V TV REVIEW
Sue Wilson takes a trip to the fantasy world of Scottish Television’s ambitious new children’s show.
As the aggression depicted in many popular children‘s television programmes is mirrored increasingly by their marketing tactics. it's refreshing to see a home-grown product taking on the American he-men with a more peaceful approach. Scottish Television has invested £3 million in Captain Zed and (lie Zee Zone a brand-new cartoon series. based on children's dreams. created by Glasgow-born animator Tony Collingwood.
The centre for the action is the Dream Base. where the slumbrous thoughts of all children in the world are monitored. with Dream Patrols on standby for instant dispatch to any youngster whose dream is turning into a nightmare. In charge ofpatrols is Captain Zed. a chubby. distinctly eccentric hero with a gift for understanding children and their problems. lie is assisted by his faithful cat. Spring. who lives inside his master‘s backpack. and the sternly upright Dream Base Commander. Together. they pit their wits against the Nightmares— leader Snort and her deputy Mutter— whose mission is to convert Dream Base into Nightmare Base by tricking children. in classic dastardly fashion. into being naughty. Captain Zed and Co. are sometimes assisted by Mutter’s‘ uneasy conscience. which occasionally pricks her into informing on her mistress‘s exceptionally despicable schemes.
‘Like all the best ideas. it seems very simple and obvious as soon as you think about it .‘ says Sandy Ross. Controller of Arts and Entertainment at STV. ‘lt‘s something everybody understands — we’ve all had dreams. we‘ve all had nightmares— everybody can relate to the concept of these patrols flying in to sort them out for you. Everyone I’ve explained the idea to has immediately understood it. seen its potential; dreams are something everyone‘s interested in.‘
A significant chunk ofthe far from insignificant budget went on extensive research for the programme including. unusually for children's TV. consultation with its potential audience. ‘When Tony was thinking about the various storylines. he went and talked to a lot ofchildren.’ explains Ross. ‘He asked them what sort of things they dreamed about. what they had nightmares about. then fictionalised what they told him. Kids
have dreams about not finishing their homework on time, about being bullied. being chased. that their parents don‘t love them any more — all sorts of things, a lot ofwhich are recognisable to adults.‘
54 The List 1 l - 24 October 1991
The imaginative dream-world of the lee Zone and its idiosyncratic inhabitants stands in striking contrast to the macho. increasingly violent universe occupied by many currently popular kids‘ heroes. Does Ross envisage the new Scottish venture leading a kinder. gentler trend'.’ ‘From our recent experience in animation. seeing the kind of programmes which are in development. here and in the States. it would seem to me that there is a softer kind of programme coming along.‘ he says. ‘There‘s one just gone on air. for instance. called Wis/i Kid. about the adventures of a boy who can wish himself into any situation. When you see an episode of Captain Zed it is very different from the kind ofwham. bam. GI Jo. Thundercats—type programme. The hero isn‘t atypical hero. he‘s quite bumbly and forgetful — quite British in that way. There‘s a lot of humour involved. too; we’ve deliberately gone for a different approach. and we‘ll be proved right or wrong in time.‘
Ifthere is a'trend developing away from gung-ho. boys-own children's programmes. it is probably due in part to the work of Action Children's Television. a large and well-organised US pressure group, founded by parents and educationalists. which aims to ‘encourage diversity in children‘s TV. to discourage over-commercialization ofchildren‘s programming and to eliminate deceptive
advertising aimed at young viewers'. .I\("l' scored a major success last year with the passing of the Children‘s 'l‘elevision Act. which imposes an upper limit of twelve minutes per hour on the amount of advertising shown during children's programming and directs the federal media regulatory body to monitor stations output. looking at how they serve children’s educational needs. as a condition of licence renewal. It also initiated an examination of ‘program length commercials‘ for cartoon-related merchandise. such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Given the number of US imports watched by British children. the new law's effects should eventually trickle through here.
Although ('apiain Zed sounds like exactly the kind ofshow to meet with A("l”s approval. Sandy Ross isn‘t ready to write off Leonardo. Donatello et al just yet. ‘I think there‘s room for both types of story. both types of hero.’ he says. ‘l‘ve got two kids of my own. and I use them a lot as guinea pigs to check ideas out. find out what they and their friends like. I think there will always be room for good. boys-adventure-type cartoons. because kids enjoy that sort ofstuff. But there‘s also room for a different type of animation. a subtler approach — I think kids appreciate both kinds ofshow.‘
'I‘liefirsl episode ()f( 'aplain Z ed and (he Zee Z one will besereened on October I 7a!3.55pm.
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