Creating Great Children’s Content – initial questions

This blog series follows on from the last of a series of development frameworks for narrative screenworks from mobile and short films to long running TV series.  The aim of this blog is to look at the very first stage of development for children’s television both live action and animation. It is relevant for work intended for everything from traditional broadcast  to self-made web series..  This is the stage of development where many options are possible  but it is crucial to avoid many simple mistakes.

As with the development frameworks these notes will cover the three main screen formats for TV and the Web  – the series, the serial and the TV film.  However, before we delve into the specifics of each format it is worth considering a few general points about children’s audiences and what in general makes a successful children’s work.


The key points here are to remember that children are not one audience, and that as they grow up, they carry with them their past screen favourites.  Generally, children are broken down into the following audience groups – pre-school; 4-6 year olds; 6-12 year olds; young teens, and young adults.  Though some works obviously cover more than one age range it is always useful to think about  a specific age group when working up an idea.  This is not only because many broadcasters and funders relate to specific age groups, but also because they each have specific fascinations and approaches to the world.

With regard to the former it is worth noting that most broadcasters, sponsors, and funders want to tie their work into the educational system in some way, as this often not only provides funds, but crucially direct links to schools etc.  With respect of the latter knowing what your audience is watching now, what they have watched in the past, and what fascinates each age group is critical to creating a great children’s work. Recreating the ‘Dumping Ground’ or ‘Skins’ is not likely to bring in a big  audience.

Two Kids - wet stones crop

A simple rule of thumb is that most people, children included, like watching material that includes people of their age range, or a group they aspire to be like.  So think about the age of your key characters and whether or not they are aspirational for a particular group of children.  ‘Harry Potter’ was not just a success because it was about children but also because it was saying children could aspire to do/be magic – there are not many children who would not like to be able to do this!.

Then there are the adults, including parents. Though many children now watch on thier own, not only do parents tend to control pre-teens watching habits, but in the pre-school group will generally be part of the audience.  So in creating a great work you need to think not only sometimes about how will parents respond to your idea, but how will they actually participate.  The reverse is often true of teen and young adult works, of course.

Finally, one of the most interesting aspects of audiences is how they sometimes select something which is not aimed at them at all initially. So for many  soap operas there is a big audience of 6-12 year olds, while many children’s animation works attract cult adult audiences, especially amongst  students.

Live Action v. Animation

It will not have escaped your attention that animation dominates much of children’s viewing.  For children under 12 it is now the dominant form. One of the obvious reasons for this is animation allows the creation of  a fantastical world easily, and creates less barriers of identification than live action characters.  For pre-school, animation also allows for very simple characters, and less complex settings etc. which in turn tends to allow for easier engagement.

Kid & Fountain Aus crop

However, for young teens and young adults live action is the preferred form. This is in part owing to the need to identify strongly with characters in these age ranges, and the desire to move away from the animated world of their younger selves.

One thing to remember though no matter what the form, the screenplay still has to work!

The Big Themes

As with all screen narratives children’s work relates to big emotional themes which also underpin adult works.  However, some key themes tend to dominate children’s works. The major one of these, across all age ranges, is the desire for justice or to put it another way to be treated fairly. This is not surprising given that the vast majority of a child’s life is governed by adults and other children, where they often feel they have not been treated fairly.

For very young children the desire for order is very strong, reflected in narratives which return everything to where they were are the start  of the narrative – as is found in all successful sitcoms and long running series.  For teens as a whole  it tends to be the question of identity and validation as they seeks to work out their position in the world.  While for young adults it the desire for love, as they seek to establish bonds outside the family, and amongst their peers.


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2 Responses to Creating Great Children’s Content – initial questions

  1. scaggs & co fulfills all above for 6-12 year olds and families. Great emotive characters developed. Includes 2 Royals (Gay King and Princess), amimorphic creature and teen boy, all time travelling ghosts. Adventure through time discovering arts, culture, history using technology/science(magic). Introduction stories/text written (needs screen/kids editing). Illustrated examples of additional storyline ideas. Website created. Interest in principal at the moment: Historic Houses, food company (Scaggs & Co healthy eating, Billy Burgers). Local/Nationl Tourism, an animation company (depending on 3 party funding) Producer of uk apps/games that guide families around historic sites and artic acts. Mission: make Scaggs and Co UK ambassadors for arts, cultur, history and technology. Your advise on pulling this together please?

    • Phil says:

      Hi Bernie
      It depends where you are with the various parts of the package. The easiest way for us to help at the moment is probably for you to register on the site as either an individual,if you are working alone, or as team if you have others working with you. Then check through the list of Mentors on the site and ask one of them to review the material you have. It cost nothing to register, and all your IP is protected. The Mentors cost £35 per hour. I am guessing an initial review will not take longer than this. Hope this is of some help. NOTE: We will be running a children’s Media Content lab for ideas like this in the Autumn we will officially announce the deadline for submitting ideas to companies like Egmont, Collingwood & Co etc soon.

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