Fat Albert improves TV for kids
Steve Hoffman – The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) March 26, 1974
ONCE UPON a time, every critic of television took great joy in blasting Saturday morning programming for children. Nowadays, that criticism is concentrated in organized groups. Average citizens no longer mind Saturday mornings at home with the children watching cartoons and such: Kidvid!
One reason is the second-season “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids,” 12:30-1 p.m. on CBS-TV and Channel 9. It’s one of the best examples of how Saturday mornings have improved for children. Granted, much more positive programming is needed.
Where Saturday mornings once devoted gigantic blocks to cartoons promoting violence, this time is more and more becoming educational, entertaining experiences for the young set. In other words, you need not worry so much about what the kids are watching.
RECENTLY CBS wanted to find out what kind of impressions “Fat Albert” was having on children. It took its own social research office, the Gene Reilly Group of Darien, Conn., and its 11-person “Fat Albert” advisory panel at UCLA to come up with answers.
Of prime concern was whether or not the “pro-social” messages In “Fat Albert” were actually getting to children. Scientifically, 711 young people were interviewed, half in a captive setting and the other half in natural situations.
Nine of 10 children (89.3%) received one or more specific pro-social messages from the episode each viewed. Never once did the report suggest modified behavior resulted from the programs, only that children got the messages.
THE STUDY pinpointed that these pro-social messages came directly from episodic stories more than 90% of the time. What are pro-social messages? That’s a good question to answer here…
“The Newcomer” episode covered babies coming from inside mothers, children having fun taking care of younger brothers-sisters and parents having enough love for all their children. Other episodes showed lying is bad, don’t tease and that work and school are equivalent.
That “Newcomer” show had 74.8% pro-social message success as compared to the 97.9% “Sign Off” show registry, the survey indicated. What about host Bill Cosby’s effect on children?
THE CHILDREN looked to Cosby more as a source of information that they could learn something from him, rather than as a source of specific pro-social messages. Undoubtedly, Bill is getting what he wants from the animated stories in which he pops in and out live.
When Cosby quit his half-hour NEC situation comedy series several years ago, he told reporters he wanted to involve himself in children’s TV. “Fat Albert” is the result.
Bill, however, is more than a performer on the series. As a doctoral student at University of Massachusetts, studying for a degree in education, Bill works with the panel of 11 UCLA scholars and show producers to develop themes and plot lines. Call him the 12th scholar!
HIS YOUTH experiences in depression-time Philadelphia are utilized in the “Fat Albert” stories. He has much to do with the ethics, values, personal responsibilities, judgments, cleanliness concepts and the risks of neglect woven into each story.
“Fat Albert” claims a weekly national audience of eight million people, young and old. It claims its viewers outnumber those watching NBC’s “Go'” and ABC’s offering, blacked out by WKRC-TV for its noon movie, combined.
Around CBS, they call “Fat Albert” unique, innovative, etc. They point to its original music for each half-hour as just one illustration. Watch it and you will find many other factors.
“FAT ALBERT,” ‘Kid Power,” “Go!” and the many other new Saturday morning children’s programs of the past several years, on all three networks, indicate that great trend: A definite improvement! Let’s hope it never stops!