Children’s TV isn’t what it used to be. I mean, I assume it isn’t anyway, because obviously I don’t watch it anymore, as I am an ‘adult’. But look, I’m pretty confident that it’s not, because back then, as I started to wean myself off the stuff, I had begun to notice a dip in quality - the wheels were coming off already, and I was still ostensibly a dumb kid.
But it’s not just the quality that’s popped off on a permanent holiday, it’s the event - children’s TV nowadays is a 24/7 thing, it has entire channels dedicated to it; a rolling, never-ceasing sea of endless choices. This, I feel, is bad (i.e. not good), and it is resolutely not what it used to be like. It used to be like this: yo, you’ve got two channels to choose from and you better pick a fucking side, poindexter, otherwise you’re gonna have to play Boggle with your brother, and he’s an absolute punk.
In the days before digital, children all over the UK were served by two hulking tea-time behemoths, that ruled the early-evening, post-school time-slots. They were: the BBC and ITV, or more specifically, CBBC and CITV. That ‘C’ stuck on front, as you’ll no doubt be able to guess, stood for ‘children’s’. That’s two dedicated blocks of kid-friendly TV taking over the two biggest TV stations at the time - that’s crazy-talk nowadays.
Only CITV still occupies any sort of strand on one of the terrestrial channels (at a million a clock in the morning, basically, for absolute babies) - everything else has been shunted onto digital, with devoted channels taking the weight off the big dogs. Now the adults can have their precious game shows and antiques claptrap back (apologies, Bargain Hunt - I still think you’re sick).
Back then, in the naive, innocent ‘90s, the kids ruled the airwaves for a good few hours, and it was glorious; absolutely, positively feverish. Thousands upon thousands of children, all slamming their fists on the floor, eyes transfixed on the box, blood pressure through the fucking roof, veins pulsing at their temples like they’re in an episode of Dragon Ball Z, seconds from spontaneously combusting. It was GREAT, whooo-wee.
But like, which channel was better? They were both doing essentially the same thing (pummeling indelible scars into the retinas of the nation’s youth), but one was much greater than the other, wasn’t it? Do you know which one it was? I certainly do, but I’m not going to reveal my rather fetching stance until we’ve gone through the motions here. We’ve got to give both sides their due - ups and downs for both brothers. Let’s stick a firework up this brouhaha’s bottom and get going.
The two main differences during the ‘glory years’ - i.e the ‘90s, when I was was watching, because I am the only human being that matters on this wretched planet - was that in between shows, CBBC had a live studio with gurning, bouncing, pneumatically-shaking presenters, whereas CITV just had a friendly, disembodied voice.
In my highly regarded opinion, having an affable voice politely and enthusiastically informing me that ZZZap! was up next was infinitely preferable to two dorks dressed like Roy Chubby Brown careening off each other like a couple of round-bottomed dolls. Studio ‘antics’ are a distracting substitute for quality TV shows - get the connectors over and done with asap, because I want to watch Captain Simian And The Space Monkeys, actually, and your clown head with its shrill, alarming voice is intensely off-putting.
Of course, as time wore inexorably on, They decided in-studio presenters were what we needed, and perma-smiles were introduced on CITV as well. A dark day for children’s TV in my opinion, but not one that would in any way force me to turn off. I was a child and had not yet discovered the unremitting power of a boycott. Lol only joking I still haven’t and never will - send me down Prole River to my grinning death!
So, aside from the presenters, what else is left? Well, it’s the quality of the programming isn’t it? The shows hand-picked to grab-and-hold an audience of vibrating, screeching, so-very-easily-distracted kids - what of them, with their strawberry laces so freshly sneezed from their nostrils?
Well, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. What were each channel’s heavy-hitters? Who harboured the largest arsenal of brightly-coloured, brain-washing, highly disposable flotsam? I feel there’s a clear winner.
Let’s take a look. First up:
CBBC failed pretty hard here, with a painful dearth of genuinely good animated shows, we’re talking Bananaman and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, really - nowt much else. But cast your square eyes over to CITV, and you’ve got a slamming platter full of honkers, like Animaniacs, Beetlejuice, The Hurricanes, Hey Arnold!, ReBoot, Tales From The Cryptkeeper and good old Captain Simian. It was chock ‘a’ block, man, and it left CBBC in its flawlessly animated dust.
So, the bad thing about CITV was that it finished at around ten past five, which meant CBBC had a whole extra half an hour at the end, and this was where they stuck their bang-on dramas - on alternative days when Blue Peter wasn’t playing. Quick bit of Newsround and then either Byker Grove, Grange Hill or The Biz - all absolutely quality ‘90s bangers. Of them all, Byker was clearly the best because it had Geordies in it, but the rest of them were very good, too. God, Demon Headmaster, Aquila, The Queen’s Nose - killing it, they were.
The shows had it all: they were funny, exciting, sad, and they tackled a couple of heavy issues normally reserved for shows aimed at older audiences, like Eastenders. Very good use of tax-payer money there; keeping me, a grotty, chocolate-fingered snotbag, happy on a Thursday. Thanks.
