CITV is the latest incarnation of the United Kingdom's third channel's Children's slot. In the late eighties and early nineties it hosted some of the most imaginative and entertaining children's programs ever created. From Mike and Angelo, to Knightmare to How 2 to Children's Ward, Children's ITV's programming dominated the weekday evenings of half the country's children. Whether CITV was or is better than CBBC is a matter of opinion, but I contest that in the early years of the last decade, the programs aired on CITV were far superior to anything on either channel today.
The reason for the high standards of programming is surprisingly simple. Where as most children's television was aimed roughly at four to ten year olds, CITV aimed its at six to fifteen year olds, meaning that the shows made could be more sophisticated than their patronising counterparts. An excellent example of this is the cult game show Knightmare. Aside from being technologically groundbreaking and at times incredibly scary, it did was genuinely challenging; in eight series, only eight teams won! Unfortunately, in 1994, the decision was taken to lower the target audience's age, and a process of dumbing down began.
Nowadays, CITV is presented by two or three hyperactive twenty somethings, and whilst the programming isn't terrible; the American import "Hey Arnold!" can be amusing and although an inferior rip off of Mike and Angelo "My Parents are Aliens" has a degree of creativity, the shows are markedly worse than their BBC counterparts.
CITV currently shows on channel three and runs from 15:15 to 17:00, with the first half an hour intended for preschool children. It also hosts Saturday shows, notably SM:TV Live and the current "Ministry of Mayhem" which are essentially Live and Kicking rip offs. They characteristically run from 09:25 to 11:00.
WATCH IT! (1980-1983)
Children's television has its roots in the nineteen fifties with the BBC's Children's Hour. This was introduced by a sixteen-year-old named Jennifer Gay in a stunningly upper-class home counties accent. However, in 1964, it was decided that rather than make programs especially for children, the BBC would focus on family programs. This had the unfortunate effect of creating programs that were too difficult for children to understand whilst at the same time being boringly patronising too any adults who watched it. After three years the idea was scrapped and the BBC returned to Children's Hour format, albeit with formal announcers.
In the nineteen seventies, ITV was much the same. It was taken as read by most people that the time between four o'clock and five thirty would be children's programming, but it was announced in the usual manner, that is a suited announcer would introduce the next program onscreen. The programs shown tended to be the same old thing; re-runs of Little House on the Prairie, Happy Days, "family" films and Magpie. The first glimmers of change came in the late nineteen seventies when the IBA decided that viewing figures could be increased if the Children's television programs were broadcast as a special children's show. Unfortunately regional competition (at this point ITV was split into many regions, each with their own announcers and schedules) meant that no area wanted to have of children's television taken away from them. Children's programming continued as it was until 1980 when a solution was found.
CITV's first incarnation was conceived in the promotions department of ATV. Known as "WATCH IT!" the programming remained the same, but before the announcements the WATCH IT! logo was shown. This logo took the form of the words WATCH IT in red, superimposed onto a yellow lightning bolt. The exclamation mark would toggle on alternate frames giving the impression that it also said "WATCH ITV." The announcers themselves would still be onscreen and regions could use their own but, in an effort to appear child friendly, they tended to change into brightly coloured cardigans. WATCH IT! ran from 16:15 to 17:15 on weekdays, allowing for regional variations and sporting events.
Notable programs from this period
Children's ITV (1983-1993)
WATCH IT! ran for three years, in this time the programming changed and became a little more original, with some game shows and children's dramas emerging. That said, there were a lot of repeats and regional differences meant that it was a very flimsy institution. This changed in 1983 when Children's ITV was commissioned. It would broadcast as exactly the same on all networks and this earned it the title of "Umbrella Branding." The only programming that had done this in the past were the periodical programs for schools that were broadcast to the entire country by Central in Birmingham. Adopting Central's facilities the links were filmed ahead of time with personalities from various children's programs such as Timmy Mallet and Mathew Kelly presenting from a small desk that was constructed to look like the command bridge of a spaceship. There were, however, still problems. Each region still had control of what programs were shown and since the links were recorded in advance, there was no way to be certain that the program announced would always be the one shown. This uncertainty lead to Derek Griffiths at one point having to conclude his announcement with "and now, a surprise." Children's ITV also added an extra fifteen minutes onto the beginning of the schedule to allow a repeat of one of the lunchtime children's programs.
The format changed slightly over the next four years. After a few months the rocket ship bridge was dropped and presenters would introduce programs from an environment similar to that in which their own show was shot. This idea was also dropped within a few months and in 1984 links were broadcast from a fictional stylised setting known as Network Control. A cartoon drawing of the outside of the building was used in links to give the impression that Children's ITV was so important that it had been given its own building. There were still problems with regional variations meaning that programs would be broadcast up to a minute early or late, this meant that presenters would often introduce the program, talk for a minute, introduce the program again, and then hold the final pose looking gormless for a minute. Although hardly smooth, this method was adequate until the next set of changes in 1987.
1985 saw the BBC introduce CBBC with Philip Schofield presenting from the "Broom cupboard." Children's ITV fans were outraged at the blatant copy-catting (the Broom cupboard set was very similar to that of Network Control, although it was in fact the Control room, rather than a mock-up). Points of view, a program that presents its viewers opinions to the public and comments on them, was flooded with letters from children demanding that the BBC come up with its own ideas. Unfortunately for Children's ITV Philip Schofield, the presenter hired for CBBC was incredibly entertaining and the next two years saw the audience begin to drift away.
