services.)

“We knew we were making this for parents and babies,” says Dolores Morris, VP of HBO family and documentary programming and supervising producer on “Classical Baby.” “We never decided to make a show for infants. We’re not trying to force a tiny one to sit up and watch television.”

Still, Linn says that any experience gleaned from “Classical Baby” could just as easily come from other activities that don’t involve a television. “If you want your baby to love music, then have music on at home and sing to your baby.”

The other children’s programming noms this year are “tweener”-targeted skeins “That’s So Raven” and “Zoey 101,” a Nick news special with Linda Ellerbee, and the A&E/BBC co-prod “Pride” featuring Kate Winslet as the voice of a lion cub.

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