CITV, well, not as glowing, really. You had Children’s Ward, which was great, and certainly sometimes a little distressing (that episode with the kid getting their arm crushed in the laundry press was way too much, if you’re asking) and you had Bernard’s Watch, but that was more of a comedy, no? Pretty shit, CITV, pre-tay, pre-tay shit.
Well this is dumb because although CBBC had Dave Benson Phillips and his buckets of gunge on Get Your Own Back, CITV had the two greatest kids’ game shows of all time. OF ALL TIME. EVERY TIME, ALL OF THEM. They had: Fun House and Finders Keepers.
Fun House had go-karts as well as gunge (soz Davey B) and Finders Keepers legit let crazed, wide-eyed kids smash an entire house to pieces. Just run absolutely buck-wild and welt the living hell out of a lovely suburban detached home. Trash the kitchen like a frenzied, fugitive burglar. Kick in the living room cabinets like a rabid horse. Punt that dogshit sink off the wall like a dad at the end of his tether. Cock their fucking heads through the bastard wardrobe like a rampaging Chuckie drugged up to the eyeballs on blue smarties. My dream, essentially. My absolute dream.
Oh yeah, and CITV also had Knightmare, the most terrifying thing to have ever been on any television screen in the entire universe.
This is quite tight here, but one side just about edges it out. CBBC had a good number of genuinely hilarious shows like No Sweat and Bodger and Badger, but then they also had ChuckleVision, which, erm, wasn’t actually that funny was it? I used to watch it, sure, but even as an extremely easily-pleased child, I didn’t really laugh. It was like the televisual equivalent of olives - I consumed it, but I didn’t really like it. And the less said about the most annoying programme ever to have entered my living room - Clarissa Explains It All - the better. Howling hell.
Similarly, CITV had another olive of a show - Harry’s Mad - which I would watch even though I didn’t really like it, but then it also had ZZZap! (amazing), Mike and Angelo (also great), My Parents Are Aliens (popular but I didn’t like it) and then the best children’s comedy of all time: Roger and the Rottentrolls. WHAT a show - it was so funny, way too funny for a kid’s show, just sublime stuff.
We’ve got two main contenders on each channel here. CITV had Art Attack and How 2, and CBBC had SMart and Blue Peter. Out of the two art shows, Art Attack was obviously the best one because Neil Buchanan is the greatest children’s TV multi-hyphenate that has ever been gifted life, and well, let’s all just admit it: Blue Peter was shite. Come onnnnn, Blue Peter was gooch, mate. CBBC weekdays was the pits when it was Blue Peter day.
CBBC’s flagship show wasn’t the worst one in their strand - obviously, so obviously, that was Newsround, which was just a big old bore; a nerd show, for nerds. Not really sure why I ever watched it, to be honest - I guess just because I had to wait a while until The Simpsons was on on BBC2, and there was nothing better to do.
So I think we can see our clear winner here, can’t we? It’s CITV, isn’t it? It always was, and always will be - they didn’t have the annoying presenters (for the most part) and they had the best shows - what more could you want? Sure, CBBC just about edged it on quality drama, but that was always after CITV had finished. You’d pick channel 3 for its entire run, then you’d flick over to BBC1 for the last half an hour - it worked amazingly (apart from when Blue Peter was on, obviously).
But you knew this already, didn’t you? It was common knowledge - a collective agreement broadcast subconsciously across the brains of children nationwide. Sure, Saturday morning kids’ TV was a more close-run race, but that’s best saved for another article (which I will write, don’t teef my fucking idea, you magpie), but for the early-evening slot, ITV wedgied the BBC so aggressively that their pants split up into their arse and cleaved them in two.
CITV was the greatest purveyor of top-dollar eye-crack, and everybody knew it. How brazen does a channel have to be to think that a voice alone will keep kids interested? How confident in the hulk-smash of its roster? How utterly cocksure that they were better than the BBC? I respected the chutzpah, I dug the cut of their jib. Sure, they caved eventually, but times change, and there are loud, attention-seeking stage-school graduates that need jobs, so give them a whirl - as long as the programming stayed up top, you’ll stay ahead in the race.
A race that, unfortunately, never really finished, the track became difficult to distinguish, the two competitors growing tired, weary, confused - do we go straight on? Left? Up?? It was a race that petered out into a wasteland of antique shows and early evening soaps, only for both competitors to be snatched from above and placed right at the starting line of another, entirely different, modern race. Now they’re back running, competing against each other once again - two different digital channels jostling for viewers in a saturated landscape.
I have zero clue who’s winning nowadays, and as it is no longer relevant to me, I couldn’t care less. But just as you may YouTube a bunch of old, classic football matches to relive past victories, I like to mentally do the same: I think back to yoot-me, sitting in the middle of my living room, hair an absolute state, blissfully content - I was watching CITV and I had made the correct decision. My team had won, and it won every time.
Fucking hell I need to let go and grow up.
(Images: Disney Junior/Rex)