In 1987 in an effort to win back its audience, Children's ITV changed its format once again. Now links would be presented live by long-term hosts. The first of these were the little-remembered Gary Terzza and Debbie Shore. Central had stopped using in-vision announcements and so the studio used for them had become available. With the use of a large mirror, the small studio was made to look like a large transmitting station. New programs were coming in faster now, most notably the cult series Knightmare began in this year. In 1988, the studio was rebuilt again, this time using a bright orange wall covered in TV screens showing the VT clock and previews of other programs. Mark Granger was the presenter for this format, although when he was on holiday in the summer, the nineteen year old Andi Peters took over.
1989 saw a massive shift in the way Children's ITV was produced. Up until now it had been run by Central, and used by the other networks, but it was decided that it could be more effectively run if it was run by an independent company. So, a decade after it was originally conceived, Children's ITV was sold to Stonewall productions, a small company headed up by an ex-Central staff member named Michael Jackson. Although there was generally no fixed set (the presenters, which included a large puppet dog named Scally, gave the links from locations around the studios in Birmingham) they did once broadcast from the old set of the previous year. At the end of the show, they had time to kill, so they switched one of the wall's TVs to the BBC which was showing Blue Peter and proceeded to gently take the piss out of it. 1989 was also the first year in which Children's ITV was extended to the summer mornings. A special set was built for this that looked a little like a beach with Children's ITV bean bags scattered over the sand.
From 1991, Central was given back control and it was decided that Children's ITV. A new logo was drawn up and a new presenter was hired, the thirty nine year old Tommy Boyde, who had last presented in 1983, accepted the job. The studio was also redesigned. Boyde sat at a desk with a fixed camera in front of him, behind him were shelves filled with toys, a globe, and on the wall was a dartboard. Problems were reasonably few in this period since the links went out live and the host could be told what was going on by way of an ear-piece. There were the occasional moments when technical difficulties caused a link not to play and the host would have to adlib, however, for the most part, programs ran smoothly. The starting time became 15:55, but was moved back to 15:50 a year later.
Notable programs from this period
Boyde hosted Children's ITV for two years (with magician Glenn Kinsley in the summer). In 1993 there were two major changes, the first, was that a greater importance was put on the promotion of programs. This meant that children who were channel hopping from CBBC to CITV would get a flavour of what they could expect without having to watch it for a week first. Central's large promotions department secured it control of Children's ITV for at least another five years. The second major change was to put the schedule and format under the control of one person, rather than a committee. Dawn Airey was the first to fill this post and her most notable initial act was to do re-brand Children's ITV as CITV away with in-vision hosting and rely on a voiceover provided by Steven Ryde.
Over the next five years, animated characters were developed to introduce programs. These included Lycraman, and Gordon Flycamp, who's names tell you all you need to know about them. Interestingly, these were all voiced by Ryde.
Dawn Airey is a figure loathed by many fans of CITV of this period, the reason for this is simple, she had no experience in scheduling and so based her decisions on market research. This research indicated that CITV's audience was primarily made up of four to ten year olds, rather than the six to fifteen year olds it was previously believed made up the bulk of the audience. This lead to her ditching many popular programs; replacing Knightmare with the more simplistic Virtually Impossible and scrapping the artistic and weird Dreamstone in favour of the childish Bimble's Bucket. She also increased the number of American imports, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Hey Arnold! were shown for the first time.
Vanessa Chapman replaced Dawn Airey in 1995, she continued Airey's policies and ensured that programs such as Harry's Mad and Woof saw their final series. From 1996 onwards, ratings began to fall and although there were attempts to attribute this to the rise in popularity of satellite channels, it was clear that something was going wrong. Chapman was replaced in 1998 by Nigel Pickard.
Notable programs from this period
CiTV (1998- )
Nigel Packard's first act as controller was to make a return to in-vison links. Finding space in Central's news studio, he had a set constructed, largely out of brightly coloured cardboard cut-outs of characters from the shows, and hired two presenters. They were a small-time magician, Stephen Mulhelm and the unknown Danielle Nicholls. They presented the show by means of heavily rehearsed spontaneous madcap antics with lots of screaming, this was supposed to give the feel of a Saturday morning variety show similar to Live and Kicking. In addition to the new presenters, a new logo was commissioned, artist Heather Marie Sandham put together a bright, cartoonish "CiTV" that in many people's opinion is far inferior to the old frantic, but professional logo.
The progression since 1998 has been minimal. Presenters have been rotated through, and there has been a marked increase in the number of phone in competitions and such. One item of note, however, is that in 2000 the decision was made to double the number of commercial breaks. It used to be the case that there would be a three-minute break in between programs, but now, there is one break every eleven minutes, mid program if necessary. Needless to say, this is incredibly irritating. The increase in advertising has lead to some concerns for children's health since an increasing number of advertisements are for McDonalds and other fast food restaurants. ITV, however, defends its position by insisting that the £30,000,000 generated through advertising is all spent on program production and that to show fewer adverts would lead to a large increase in repeats.
Notable programs from this period
I would like to think that CITV will change its target audience again, bring back Knightmare, finish showing Reboot and develop some quality children's programs. Unfortunately this is unlikely to happen. The BBC have launched a digital channel devoted to children's programming and I expect CITV will go the same way, becoming just another channel in a digital sea. The rise of digital TV promises variety, with thousands of channels devoted to providing quality entertainment, unfortunately, for both private and state-owned channels, this means that the funding will be split between more and more organisations. If only the fittest survive, I doubt CITV will be among them. Time will tell.
Well, time told... from sometime in 2006 CITV no longer runs on weekday afternoons. There is apparently a non-terrestrial CITV channel that runs for twelve hours a day, but, as I do not currently possess a television, I cannot tell you much about it.
Please /msg me for any additions to program lists.