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Seven-day Week On Kids' Tv Show Price Of Success

By: Betty Swimmings
Published in
Tempo, 1979

Seven-day Week On Kids' Tv Show Price Of Success Betty Swimmings Tempo CJOH's local children's show You Can't Do That On Television is a low budget program with a growing appeal.

Brainchild of British producer Roger Price, You Can't Do That On Television uses local school children in its cast, veteran actor Les Lye in a clutch of roles and bright, sometimes satirical, sometimes slapstick, material that appeals to youngsters.

It's only been on the air since Feb. 3, yet the latest Nielson ratings give it 19 shares of the viewers in the Saturday morning 10:30 to 11:30 time slot, a fair showing when you consider it is a locally-made program, was being judged on two of its first three episodes and was running competition to two popular long-running network cartoon programs- Tarzan and Super Seven. They collected 15 shares.

Budget is tight (approximately $5,000 per show) and relatively small compared to a network show of comparable length, cast and format which spends 10 times that amount per program.

But for Price, a man of no small ambition, the battle of the ratings is not the be all and end all of producing the show. He's more concerned with improving the quality of Canadian-made TV programs for children.

"There are 5,000 kids watching Canadian shows and 33,000 watching American TV and I think they should be watching good Canadian-made shows instead. I'd like to get this 33,000 audience and then try for the U.S. viewers."

Last Sunday he took the first step towards his goal. He and his cast began week-long rehearsals of Whatever Turns You On, a pilot for a network slot.

Price is no stranger to television. For the past 17 years he's been making a name for himself in British TV producing first adult documentaries for the BBC and then, for the past seven years, a highly successful series of children's programs for Thames.

The shows have been popular with children right ip to 14-year-olds and older, but his ideas on what course the shows should take have raised a few hackles and some disbelieving comments from his superiors.

"You've got to be joking!" "You can't be serious!" or "You can't do that on television!" were just a few of the reactions he encountered on the presentation of his program plans.

But being Roger Price, he didn't let such remarks upset him. He just decided they made great names for shows and went on with his work.

Last September CJOH's Bryn Matthew (sic) invited him to Canada and immediately on arrival Price took a look at what was available for children on Canadian TV.

"I found the shows for the little kids very much like the ones in Britain, but the ones for older ones were bad. I could do better than that," he said quietly.

After school started he visited a number of them in the area and and announced that he needed actors for a new TV show he was planning. He got 60 applicants from each school and auditioned 1,000 children, chose 100 for screen tests and selected 22 for training with drama coach Carole Hay.

All 22 have had a crack at doing the show, but there's a regular cast of six ranging in age from 10 to 17.

Price sets high standards for his cast. He listens to what they think would work on the program, holds impromptu talk sessions with them and then writes his scripts around their suggestions.

He says, "Kids know what other kids want to watch better than adults do." The result is that there's a Mad magazine, Monty Python or Laugh-In-type humor about the segments in the Saturday morning program and many topics are touched on."

"Sometimes we have a filmed disco dancing contest or a local DJ interviewing a well-known national or international rock group, or live interviews by the kids of a scientist telling about the eclipse or someone who knows everything about stamps."

But the shows must be [as] slick and professional as anything done by adults he says because, "Kids won't watch it just because it's put on by kids or because it's good for them."

The cast is treated as professional and professional behavior is expected in return. So far he hasn't been disappointed.

But it's a new experience for Price to work with school children instead of professional actors. In England, child actors can rehearse several hours a day and their school work is fitted into their schedule. Here, the producer has only an hour each day with his cast after school hours in addition to the nine-noon taping session in Sunday and the hour-long live program on Saturday.

"In the beginning I crossed my fingers and hoped it would work, but it did," he says cheerfully. "Now I'm after the U.S. Saturday morning TV audience, and I won't get it teaching goodie goodie things like manners, spelling and grammar. And I won't get it by being patronizing either."

Price's production methods might seem unorthodox to some people but those working with him at CJOH like them and have confidence in him right from his executive producer Bryn Matthew (sic) and director Geoffrey Darby down to designer John Galt, drama coach Carole Hay and costume designer Linda Ducharme.

And if hard work and long hours count in grabbing the lucrative U.S. and Canadian markets, Price has a good chance of winning. Right now his schedule runs a constant 18 hours a day, seven days a week, writing, editing, rehearsing and looking after technical and production arrangements for You Can't Do That On Television.

"And it definately isn't just in a scramble for ratings," he said. "It's because I really love kids and I love the show."